You could write a book about all the amazing projects, technologies and ideas that were shared at the Online News Association conference last week. But it takes a while to write a book (trust me) and by then, the moment would have passed. So in lieu of a definitive analysis of the best ONA conference ever, I humbly offer four observations:
1. Twitter makes it better: While much is said about the power of Twitter during a conference for backchannel reporting and discussion, I think the strength of Twitter at a conference like ONA happens before the conference. Through Twitter, people have already formed relationships even though they have never met in person. Then, when they finally have the opportunity to put a face with a Twitter ID, it’s more like seeing an old friend than meeting someone new. Meeting @ryansholin, @mattmansfield and the @NiemanLab guys, among others, seemed like a reunion, not a first-time meeting.
2. It’s officially entrepreneurial: I was fortunate to be involved in bringing a couple of sessions with an entrepreneurial bent to the conference: 6 in 60, where new ideas were presented and judged for business opportunity, and From Journalist to Entrepreneur. Both sessions were packed and seemed to be well received. An entrepreneurial flavor influenced much of the conversations between sessions, too, and then four entrepreneurial ventures (Publish2, Muckety, ProPublica and Next Door Media) captured OJA awards on the final night to solidify this new reality.
3. We need less content: I am encouraging conference planners for next year to build a schedule with more breathing room, even if it means cutting sessions. Rushing from a keynote to a panel with no time in between cuts down on the opportunity for networking (not everyone goes to the bar, after all). Some structured networking time, with a coffee or snack bar, would help people find and connect with even more colleagues (and Twitter friends).
4. There was a swagger: The ONA conference, sold out for the third year in a row, has grown a reputation for being a sunny destination in the cloudy world of traditional journalism conferences. This year, the energy, enthusiasm and optimism started to emerge as a swagger. Instead of simply feeling positive about the future, many people I talked to had confidence that their organization was on the right track. Even people who were looking for jobs didn’t seem to be scared. The consensus seemed to be, I’m in the right place (digital) at the right time, so when something opens up, I’ll be there to take advantage.