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November 2010
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ONA 2010


At the end of October I spent three days at the Online News Association conference in DC. A lot of the presentations are on their site. It’s a big event—about 1,200 people—with a professional focus but also a strong academic contingent. I went there to get a sense of the field—which is vibrant—but also with an eye toward our upcoming Online Journalism class next spring.

Thursday was pre-conference workshops. I went to Data Journalism in the morning (with Jaimi Dowdell of IRE, a group you should know). and Web Design Trends in the afternoon. In Data Journalism there was good amount of Excel, a lot of mapping and data visualization, and good resources for accessing data online. I’m excited about adding some of this to our class in the spring. Web Design trends was a review mostly of HTML5 and CSS3, topics I’ll touch on, but which are more connected to what I do in the DArt program.

Friday was the main conference. There’s too much to detail here, but I sat in on sessions about TBD, a new local site in the D.C. area, the new investigative journalism landscape (ProPublica, PBS Frontline, the Investigative News Network which is an umbrella group), and then went to tip sessions from Google/YouTube (you knew they’re the same company, yes?). It was tips on Google itself, such as Trends and Insights, Google Maps (notably fusion tables, which are still in beta) and YouTube for journalists,  including YouTube News and their CitizenTube blog.

Lunch was a conversation with Vivian Schiller, head of NPR and Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL. The latter was forced to respond to the audience question (from Robert Hernandez of USC Annenberg): “Is Patch evil?” We’ll have a lot to say about that during the course. Here’s what Hernandez said about it.


The evening keynote was by Jonathan Harris, who was simply brilliant. His work is at the intersection of journalism, storytelling, computer science and digital art. It’s too much to describe, but take a look at his site (e.g. the Whale Hunt from 2007 and the We Feel Fine project from 2006—not the book, which came later).

Saturday began with a panel discussion on Wikileaks. It got a bit contentious, but most of the panelists were in support of founder Julian Assange’s efforts, notably Gavin MacFadyen of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in the UK. He noted that the leaks get much more play overseas than they seem to in the U.S.

Next was another session on using and visualizing public data (obviously a key subject). Key speakers were from the Open Knowledge Foundation (UK) and the Sunlight Foundation. Then on to one about mobile devices, where the “Benton Curve of Journalistic Interestingness” showed up (again).


Lunch was winners of Knight Foundation awards (e.g. Document Cloud, which I heard about a lot). I went to a session about video, but it was about cinematic documentary using the Canon 5D, which is all the rage in that community. They suggested the Canon Rebel as a more entry-level camera—we’re talking about video here, as well as stills. As my brain started to complain, I went to one more on startup community magazines, notable Pictory and LongShotMag.

There’s lots more—networking, getting camera tips, meeting Tom Ferrick of Metropolis, a new Philly site, shooting some interviews, trying to advance a  research project about student content online. Some, if not all, of that will find its way into the spring in some form or another. Stay tuned.

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