Online News Association conference 2010: OK, now let’s work together

Online journalism has seen advances editorially, technologically and, more recently and perhaps more importantly, in sustainability, but the industry has yet to efficiently mature its methods of replication, according to my experience last week at the 2010 Online Journalism Association conference.

In spring 2009, major conversations were still focusing on what direction anyone should be headed, as the inaugural BarCamp seemed to suggest, and by last spring, the BarCamp conversation had grown enough to have presenters narrowing onto funding. Last fall, Jeff Jarvis held the Hypercamp conference at CUNY which largely focused on business models for niche sites, and, at the beginning of the year, the William Penn Foundation was focused on create an editorial investment in local Philadelphia public affairs news.

ONA 2010, in Washington D.C., showed another march in the broad conversation of those interested in the future of news, seeming to correlate a connective maturation in those three issues of primacy — editorial, technology and business — but there felt like a lack of real shared and collaborative best practices.

Last Thursday, Oct. 28, offered me the chance to attend a pre-conference called ‘Fund My Media’ held by J-Lab, which was cheerily focused entirely on the sustainability of news products, but, like the ONA conference that followed, it showed dozens of groups, organizations and individuals who were doing innovative things, on their own.

I left nearly all of the sessions I attended feeling that there were fewer best practices to garner than I had in past high-level journalism conversations. It seemed as though, as we had always wished, 1,000 flowers had gone to bloom, but had done so differently so we aren’t sure how to work together now.

The splits between nonprofit and for-profit, topical and geographical, regional and local, and others, seemed to make communication and relevancy more difficult.

What we need now, I left feeling, were more conversations focused on demonstrating specific editorial, technology and business innovations that we can call copy, tweak and push forward.

Online journalism doesn’t need inspiration anymore, nor does it need incessant innovation, it needs the maturing, connecting, growing and sustaining what we have all brought forth over the past half-decade or so.

All that said, in two day’s worth of sessions, there were tens of small, important lessons garnered. Many I shared in the #ona10 stream, which I’ve collected below.

FRIDAY, OCT. 29, 2010

TBD.com breakfast conversation

  • Erik Wemple says @TBD isn’t “messianic” in striving for “civic journalism” but wants to be a place where you’d go if you hear sirens.
  • Laura McGann asks @mjenkins good question about whether “social media is about publicity” and not really engagement. Jenkins answered that there are different uses, one of which is ‘publicity,’ to be sure.
  • “Social media is the police scanner of the 21st century” says @jimbradysp
  • @mjenkins is hitting on hard that @TBD creating this network of bloggers and other community contributors gives them a bigger voice in the region. Partnerships and collaboration, that is, grew their voice.
  • “Broadcast people already move at web speed,” said @jimbradysp of @TBD so it helps to have those partnerships
  • “Twitter is like a tip line, not like a reporter,” says @mjenkins on checking social media sources despite its value
  • Interesting that the @TBD crew is noting its full tagging and aggregation of region by way of dozens of partner blogs is what sets it apart. That’s a big change from the past.
  • I spent time thinking about the @TBD crew talking a lot about mobile advertising being a real contender with the loss of display ads as revenue

Content partnerships through API

  • An API is a “technical solution for practical problems,” says @delynator
  • An API “creates structured way for content and information to be distributed to any platform” says @daniel_jacobson
  • APIs have “unpredictable benefits,” either through mashups with other open APIs or just new ways of thinking says @delynator
  • If you have to eat the dog food, it’s going to be tastier, so when groups depend on their own open API it will be more helpful says member.
  • @NPR API keys are being mostly used by developers, but mostly consumed by NPR. That’s “dog food”
  • API metrics are still new and being developed but so necessary because without traffic it’s all subjective says @delynator.
  • Three keys to good API: good API documention, developer support through a forum and clear, “generous” terms of use, says Dan Choi
  • “Developers are customers when you open an API” says @delynator so keep it responsive. What’s the value proposition? There are 2,000 APIs available, so it’s easy to be forgotten.

Power of Knight News Challenge grant funded DocumentCloud.com

Keynote Lunch with Tim Armstrong from Aol and Vivian Schiller from NPR

  • “Users need curated experiences” says Tim Armstrong. “Distribution is changing… But content is what people do online” This was in reference to Aol’s expansion in the content game.
  • You need great talent, great product and a great business plan in news like any industry, says Tim Armstrong
  • Business models online still favor big portal sites but local niche sites fill the gap, says Vivian Schiller of NPR.
  • “Would you pay for this content?” Advertising can be valuable but “you better have a data plan,” Armstrong said.
  • I appreciate when people talk about mobile being a different platform than the web and social media also different fabric, which is something Armstrong did.
  • More than platforms, “brands are powerful” from niche markets to TV devices, says Tim Armstrong.
  • AOL is distribution lane and niche sites are exits based around community, says Tim Armstrong
  • “If you don’t want to work hard, you’re in the wrong industry,” says Tim Armstrong of criticisms that Patch staff are overworked.
  • “The consumer says tell me what I need to know” says Tim Armstrong. He and Vivian Schiller both say vary types of content and revenue
  • The average @Patch staffer has 6.6 years exp., 75 percent are paid same or more as last job, says Tim Armstrong. “We aren’t evil”
  • Armstrong says his wife uses Apple TV as a carrot/stick: behave or you’ll have to watch cable!

Power of Niche

  • The model for NPR’s Project Argo: “find the conversation, filter it, extend it” says Matt Thompson
  • “Niche sites do best when they are part of something,” says @jwkealing

Future of Traffic and Search

  • Very important in local sales that @danachinn says give advertisers only the data they need and nothing more, like offering a graph of traffic growth.
  • No matter how you monetize it’s relevant that Dana Chinn said have content that your audience will pay any amount of money for.
  • I left early to attend the simultaneous Coders versus Designers session

Coders are from Mars, Designers are from Venus

  • “There are degrees in success for design, not for coding,” says Tyson Evans. If it’s ugly, OK, but if it breaks, it breaks.
  • “A well written piece of source code should read like an essay” said Jeremy Ashkenas at the session, which had beer!
  • “Code is really currency” says @davewrightjr. If you’re a design & know code, it can inform your decision and vice versa.
  • Take small goals and not deadline-focused projects to improve collaboration and get things done right, says Tyson Evans

Keynote: Jonathan Harris

  • Leaving things unfinished makes people come closer to them, be more intimate, said Jonathan Harris

I had to leave Harris’s keynote early, which was disappointing because it was riveting, but, fortunately, it was for a good reason. The William Penn Foundation brought together a couple dozen representatives from Philadelphia who were at the conference. It was a wonderful chance to develop even more community around a quickly growing journalism scene in Philadelphia.

SATURDAY, OCT. 30, 2010

Breakfast over Wikileaks

  • Of the participating countries, reporters and others from the United States contributed the least, says Gavin Macfadyen
  • Wikileaks is responsible for uncovering 15,000 additional civilian deaths from US involvement in Afghanistan, says Gavin Macfadyen
  • The winners of war will no longer write history said him

Open data applications

  • Cleaning public data to match standardized categories is a hurdle, says @RufusPollock
  • “Open data is a platform that we build on,” says @rufuspollock but a lot of time is spent on getting data and cleaning data
  • “Use the eye candy” and other buzzy ways to grow attention to attract help building, checking and use data says @rufuspollock
  • Don’t forget that the very point of data visualization and using open government data is to make more accessible says @bill_allison
  • U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services is one of the better federal agencies for openly sharing relevant data says @bill_allison
  • “Government should do a much better job keeping data,” if only so legislators can make data driven decisions says @bill_allison
  • “The priority for government to make the data available.. and journalists can do things with it,” says @bill_allison
  • When groups build an apps, they often don’t want to share the data says @rufus_pollock so keep government out of app building

Tech trends with Amy Webb

  • Webb’s company has a script that tracks submitted patents to the U.S. patent office in specific tech, mobile and social media areas that interest her work, Webb says.
  • Find her full notes here.

Knight News Challenge grant lunch

After the lunch, I skipped out to briefly see the mass that was the Rally for Sanity from Jon Stewart and the Daily Show.

Don’t call it UGC

  • @robinsloan had panelists introduce each other’s projects, which I think is interesting and effective
  • Constraining prompts for contributions is important, says @robinsloan
  • New things don’t often neatly and completely replace old things says @robinsloan
  • I left this session early to attend the simultaneous Onion session

The Onion:

I had the pleasure of meeting in person a handful of people who I hadn’t yet or hadn’t in a while:

  • NYU Professor Jay Rosen, NPR producer Elaine Heinzman, TBD.com social media chief Mandy Jenkins, Suzanne Yada and my old buddy TBD.com’s Daniel Victor TWEET
  • Philadelphia Daily News photographer Sarah Glover, who made the great point that there was a strong Philadelphia presence everywhere you turn except on the panels themselves
  • 10,000 words blogger and multimedia journalist Mark S. Luckie, albeit very briefly.
  • Dana Bauer of Azavea and freelancer Jason Fagone TWEET
  • John Paul Titlow of Review Publishing
  • Certainly among many others

There were some other more nuanced roundups of ONA: