Archive for September, 2019

My biggest takeaway from the Online News Association (ONA) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana is this: journalists are working hard, but struggling to stay on top of the rapidly developing digital world.

This was ONA’s 20th anniversary.

I loved celebrating the 20th ONA conference with these three ladies.

In the last 20 years, what has been expected of journalists has shifted dramatically. Things, stories, experiences are being driven by social media and the news has had to adjust accordingly. This is really the reason ONA exists. Everything is online.

The sessions I went to and what I learned had more to do with doing journalism well on the internet than doing well in general. This is an important distinction since adding the element of “online” actually adds overwhelming layers of an infinite number of things to think about, pay attention to and address.

What do I mean by this? Well, rapidly developing technology and the vast world of virtual reality means:

  1. A journalist has to do it all: report, photograph, film, stay ever-present on social media, and also stay somehow human. Gone are the days of hiring a full-time photographer. This is something we have known for a few years now and did not come as a surprise to me at this conference. However, the reality of what that meant for journalists doing “just one thing” was made especially dauntingly apparent here.
  2. Journalism has to think vertically. For a long time, journalists have been thinking horizontally. Horizontally-shot photographs are what made the front page because that is what fit the layout best. Even when most of the news was digested on the computer or the television, journalists were still thinking horizontally since that is what fit those screens best. However, we have really rather suddenly entered a vertical world: the phone. The amount of conversations I sat in on surrounding how to grow a paper’s social media presence using vertical imagery shouldn’t have been surprising, but as a visual-thinker, I cannot bring myself to warm up to the idea of shooting video vertically or making a horizontal video fit a vertical screen.
  3. News outlets are creating positions not only for social media teams, but for audience editors who essentially exist to gauge social media response towards (what The Washington Post Senior Audience editor Everdeen Mason dubs) social media “experiments.” This means diving into analytics to determine beyond what went well, but to gauge why things did not go well, to come up with digital transformation strategies, to teach their reporters where their traffic is coming from, and to effectively develop an audience on all social media platforms. Yes, that even means some audience editors are thinking of ways to appeal to Tik-Tok audiences.
One session left me with a few tips and tricks for tackling a shift to a vertically organized digital world.

After this conference, I am not sure what the future of journalism is. All I know is what other journalists know:

  1. Good journalism is a necessity.
  2. Good journalism is going to have to keep up with the times.

But the issue with keeping up with the times is, more than being concerned with what we are leaving behind as we move forward into a digital world, we need to be aware of what we are taking with us.

As Rappler journalist Maria Ressa pointed out in her speech at ONA this year, “Colonialism moved online…Lies laced with anger and hate spread faster than boring facts.”

Journalists have a lot to do, it’s incredibly overwhelming, nobody knows exactly what’s next, but hey! The NOLA food was AMAZING.

Food. Such good food.

Annika Gordon

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Hey everyone! It’s Claire Desmarais, the 2019-2020 editor-in-chief for The Beacon. Last week, I went to the Online News Association conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, with Maddie, our news and managing editor, and Annika, our multimedia editor. We spent the week attending lots of sessions related to journalism and online news, which has definitely given us some better insight into how we can improve our work here at The Beacon. Here’s a breakdown of what I learned in the different sessions and ways to improve our content at The Beacon.

Building Trust: Newsroom Tools for the “Fake News” Era (Panel)

This was the first session I went to on Thursday, and one of the more important sessions as well. With so man accusations of fake news today, building trust with your audience has never been more important. Journalists have a responsibility to create and maintain trust with our audience so we can effectively communicate the information we’ve gathered. Trust is what creates sustainable news organizations, and without it, there is no news organization. Some of the panelists talked about how journalism is imperative to democracy, but if journalists don’t maintain their credibility and trust, then they can cause more harm than good. But to break it down, we need to define trust. Trust is about building a relationship with our readers to serve the overall public good. It requires proactive listening, reliability, consistency, and an emotional connection. It’s a difficult process to build trust but we need to prioritize it and continue to ask questions and provide explanations so we can change people’s attitudes and enhance their overall media literacy.

Essentially, we have to get it right. If we don’t maintain accuracy, then trust cannot be built.


Audience Metrics/Development

Another session I attended was in the form of discussion groups. For the first 45 minutes, I was at a table talking about how to create an effective social media campaign and some examples of successful campaigns. Some examples included doing live streams on Instagram and Facebook, conducting Twitter polls, using Instagram story videos, and using Instagram stories to TELL a story. With the increase in social media usage, developing effective campaigns for news organizations has never been more important. The social platforms allow for a new way to communicate messages in a different type of medium other than on a website or in a printed newspaper or magazine. With social, we can curate more organic conversations around certain topics. It also allows for the audience so see behind the scenes of the organization through the use of images.

Breaking News

Breaking news is something that happens in the blink of an eye. Whether it’s an accident, fire, flood, shooting, or something else, there are specific steps in place that journalists need to know to make sure they approach the situation correctly.

  1. Slow down
  2. Check each other’s steps
  3. Independently confirm information
  4. Allow the story to continue developing
  5. Correct mistakes
  6. Admit what you don’t know


These six ideas help journalists asses the situation at hand and make sure that nothing is rushed and reported on inaccurately. This is extremely important because, during breaking news stories, there can be a lot of misinformation and ethical issues surrounding the information coming to the reporter. The speaker also noted that we all make mistakes, but we need to learn from those mistakes and make sure we do better next time. Maintaining transparency is essential, and fact-checking is crucial.

Overall, I learned a lot at this conference about reporting, leading, and taking care of myself as a journalist. Though these are only a few of the things I learned, I have a whole notebook full of information and notes about ways to be better.

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Going to my first ONA conference was definitely a valuable and memorable experience. It was so much fun to be in New Orleans, and I learned a lot during the sessions at the conference. I want to share a few of my takeaways and what I plan to bring back to The Beacon and apply to my future as a journalist.

Building Trust: Newsroom Tools for the “Fake News” Era

I really enjoyed my first session of the conference. During this talk on building trust, I was able to hear how media professionals are confronting mistrust and “fake news.” It is extremely hard to build trust with your audience when there is misinformation and disinformation that spread so rapidly. 

As journalists, we need to rebuild the relationship with the public. It is not enough to just hope that they will trust us. We have to actively build that trust. And that is not an easy task.

Luckily, the amazing speakers provided me with insights and tips to help build trust. I plan to use what I learned in this session and apply it to building trust between The Beacon and the UP community. 

Here are some key tips:

  • If we want people to trust us, we have to trust them
  • Be transparent about your workflow, process, etc.
  • Meet people where they are: ask them what they need
  • Understand why people don’t trust

I found this session very valuable and I am excited to continue to build trust between The Beacon and our audience!

Maria Ressa

When I found out that Maria Ressa was going to be at the conference, I was very excited. As a Filipino journalist myself, I have looked up to Ressa and her journalistic integrity and determination. 

She has been arrested many times and has faced threats from the government to shut her organization down. Yet she still fights back with a smile on her face.

During her talk, Ressa spoke about press freedom being necessary for democracy. Information is power and the public deserves to have the power to make decisions on their own based on the information they receive. Information needs to be true as well. No facts mean no truth which leads to no trust and ultimately no democracy.

Ressa also touched on how social media is playing a role in misinformation/disinformation. She said that social media broke democracy, but it can also save it. We have to take steps to do this though.

I was extremely inspired by Ressa. I want to embody her drive and passion for finding and reporting the truth while also being a smart business owner. I hope to help The Beacon maintain its value of truth and telling the community the stories they not only want to read, but need to read.

An Evening with Judy Woodruff

I honestly had not heard of Judy Woodruff before finding out I had the chance to listen to her speak. Upon a quick google search, I discovered how lucky I was to be able to hear her and learn from her.

Woodruff gave an inspiring talk about how the job of a journalist is needed now more than ever. With lies and hate being spread rapidly, it is up to journalists to spread the truth. 

I was really inspired after Woodruff’s talk. I could tell she cared deeply about spreading the truth and she provided hope as well. It is easy to talk about journalism as a dying industry or being full of lies, but she encouraged me and the audience to keep fighting against misinformation.

I hope to help The Beacon do our job. We have to tell the stories that the UP community need to know If we don’t, then who will? If there is no organization to provide the unbiased story, then anyone can shape the narrative and our community will be extremely misinformed. 

Judy Woodruff helped me to see how critical my job is––even at the level of student journalism. 


I learned so much at the ONA conference. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity and I am excited for a great year ahead with the Beacon!

-Maddie Pfeifer, news and managing editor 

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It’s hard to keep up with the exciting things Beacon alumni are doing. Some members of the class of 2017 are especially worthy of note. You may have already seen the work of these recent Beacon staffers in their high profile careers:

Malika Andrews (Beacon Editor-in-Chief 2016-17) covers the NBA for ESPN. In recent months, she has appeared regularly on “The Jump.”

Malika on The Jump

Clare Duffy, (2015-2017) News and Managing Editor covers technology for CNN Business.

Clare Duffy CNN profile page

Ben Arthur (Sports Editor 2016-17) covers the Seattle Seahawks for the Seattle P.I.

Ben podcast

They’ve come a long way from The Beacon newsroom in St. Mary’s.

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Update: Fiona O’Brien’s profile of Fr. Claude Pomerleau won Second Place for Best Profile. Anush Hakobyan’s piece won Third Place for Best Column.

Two Beacon pieces are in the running for national writing awards from the College Media Association.

A profile of beloved political science professor Fr. Claude Pomerleau written four months before he died is a finalist for a Pinnacle Award for Best Profile. Reporter Fiona O’Brien wrote the piece, “Eyewitness to history.”

“Being open to changes,” an opinion piece by reporter Anush Hakobyan is a finalist for Best Column. Anush’s piece is about her experience as an immigrant from Armenia, and what’s she’s learned from the challenge of leaving everything familiar behind.

Pinnacle Award winners will be announced at the Fall National College Media Convention Oct. 31 – Nov. 3 in Washington, D.C.

See the full list of Pinnacle finalists for writing awards here.

Anush story

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