Archive for October, 2014

by Nancy Copic | @nancycopic

Beacon Opinions Editor Lydia Laythe, Adviser Nancy Copic and Beacon Editor in Chief Kelsey Thomas at Google's Chicago office during ONA14

Beacon Opinions Editor Lydia Laythe, Adviser Nancy Copic and Beacon Editor in Chief Kelsey Thomas at Google’s Chicago office during ONA14

This was my first Online News Association conference, so neither my students nor I knew what to expect besides a great setting. (Hello, Chicago!) With the exception of a few local, one-day SPJ conferences, all other conventions I’d attended with Beacon staffers were for college journalists only.

Chicago in September- ideal setting for ONA 14

Chicago in September- ideal setting for ONA 14


At ONA, we were at the ‘adults’ table,’ though many of the attendees (and panelists) were not much older than Kelsey and Lydia. For instance…

Digital Millennials Take Center Stage

This panel featured:

  • Aaron Williams, a news apps developer for the Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Anika Anand, director of engagement for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that covers education
  • Beatrice Katcher,  graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism working on a project to get children more interested in news.

My takeaways:

Advice to young journalists from Aaron: “Learn math. Please.”

Anika on getting your stories out there, engaging readers: “Send your story to everyone you talked to in your story.” Also get people/groups who care about your story to post/share it on their social media, and look at journalism “with a fresh pair of eyes.”

Meredith Artley, Anna Homes, Liz Heron, Ann Marie Lipinski, Susan Smith Richardson, Vivian Schiller, Callie Schweitzer, Benet Wilson

Meredith Artley, Anna Homes, Liz Heron, Ann Marie Lipinski, Susan Smith Richardson, Vivian Schiller, Callie Schweitzer, Benet Wilson

Lady Leaders Lightning Talks

This powerhouse of a panel featured:

One by one, panelists shared lessons they learned, often the hard way, and “best advice.”

Some nuggets:

“It’s OK to say no.” – Holmes

Lipinski, on the other hand, said she had to train herself “to say yes” because when she was offered promotions, her initial reaction was that she wasn’t equipped to do the job. She also advocated that managers openly acknowledge both personal and professional passions (her family and journalism, in her case) because it “can humanize the leader.”

“If something scares you, it’s probably worth doing.” – Heron, who also said to “always negotiate,” something she learned after accepting her first job and realizing she had undersold herself.

“Expect resistance.” – Richardson

“It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” – Wilson


“Lady Leaders”
Power selfie

All Eyes On Ferguson, Mo.

Trymaine Lee of MSNBC

Trymaine Lee of MSNBC

This could not have been more timely. As this panel of reporters spoke about their experiences covering the anguish and racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo. following the police shooting of Michael Brown, confrontations flared up once more between citizens and police.

“There are so many stories like this across the country,” Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery said. “The story, frankly, isn’t about Michael Brown anymore. This is a deeper story.”

(In mid-August, Lowery unwittingly became part of the story  when Ferguson police arrested him and Ryan Reilly, a reporter for the Huffington Post.)

ONA produced a follow-up video with all of the panelists, who appear in the following order:

Claire Ward (Producer/Shooter Vice News) & David Carson (Photographer, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Trymaine Lee (Reporter MSNBC) & Michel Martin (interviewer, NPR)

Wesley Lowery (Washington Post) & Mariah Stewart (freelancer covering Ferguson for Huffington Post and Beacon Reader)

Going Mobile: Best Practices for Staff and Students

This was probably the most relevant session for me as a college media adviser, and the timing was perfect: We’re about to launch The Beacon mobile app.

Mike Reilly, who teaches online journalism at Depaul University inspired me with a site his classes collaborate on,  The Red Line Project . It incorporates a lot of data visualizations, including Chicago homicides, an interactive map with local restaurant inspections, and the ChicagoStumbler, a beginning journalism class Tumblr mapping the city’s worst sidewalks.

redline project

My takeaway: Datawrapper is my new favorite digital tool.

The University of Oregon’s J-school was also well represented on this panel. Ass’t Prof. Ed Madison presented on OR Magazine, a slick, interactive iPad publication students produce in a class. I was intrigued with the workflow, which is more collaborative than assembly line style. Designers go out in the field with reporters and photographers, so it’s a team effort from the start. They also use social media extensively to create buzz around the stories.

OR magazine

UO’s Mark Blaine spoke about going beyond he-said-she-said journalism with the Climate Change Reporting Project. His key advice for digital projects: “Always use the simplest tool for the job.”

My takeaway: In pursuing projects like this, (or hiring for The Beacon), identify students who are highly motivated. Value ambition over skills.

This Storify has a lot more on this valuable session.

The Midway

One of the more interesting displays here was Gannett’s  Oculus Rift booth. The Des Moines Register experimented  with the virtual reality technology in a September interactive series called “Harvest of Change.” The headgear’s a bit clunky, but it was intriguing to consider the possible journalistic uses of virtually being on the scene of a story and getting more engaged with it as a result.

Lydia tries the Oculus Rift.

Lydia tries the Oculus Rift.

Start up your newsroom: Building your culture, your team and your products

I’m a big fan of  Vox, so it was fun to hear from Senior Project Manager/Executive Editor Melissa Bell. (“Have people enter a story from where they are.”)

She joined Re/Code’s Kara Swisher and Lara Setrakian, CEO of News Deeply and executive editor of Syria Deeply for a panel on startups.

Melissa Bell, Lara Setrakian, Kara Swisher

Topically, the conversation went all over the place.

Favorite quotes:

“Make sure we have one set objective…Having that clarity of mind allows you to move much faster.” – Bell on focus

“Do whatever you can to make people feel welcome.”- Bell on diversity in the workplace

“Are we surfacing new information? Are we tapping voices we haven’t heard from?”- Setrakian on adopting “a beat that fell off the news desk.”

“I hate bosses. I didn’t want to have to work for anybody.” -Swisher

And there was so much more…

Amy Webb

Amy Webb’s Top Ten Tech Trends in Journalism , the

Deep Dive into The New York Times Innovation Report, of which much has already been written and

Kelsey and Lydia’s Top Five Takeaways from #ONA14

Lydia and Kelsey with the famed Chicago Tribune building as a backdrop

Lydia and Kelsey with the famed Chicago Tribune building as a backdrop


1. Mobile mobile mobile. Consumers usually won’t come to our website; importance of going to them.

2. On that same note, send stories to sources / anyone who might be interested or tag on social media. The more other people share your content, the more views you’ll get.
3. Consumer as center of focus – what are her motivations, behaviors? How can we meet that? How can we create experiences that work for the consumer?
4. Brief iPhone video advice: have to be SUPER close to subject to get good sound, alternate wide shots, medium shots, and close shots, don’t have subject look at camera
5. KNIGHT LAB RESOURCES: ❤ timelineJS, story map, audio tool
1. Get more diversity (in stories/voices/staff)
2. Read a story in multiple formats in various settings (to see how the user experience is different)
3. Send everyone you talk to for an article the finished piece (good relationships with sources)
4. Say “no” and say “yes” – “if something scares you it’s probably worth doing.” (know your limits but push yourself to do things outside your comfort zone)
5. Meet your audience where they are: instagram, cell phones, SNAPCHAT
(Nancy) From inspiration to reality…
There’s always a moment of truth, a bit of a comedown returning to campus after a conference like this. Inspiration! Ideas galore! So many cool things we could and will do! This week!
The challenge: incorporating ambitious new ideas with the day-to-day reality of training (and re-training) mostly inexperienced student journalists in the basics of reporting, writing, media literacy, visual journalism and ethics. Not to mention the mysteriously disappearing Google Doc (containing one of our most important stories), hiring new student reporters to replace the ones who quit suddenly, and motivating the  remaining fatigued staffers slogging through a full academic load, jobs, volunteer commitments and family obligations.
So we go step by step, one journalism experiment at a time, trying this and that. If it goes well, great. If not, I’ll think of what Washington Post Executive Producer & Senior Editor, Digital News Cory Haik said during the #FailFair panel: “Done is better than perfect.”
Bonus: ONA has linked to videos, slides and more from the conference here.

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