ONA20 brings new life to virtual journalism conferences

ONA20 session about better coverage for Black America. Photo courtesy ONA20

The Online News Association (ONA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to digital journalism. This year, it is hosting its annual journalism conference, but in a different way — virtually.

According to the ONA website, “The Online News Association is the world’s largest digital journalism association. ONA’s mission is to inspire and support innovation and excellence in digital journalism.” This year due to COVID-19, the typical conference was not possible, so ONA chose to adapt to the new circumstances and host its first ever online conference. Over a two-week period, attendees can join any session they would like from the schedule on the ONA20 website and listen to media  professionals  discuss how they have used technology to change journalism.

For this year’s conference, ONA had to figure out how to make every aspect virtual while still making sure the sessions are informative and organized. They used different online tools like Shindig and its ONA20 platform for all of the sessions. This gave the organization the flexibility it needed in order to create a conference that still holds true to the conferences in the past.

Benét J. Wilson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aviation Queen LLC and a member of ONA’s Board of Directors. Wilson and the board wanted to make sure attendees got the best experience possible.

“We knew eyes were going to be on us because online is in our title,” Wilson said. “We knew we had to take it to the next level …we wanted attendees to have as close to an in-person experience as possible.”

One of the highlights of any conference is networking and that is true for ONA as well, so creating a space for people to talk to each other was important. ONA decided to use an online platform called Grip where people can connect with people who share the same interests or people they want to talk to about internships or jobs. Grip allows you to look at everyone who is attending and schedule meetings with people as well. For many people at the conference, this platform has made networking easy.

Heather Taylor is the manager of digital media and programs for Dow Jones News Fund (DJNF), and this is Taylor’s fifth time attending the conference. She finds Grip convenient and seamless and has used the platform to make connections with students looking for internships.

“While we are all attending from remote locations, it is easier than ever to make connections in this virtual environment. I can reach out to any attendee with the click of a button,” Taylor said. “I love the integration with my email and calendar, making it easy to stay on schedule.”

An important part of this conference is also the ability for students to learn and grow from the many speakers and journalism professionals who attend. Giving students the option to comment on the sessions in the chat box and have one-on-one meetings with recruiters has allowed them to make connections with people from all over. Other journalism organizations, like the Dow Jones News Fund, recognize the importance of conferences for student journalists. That’s why DJNF chose 11 students to receive free registration in order to help students who did not have the means to attend reap the benefits of ONA20.

Wilson recognizes the vitality of ONA for journalism students and considers ONA the next generation of journalism organizations. She wants students to be able to get the opportunities they deserve.

“Students need to know about this organization, they need to get involved, and they need to take advantage of it,” Wilson said. “Journalism organizations can help you get jobs.”

ONA continues to have an impact on students and professionals as the different sessions at this year’s conference offer valuable insight on the digital age of journalism. ONA20 will end on Oct. 16.