It’s been more than 48 hours since this year’s Online News Association conference ended and it feels like I’m still trying to catch up on 1) everything that transpired over my five days in Chicago, and 2) errands since I returned to Detroit on Sunday night. But man. What a fun week it was. It always is.
Here’s what I took away from ONA14, in three lists: What I liked the most, what I sort of didn’t like and other random musings. Keep in mind, ONA hosts such a large conference that I personally didn’t experience about 80% of it (only way I could’ve done more is if I cloned myself 10 times beforehand!). So these thoughts are based only on my experience at the conference.
What I liked
1. Sesame Street stole the show. This was my third consecutive ONA conference and, if you combine all three, I don’t know if I attended a better panel than the Saturday keynote featuring the Sesame Workshop. It wasn’t just because I got to take a picture with Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby afterward, either. ONA features more panels and workshops starring journalists than you can handle. Rarely will you find one without journalists.
Why is that important? Well, if you think about it, every industry in this economy has to find ways to innovate to stay alive. And with journalists struggling to innovate, maybe we can take a page or two from another industry that constantly endures the same struggle for years. That’s exactly what Sesame Street has done; in its 45-year existence, it’s had to adjust its programming and education based on the changing landscape in parenting, childhood and economic classes.
My hope is, starting with ONA15, we continue to think outside the box about the kind of panels we can feature without using journalists. The Sesame Workshop was not only entertaining, it was incredibly educational for everyone who attended.
2. A big emphasis on diversity. You can tell ONA14 organizers did their homework in making sure panels and workshops were as diverse as possible. Two of the best sessions of the weekend strictly involved women newsroom leaders, including an appearance by the hilarious Kara Swisher. There was a great Saturday panel on digital diversity (though apparently it wasn’t well attended, partially because journalists were in line to take pictures with Sesame Street!). Minority journalists were well represented across many other sessions as well. ONA15 in Los Angeles has a chance to take it a step further.
3. A big emphasis on wearable tech. Robert Hernandez, one of the coolest people you’ll meet at an ONA conference, hosted an entire panel on this, but wearable tech was also well represented during Amy Webb’s annual "10 Tech Trends for Journalists" talk and at the Midway throughout the week. Not only are we talking about Google Glass and the Apple Watch, but also the Oculus Rift, which was demonstrated at the Midway featuring The Des Moines Register’s “Harvest of Change” experiment. That was a hit.
Yes, all of this is experimental, especially the Oculus Rift, which made me nauseous after a while, but was overall a very cool experience. But, as Hernandez made clear in his talk, there’s no way we can write this technology off. This is clearly the future, though these are just baby steps of something that should become mainstream in the coming years. ONA14 did a great job of emphasizing this technology and giving attendees a chance to demo it all.
4. Impromptu talks. I liked the one Unconference I attended, about an Alabama high school football recruiting show hosted by AL.com, and several other Unconference sessions earned solid reviews as well. But beyond that, I saw at least two private sessions hosted in the hallways outside the ballrooms featuring a handful of people apiece. The Midway hosted small panels each hour as well, mostly by startups with products to share. With workshops and panels scheduled well ahead of time, it’s great to see last-minute topics of great interest come up and get discussed.
5. All of the conversations. I’ve written before that ONA conferences are largely about the conversations you have with journalists all over the country (and world, even). And, like previous years, I enjoyed every discussion I found myself in, from sports and viral journalism with Dan Shanoff to photojournalism and world experiences with Scott McKiernan and having dinner with Brad Gerick and Ethan Klapper, on top of all the people I had a beer or three with at the hotel bar. I should stop naming names or I’m going to bore you to death. But if you were one of those who chatted with me, even for a minute, thank you.
And last but not least…
What I sort of didn’t like
1. What about the smaller newsrooms? Like every year, ONA14 was incredibly well represented by national news organizations and larger metros across the United States. It wasn’t exactly well represented by smaller, community news entities. A former colleague of mine who works for a small community newspaper in Michigan attended the conference for the first time and pointed this out to me. This isn’t word-for-word, but he said something along the lines of: “Everything about this conference is great. I just don’t know how I can apply most of it to my job.”
2. We need more sports. Okay, this is a biased nitpick, I know. But we can’t discount the importance of digital sports journalism, especially in the wake of the NFL domestic violence scandal; sports journalism is still journalism. And other than that one Unconference session I attended on a football recruiting show, sports was virtually absent from ONA sessions this year.
If you ask me, there is a ton to learn from sports journalism across the country, and sports departments are often leading the cutting-edge journalism being done in many newsrooms. USA Today’s “For The Win” model could warrant a session on its own. The work of Deadspin, SB Nation and Bleacher Report can spawn another. We had an amazing opportunity to talk about World Cup coverage, too, with that having taken place three months ago, but that wasn’t discussed at all.
Overall, I think ONA15 could benefit from a session or two involving sports topics, even if they are serious such as the NFL and domestic violence, and have sports representation in several other sessions.
3. More emphasis on mobile, maybe? One Friday session, "We’re 50% Mobile. Now What?", was so jam-packed, journalists were turned away at the door. That’s all you need to know about how essential mobile is — not just in its growth as a medium but also the interest among journalists to learn more about it.
This is not to say ONA14 didn’t cover mobile enough; there were plenty of sessions involving mobile technology and a few that directly emphasized it. But it’s clear where we’re headed when most news organizations are crossing the 50% mark in mobile as a news medium. Perhaps we should consider crossing that 50% mark at the conference, too? Just something to think about.
That’s all I got… for now. If I have more to add, I will. In the meantime, chat with me about your thoughts, takeaways and criticisms of ONA14!
See you in L.A. next year!
This week is ONA14 in Chicago. This will be my third Online News Association conference in as many years and I’m just as geeked about this one as I was the past two years.
Why? Well, where do I begin? The hundreds of amazing journalists who will be there, for starters. The great city of Chicago, for another. The panels and workshops, of course. But also the conversations. The food. The booze. And, of course, the karaoke.
Is this your first ONA conference? If so, you’re in for a treat. Whatever money you’re spending on this trip, every dime will be worth it. Trust me. But to really take advantage of everything ONA has to offer, you’ll want to go in with some trips, tricks and pointers. Hopefully I can help you with that.
Start by reading this list of tips I gave before ONA13 last year. They are just as relevant now as they were in Atlanta. A quick overview:
1) Meet everybody you can.
2) Don’t worry about missing a session; take it in stride.
3) Use social media like crazy (and bring chargers).
4) Be prepared. For everything.
5) HAVE FUN.
Done reading that? Good. Now on to a new list of five!
1. Come early, leave late. Okay, so your travel accommodations might already be booked. I get it. If so, take this tip into ONA15. But when I attended ONA12 in San Francisco, I flew in Thursday night (after a day full of delays and reconnections) and left very early Sunday morning, around 6 a.m. So I had the two full days of the conference, plus Thursday night’s opening reception, to work with. In San Francisco. This was not nearly enough time to do everything I wanted to do.
Don’t get me wrong, that trip was $1,200 well spent. But ONA conferences, like any other conference, are more than about the sessions and workshops you’re planning to attend. For one thing, this is a chance to soak in one of the best and largest cities in America. Take advantage of that! Visit Millennium Park and “The Bean” like every other tourist. Check out Lake Michigan, though you probably don’t want to swim in it. Eat some Chicago pizza. (If you’re looking for a partner on that last one, you know how to find me.)
This year, I’m flying in very early Wednesday (9 a.m.) and flying back to Detroit late Sunday evening. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the extra time yet, but that’s the point: Flexibility. A chance to go with the flow, do what I want and make this ONA14 experience my own without feeling crunched on time. We’ll come back to this idea in the next couple tips.
2. Don’t spend the entire conference on your device(s). Last year, I wrote “Use social media like crazy” as one of my tips, which obviously involves a ton of phone, laptop and tablet usage. This year, I’m here to tell you that I still stand by that tip … with an asterisk.
One of the most valuable experiences of ONA conferences is the chance to network with some of the best and brightest journalists in person. There are happy hours and mixers planned every day, from #wjchat to Gannett to free whiskey tasting at the Midway (which I’m certain will happen again). These are your opportunities to meet people, make friends and develop connections that could lead to future employment, especially if you’re still in college. Bring business cards and pass them around like Halloween candy. Say hi to everyone you pass. Stop by the hotel bar a few times a day, get a drink and spark a few conversations.
So yes, while I encourage you to use Twitter a lot at ONA14 and to bring your electronic devices everywhere you go, don’t spend your entire day on them. Make in-person communication your first priority here. (But you should still keep a charger on you at all times!)
3. Lean toward attending workshops over panels. I love most ONA panels. They’re smart, entertaining, invaluable and cover plenty of the biggest questions and issues facing our industry today. But if I’m looking at the ONA14 schedule and deciding between a workshop and a panel, I’ll pick the workshop 9 times out of 10.
(Also, might be worth noting that if you do plan on attending a workshop, get there early. Space is limited and on a first come, first serve basis.)
So that leaves one question: What panels should you attend? Panels with topics you know the least about. That simple. Also, Amy Webb and Justin Ellis put on entertaining panels, so you may want to check those out, too.
4. Don’t live-tweet every panel. More than enough people are going to be doing this. Like I said last year, social media is ONA tradition. Every panel has a Twitter hash tag associated with it and you’re at a conference full of digital journalists. People are going to live-tweet like crazy. Don’t be one of them. Stand out.
What should you do instead, if you plan on tweeting? Share your thoughts. Your reactions. Your questions for what panelists are saying. Reply to others talking about the panel. Then try to meet up with them afterward and talk in person over a beer or three.
Another benefit to doing this over live-tweeting, other than the fact that your tweets will stand out, is you’re provoking new realms of discussion that aren’t taking place during the panel itself. While most ONA14 panels are very informative and thought-provoking, the discussions usually are a two-way street without many people contributing (other than asking questions at the end). This is a chance for you to raise new questions, talk with another group of journalists and, who knows, maybe you can turn it into a whole new panel for the Unconference!
Hey, speaking of which…
5. Consider attending an Unconference session. What’s Unconference? It’s an opportunity for journalists who have a session idea that isn’t already covered on the schedule at ONA14 to pitch that idea. Conference-goers will vote on the collected session ideas leading up to and during ONA14, and each winning session will be assigned a time and a room for it to come to fruition. Boom! Unconference.
So why do I recommend Unconference, other than the fact that I volunteered for it last year and the awesome Jessica Estepa is putting it on again? Several reasons: 1) Unconference sessions are smaller, which makes the rapport between everyone more diverse and hands-on. 2) The ideas are almost always innovative, off-the-wall and diverted from traditional conference sessions. 3) These sessions aren’t recorded, so you can’t watch them later. 4) Because I said so. Duh. (And I’ve already pitched a session, which I’ll link to once it’s posted on the #ONAUNCON site.)
A few more tips, in one sentence each: Get familiar with the hotel hosting the conference. Get familiar with the attractions near the hotel. Search #ONA14 on Twitter and start following fellow attendees. Ask at least one question at each panel you attend. If you have time to kill, visit the Midway if it’s open.
Oh and, of course, HAVE FUN. That’s what this is all about. See you in Chicago; let’s have a beer!
I didn’t write about this last winter but, roughly two weeks before the calendar hit 2014, my long-time colleague and best friend Jake May and I sat in a bar in Clarkston, Mich., bought a few beers, busted out two sheets of paper and wrote down our lists of goals for 2014.
To be clear, these weren’t “New Year’s Resolutions.” At least not to me. They were actual goals for self-improvement that I would carry on past the month of January and even past 2014. Some are pretty basic, such as “bench 200 pounds,” or “run a 10K,” or “read at least 10 books” (I’ve read six so far, by the way). Others are much more specific and more private. But nonetheless, I wrote down 18 goals and sought out to complete at least 10.
Why do this? One year earlier, when New Year’s 2013 hit, I only had one goal in mind: Fitness. I weighed roughly 190 lbs. at the time, had hovered around that size for several years (I graduated college at 210 lbs.) and couldn’t figure out a way to get in better shape. I went running 3-4 times a week, used weight machines at the gym and watched how many calories I ate each day. Weeks and weeks of that and… nothing. I knew I had to figure something else out. I wasn’t overly self-conscious about my body, but it was to the point where I could tell it affected my confidence and limited my focus. I needed a vice.
Then I discovered this article: "Everything You Know About Fitness Is A Lie." I recommend reading the whole thing but, long story short, it denounces the treadmills and ellipticals and weight machines you find in abundance at gyms. To build real-world strength and fitness, you have to use free weights such as barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. So I reworked my training regimen, started reading a couple books on healthy eating, stopped counting calories and, within the first three months of 2013, I lost 20 pounds and began lifting more weight than I ever had in my life.
Before 2013, fitness was something I got in and out of; never did it become a routine or a lifestyle. It felt like something I had to do but didn’t want to. Now? I can’t live without it. Lifting is one of my favorite parts of the day. I hate rest days. And, being a single male in his middle 20s, health and fitness became fun for me. I started taking better care of my teeth, cooking healthier food, reworking my wardrobe and trying new exercises and activities.
In other words, I felt more alive.
Fast forward to December 2013, with Jake in the bar, writing down goals for 2014. I found 2013 to be a rousing success in terms of self-improvement; I was eating healthier, working out harder, improving at my job every day and, best of all, enjoyed the trickle-down effect all of it had on other aspects of my life (Few things beat going to the dentist and having him tell you “your teeth are great. No problems. We’ll see you in six months!”). Now it was time to expand upon that.
Even though I wrote down 18 goals that ranged from watching 50 classic films to making a Freep.com post go viral to learning new dance techniques (yes, really), all of them rounded into one purpose: To become a more valuable individual through new experiences, tastes and skills. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone; rather, I wanted to step outside my comfort zone, test my limits and try new things. As humans in this age of technology, we have a greater tendency than ever to fall into the same day-to-day routine when there’s so much more we can do with the little time we have. I’m 27 years old, about to turn 28 in two months. I refuse to enter my 30s without at least trying my best to grasp everything life has to offer. (That’s the most sentimental I’ll get in this post, promise.)
Looking at my goal list now, I’ve completed 6 of my 18 goals, with several still in progress. With four goals to complete and four months to do it, I’m confident I can finish the year strong.
So why am I rambling about all this stuff now? Well, as you can tell if you scroll down BrianManzullo.com a little bit, I haven’t been updating this site very often. I’ve used it in the past, both on Tumblr and WordPress, as an aggregation of interesting articles on the media, journalism and sports, as well as a showcase for some of my work as a digital journalist.
I want to expand upon that — just like I did with my goals for 2014. I want to use BrianManzullo.com as a showcase for my work outside of work as well. After all, as a human, you aren’t just your job, right? All of your experiences mold you into the person you are today, whether in your career or not.
If I learn how to cook a few new dishes, I will share my experience, with photos and/or video. If I read a new book, I will share what I learned and what I’ll apply from it. If I had a great day at work and created an innovative project, I’ll share it and go behind-the-scenes with you on the thought process behind it. If I actually run that 10K (I haven’t yet), I’ll write some words about it. If I set out to accomplish a new goal and/or accomplish it, I will expound upon that, too.
My hope is that anyone following me is inspired like I am to improve with their lives as well — whether it be in their careers, at home, with their families or their personal lives. I’ve already received positive feedback from friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter, where I irregularly share my experiences. And one thing I’ve learned in all this is when you have momentum, you have to find ways to keep it going!
In closing, hopefully you continue to read my work (hell, if you’ve read this far already, that’s a start). And if there’s anything you want to share, feel free to do so, whether on here or on Twitter. I’d love to hear what everybody else is accomplishing in their lives.
With the “dog days of summer” in sports, you have to get a little creative to keep your fans engaging with your brand. Here’s one way I did it in late May and early June, taking advantage of the rich history of Detroit sports.
We had fans on Facebook and Twitter construct all-time lineups, setting all-time athletes at certain values depending on 1) how great they were, obviously, and 2) how popular they were among fans.
The photos of the games are below, but click on each team name to see the Freep.com post with share/comment numbers.
Yes, it’s social but it’s not just about social media. Yes, it’s about engagement but not engagement with us but instead about a community’s engagement with its own work. It’s about results, outcomes, impact.
Now that metrics are part of the news agenda, all of the sticks are in the air. Just because something is popular does not make it worthy, but ignoring audience engagement is a sure route to irrelevance.
But unlike the days when legacy media loyalty called for reporters to reserve their biggest scoops for their employers, Greenwald says he’s proud of the way the Guardian (and now, the Intercept) didn’t hog the story. “There are dozens and dozens of journalists who have worked with lots of Snowden documents,” he said, because he has felt the entire time that “the obligation is to the story and not the institution competitively.” By sharing his knowledge and materials with multiple (but vetted as trustworthy) outlets and individuals, Greenwald says the goal is to “maximize the impact. That has been crucial to not just engaging Americans [with the NSA story], but the world.”
It’s with excitement that I tell the world that I will soon be joining L.A.’s KPCC as a community editor...