Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Post-#ONA11 thoughts

I wanted to take a minute to think about the talks I had and the sessions I attended at ONA11. Random and not necessarily journalism-related topics.

Tech is not everything

I’ve had the privilege and honor to be a part of the weekly phenomenon that is #wjchat. And we were lucky enough to get a session at this year’s conference. Thanks to @webjournalist, we had some awesome temporary tattoos to spread around the conference. They spread like wildfire. So did the delicious rice crispy treats at the Disney booth. 

A lot of ONA is about technology and what is coming for newsrooms and journalists themselves, but a lot of it, at least for me, is about re-forging connections in person. I cannot even begin to spout off the list of amazing people I met this weekend, and the people I only get to see once a year, but feel like are some of my best friends. 

The technology is not everything. The technology helps us reach new people, but low-fi things like temporary tattoos that won’t wash off spread the word and face-to-face chats cement the bond. 

That thought is not just personal, but a good reminder for when I get lost in the technology of social networks. I could spend hours looking at code, widgets and metrics. But getting out there, talking to some people and handing out pieces of paper will really make a difference as well. Look at the whole Open Newsroom movement, pioneered by folks at JRC and California Watch.

We need to get on the bus, and get out into the community, as was the message of @acnatta's "If I were in charge…" pitch.

The user is the driver

I swear to God that I only sort of knew what Matt Thompson and Megan Garber were up to. Yet, somehow, our ideas crossed paths.

It is no longer about the brand, the person, or the entity. It’s about the user.

They’re driving our brands, they’re driving our social media

It’s nothing I haven’t written about before (Trust the audience!) but it seemed to come out full-force at ONA11. Not only did @mthomps and @megangarber remind folks that brands cannot be #shelfish, but I pushed social media editors to let go of the notion that we know what our audience will share on networks.

Facebook and Google proved it by blowing up what we knew about news on their platforms. It should be scary, but it’s exciting. We can now get back to really working with our audience and working for them, not just the advertisers.

I’m provoked by the thought that we have access to so much data and the ever-increasing potential to include audiences in our stories. Storify is on the way to releasing new changes and the folks at Chartbeat spoke to me about how much social intelligence I can get from their product. It’s amazing. This can, and probably forever will, change the way we produce journalism.

For some things, there are still no easy answers

I got involved in a long tweet chain between @racialicious and others after the diversity keynote Saturday. 

My point in longer than 140 characters: While as a minority, I appreciate news outlets’ efforts to include diversity, over the years I’ve grown cynical as to how authentic some of these efforts are. I’ve seen news corporations put up rules like “every story must have a diverse source" and "Every front page must have a diverse face.” While it’s a simple way to increase diversity, what if the from page is about farmers and the pope in Iowa? Are you going to force diversity on the page just to fill that quota? In some instances, I think the answer is yes.

And there comes the rub. Newsrooms are being sacked by a call for more diversity — it’s happening in my own newsroom, too. We all want to hire more diverse candidates, include more diverse stories and show the world from a different viewpoint. Why can’t we find the existing diverse staff, have them help us recruit and tell stories that are relevant to the whole community by asking the community what we’re missing? Here’s where this all usually goes wrong. I have been asked — several times — to write stories about Chinese New Year or some other Asian heritage celebration. First off, you are better off by sending someone who can learn from such an event. Second, covering diversity in the form of holidays, events and protests is not covering diversity. 

It’s not an easy problem and I have no easy solutions. But this is not it.

Nor is the issue of how to get more developers into journalism, which I have discussed at length, several times, with the amazing @michelleminkoff. It’s a hard job, pays little and many journo-programmers want to work of data or partially reporting projects, which is understandable. But news sites are in a state of decay and I can’t think of a site that couldn’t use another programmer just to work on making what is there better.  No easy answers there either.

But we need to try. And as was the topic of a whole session, we need to learn to fail better.

Last thought: You need a power strip

Even though I was part of the group that help put together sessions, I still can complain about the lack of power outlets. There were several moments during the conference where all my technology was dead or dying. That is not a good thing when you use them to track where everyone is and you know, maybe get some work done.

The amazing @jenleereeves had a power strip and she made some #powerfriends. She gifted what she had to the rest of the conference and we were grateful. I also leeched some powerstrip time from @NABJDigital and her amazing Griffin Powerstrip of which I need to buy.

What lesson is there in this? Bring a goddamned power strip, because there will never be enough plugs. Which really means: I am constantly blown away by the work done by people who sat two feet away from me. @jonkaj of @tizianoproject is a friend of mine, yet I am in absolute awe by the work he and his team accomplish. In a time when we are supposed to be struggling, there is amazing work being done and amazing work left to be done. The well of hope for web journalism will never dry up. So bring a goddamned power strip and let’s make this disco happen.


  1. bui posted this