ONA 2011: conferences are good for more than just their sessions [VIDEO]

My colleagues Sean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and I learned plenty at the 2011 Online News Association conference in Boston, but we also did more touring and connected more with old friends and colleagues than last year. We even sneaked out to use the city's new bicycle sharing program and visit Fenway Park, among other sights. We were in Boston for the conference from Sept. 22-25. Photo by some lady who took the camera from her elderly father.

Sometimes, if not most times, what happens outside of the sessions can be what’s most valuable about a conference.

I learned plenty the traditional way at the 2011 Online News Association national conference, held in Boston this weekend Sept. 22-25, but I surely got more out of reconnecting with friends and colleagues from other markets, even more than I remember doing at past professional events. It also didn’t hurt that I dove more into Boston than I have while visiting elsewhere for work travel.

ONA has been a national convener among news innovation conversations for more than a decade, and more locally, I’ve been involved with reviving the Philadelphia chapter of the group.

Full disclosure: this year, I was able to attend thanks to the very generous support of the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University and the Wyncote Foundation. I was able to attend last year with similar support from the William Penn Foundation, which has additionally funded the Transparencity reporting project I have led.

After a few years co-running a sustainable niche news site, participating in the online discourse around news innovation and attending events like ONA and others from the Aspen Institute, the University of Missouri and, yes, our own BarCamp NewsInnovation, I felt like attending the event was just as important to talk shop with others doing similar work across the country as it was to catch up on a lot of in-session conversations that felt less relevant to where we are professionally.

Tourism and good, smart friends aside, below I share what I learned in a conference’s traditional way.

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Hardly Strictly Young roundtable: alternative Knight Commission recommendations

Data, context and engagement were the themes of the Hardly. Strictly. Young. event at the University of Missouri Reynolds Journalism Institute this week, says Michael Maness, the Knight Foundation Vice President of Journalism and Media Innovation.

Also read a Columbia Journalism Review overview from fellow attendee, new friend and total asshole Craig Silverman, who takes the opportunity to poke fun at me. (I forgive him.)

The two-day conference meant for brainstorming alternative recommendations to implement a 2009 Knight Commission report was something of an idea-hackathon.

Though I arrived on Saturday to couchsurf in St. Louis first, the confab kicked off with a welcome dinner Sunday night and was made mostly of rotating groups of us 30 members discussing implementation ideas Monday and presenting those ideas Tuesday. The goal was to create real ideas for implementation.

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Sustaining the craft, not developing the craft itself, should be focus of Knight and RJI

I’m late.

I’ve been invited to the Hardly. Strictly. Young.  conference on alternative ways to implement Knight Foundation recommendations at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri [More on that later]. One of the fun precursors to the two-day event later this month has been participating in the Journalism Carnival of blogging, shepherded by conference organizer, Spot.Us founder and leather jacket-wearer David Cohn.

In January, I wrote about the role universities should play in creating journalism,  and in February wrote about two ways to grow the number of news sources. In March, I was supposed to write on what the Knight News Challenge should do next and how the RJI fellows program could be a part of curating that innovation.

Fortunately, in being late, I can point to others who already did it better than I would. No, Cohn, this isn’t a cop out, this is cutting my losses. The undercurrent on both of these questions for me is that I’m not worried about the craft as much as I’m worried about sustaining the craft.

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Grow audience and revenue: two ways to increase the number of news sources

Yes, that is George Michael. There are three clear steps to increase the number of news sources to the level that, say, surrounded Singer George Michael in May 1985 when this photo was taken by Ann Clifford for Life magazine.

To increase the number of news sources in a community one needs to do two things: (1) grow audience and/or (2) grow revenue.

In a followup to a prompt that ushered in a post last month, Spot.Us founder David Cohn again opens the Carnival of Journalism, in which a handful of media makers and molders opine a subject of his choosing. This session, the question focuses on the role that we all play in increasing the number of news creators.

As organizers put it:

What can you, as an individual or employee, do to increase the number of news sources. Everyone has a different set of circumstances. Some work at universities (which we found out last month) others work for public media, for independent media or for-profit media entities large and small. Take a moment to reflect on your unique skills and circumstances. Then answer: What specific things can you do to increase the number of news sources for a local community.

We can figure that out by doing building audiences and revenue.

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Universities should host the newsrooms of their neighborhoods

Universities should host the newsrooms of their neighborhoods, towns and counties. If a university has a journalism department, college media and audience, this seems like a foregone conclusion.

Picture Temple University. It is a big, diverse, robust, public research university with a clutch of respected professional schools and an expansive undergraduate population that has been slowly and controversially expanding into at least four different, distinct, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods around it.

When you drive south on I-95 east of Philadelphia at night, look off to your right while only the tallest skyscrapers are yet in view a few miles in the distance, the blur of bright lights made of a dozen square blocks and a cluster of high-rise buildings among a swath of stout two story row homes is the university’s main campus.

Halfway between those stadium lights and Philadelphia’s iconic City Hall is another beacon of light, that old White Lady, 400 North Broad Street, the legendary location of the Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister paper the Daily News.

Mood lighting isn’t the only lesson Temple should take from the investigators of the Inquirer.

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Fund My Media J-Lab ONA pre-conference highlights

The J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism held a pre-conference called ‘Fund My Media’ before the launch of the Online News Association annual conference Thursday.

Building on last year’s pre-conference before the ONA national event in San Francisco, the morning of discussions, speakers and panels were decidedly focused on keeping online editorial products alive: from foundation support, to events to other for-profit revenue. The event preceded the ONA conference held today and tomorrow.

You can watch the archived livestream of the morning’s sessions here.

Full Disclosure: In conjunction with the J-Lab Networked Journalism Collaborative project and funded by the William Penn Foundation, the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning has generously sponsored and supported my attendance here.

Yesterday’s ‘Fund My Media’ morning series of sessions were inventive and practical. Jan Schaffer and crew put together a rich, insightful, varied and fast moving event. It was a pleasure.

I shared a slew of thoughts, which I think will be updated, but here are some first thoughts for those who weren’t as fortunate to attend, and perhaps even those who have:

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‘Citizen Journalism’ is a phrase just like ‘Horseless carriage,’ and we needed both

the-horseless-carriage

News-gathering can be profitable — there are oodles of examples of them. The challenge is taking those dollars to create the most efficiently-produced local journalism.

The big solution and sure trend of the future is fostering a community that covers itself.

The Quick Take

Citizen journalism is a transitional phrase that will soon be as dated as ‘horseless carriage’ is now

But we’re in a period of transition so the ‘citizen’ distinction serves a purpose.

So I’ve been thrilled to see that NEast Philly, the year-old, hyperlocal news site for Northeast Philadelphia to which I contribute and handle Web operations, has been slowly receiving more reader submissions. Lately, Editor Shannon McDonald tells me she’s receiving an item or two a week from readers.

We’ve been encouraging readers to send in photos, brief write-ups of their community events and any other kind of reporting that anyone can do. It’s coming, but still most comes from McDonald tracking down information, submissions and contacts.

I’m one to describe this as ‘UGC‘ — user-generated content — and have been known to use the phrase “citizen journalism.” After doing so once more, I was pointed to a few dated conversations about just how dated that phrase might be, and I have some thoughts on why it’s a concept that still has value.

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Reflections on CUNY graduate school New Journalism Models Hyperlocal camp

Jarvis at Hypercamp edit
Author, blogger and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis begins his Hypercamp on Nov. 11, 2009 at the College University of New York's graduate school of journalism.

Highly localized news and its intersection with profitable, sustainable news is already starting to dominate conversations about the future of news in the United States.

The numbers and business plans, relationships with each other and with legacy news organizations and who will be written into history for leading the movement seemed trending themes of the  New Business Models for (Local) News Hypercamp summit at the modern, sleek and sexy (read: expensive looking) midtown Manhattan home of the College University of New York’s graduate school of journalism.

Held two weeks ago today, the invite-only affair was blasted the world over by way of social media, notably a wildly active Twitter hashtag, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth sharing my experience at the Nov. 11 event.

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