ONA 08 review and thoughts

ONA 08 ended two days ago, and I spent all of yesterday recovering.

It was a great time, and I met a lot of talented and interesting people. Maybe if I met less people, I would have gotten more work done yesterday.

The Good:

  • The sessions — The key to any good conference are the sessions. Most of the sessions I attended delivered. My definition of delivering is whether or not a day after I can remember at least learning one really big or new thing. From the law panel, I learned that newspapers can moderate comments without being held liable for the content of comments as long as newspapers don’t make editorial decisions that edit in libel. That session was worth it alone for what I learned about moderating comments.
  • The people — A conference is only as good as its people. I wasn’t pick pocketed or booed out of my panel. Nobody tried to fight me over my blog either. But some of best learning and conversations happened in the hallways and not in the sessions themselves. That wouldn’t have been possible without good people.
  • The receptions and cocktail hours — They were nice. I like.
  • Question time — Every keynote and panel I attended left plenty of time for questions. The law panel I mentioned early was almost entirely questions. Good questions often spur the best conversations.

The bad:

  • Keynote speakers — There were three speakers. One was good, one was bad and the other I didn’t even bother paying attention to. I’ll have more on this later, but some people feel that keynote speakers are an anachronism. You rarely learn anything new from the speakers, and some speakers like Tina Brown and the Reuters Guy (he was so bad, I’m not going to bother looking up his name) use their keynotes more as extended promotions for their products than for anything else. Robert Scoble delivered and he got me excited for the future of journalism. Excitement is the No. 1 thing a keynote can deliver.
  • The cost — This is not an ONA-specific issue, but it wasn’t the cheapest conference, and the Capital Hilton isn’t the cheapest hotel. Many of the most innovative people in journalism right now are lower on the totem poll. Their employers may not be willing to spend $1,000 or so on a conference. The ONLINE News Association had a lot of older attendees, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I can’t help but feel that the cost kept out a lot of younger journalists and students. And honestly there are only so many editors a conference really needs.
  • The people — Yes, there are good people and bad people. No, there weren’t attendees mugging other people, but there were some that I just don’t get. Why at the ONLINE News Association are we hearing in the hallways, “So, what is Twitter?” And why are we hearing it after Scoble spent a large chunk of his keynote talking about Twitter?!? Oh, I know, because some people choose not to attend Scoble’s talk, while many, many more decided that Brown’s talk about nothing important was a better idea. News flash, if you want to know what Twitter is, go sign up. It’s free. Be inquisitive for a change.

I will see all of you at ONA 09 in San Francisco. What I could really go for in the meantime is a conference on mobile content development and distribution. Maybe we could get an unconference going?

  • I’m with you on the cost. I’m a student in DC and was thinking about going to sessions between my classes, but it wasn’t worth it for all that it cost.

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  • pat


    ONA does have student rates, which are much more palatable, but it can still do better. What about lower rates on hotels or assistance with airfare?

    ONA needs more students.

  • I have been talking about moderating comments ad nauseum. It’s amazing that the newspaper industry is still trying to figure this out. Hire moderators. We did back in January and it has been quite the success. Is it easy? NO, but it’s worth it and it needs to be done.
    On another note, I left ONA (Toronto) extremely upset last year at the highly “print” focus and the way the slashdot guy blasted me for indicating that his challenges were NOT the challenges of traditional news media and that he was not addressing our concerns.
    It sounds like it was better this year, but from all I’ve read from those who attended…there is still a long way to go. I hope that feedback gets to the right people. Enjoyed your recap. Thanks.

  • You didn’t mention the “no-jobs” fair, which I heard was a dud from students who went to it.

  • pat


    How could I forget? I’ll have to make another post about this subject.

    I was at the job fair, and it was certainly depressing. I went there to see what kinds of jobs news organizations were hiring for. Well, many aren’t hiring.

    What further disturbed me was how many organizations are still looking for either traditional reporters or Web developers. Why aren’t more organizations looking for online journalists?

    You know people who can write and do video and blogging? I just can’t imagine hiring someone today that didn’t have some Web, audio, video or photo skills.

    And, frankly, even if I was going to hire someone only to write, I’d at least want them to be able to beat blog. This idea of working only for print is rather quaint. And short sided.

    I’d want almost all of my reporters to be beat bloggers. Maybe a few could work on investigative projects, but I’d still want them working with database journalism.