Can't go to the 2012 Online News Association Conference? Learn from it anyway.

By Andrew Gibson
Not everyone can go to the 2012 Online News
Association Conference, but that doesn't mean you
can't learn from ONA12.
Thursday marks the start of what might be the world's most talent laden and genuinely awesome gatherings of digital journalists.

The 2012 Online News Association Conference, happening in San Francisco through Saturday, features the likes of Liz Heron, Wall Street Journal social media and engagement director, and Juana Summers, a Politico national reporter -- and 2009 Missouri School of Journalism graduate -- who's been following around GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

In other words, Thursday marks the start of three heavenly days.

And of course, you're not going.

Well, neither am I. But there's still something you can do: scan the conference schedule. Maybe that sounds boring, but if you take five minutes, you might read about a session that intrigues you. Maybe something you want to learn about on your own. It's not necessary to fly west to learn data journalism, you know.

(For the record, ONA will livestream some parts of the conference. You should also follow the #ONA12 hashtag.)
Here are three sessions that caught my eye:

The Rise of University News Startups

Description: "J-Schools are launching news sites as outlets to teach students both reporting and entrepreneurship skills. Hear about several models that are working."

Why it's awesome: I don't know which outlets will be discussed -- but if you haven't heard, the Missouri School of Journalism has launched its own student-staffed online publication, Missouri Business Alert. It should be interesting to learn what other universities are doing. 

An Olympian Task: A BBC Debriefing

Description: "Your sports coverage may not have to rise to the level of the Olympics, but the lessons can be replicable. The BBC staffer who led the implementation of its digital coverage will walk you through planning and executing 17 days of live video, mobile, highlights, results, schedules, TV listings, news, features and photos -- including navigation and interface that seamlessly moved audiences to second screens."

PresenterCait O'Riordan, BBC head of product for sport and 2012

Why it's awesome: Chances are you found some innovative Olympics coverage from American news organizations. For example, The New York Times cooked up an interesting graphic about the first head-to-head race between U.S. swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. But if you remember, the 2012 Games happened in London. That means listening to the woman who coordinated a British news organization's coverage will likely be fascinating. 

Drones for Journalism

Description: "Think drones are a distant future tech? Think again. The technology behind small autonomous aerial vehicles is advancing so fast and coming down in price so quickly that an entire group of DIYers now can program planes to fly routes all by themselves. Congress will open the skies to drones by 2015 and industries from agronomy to law enforcement to golf course managers are taking notice. The possibilities for journalism via drones are huge. But plentiful drones open all kinds of ethical and legal questions for journalists. This panel will cover the tech, the reality of what journalists can or will be able to do with a drone and what this all means for privacy, ethics and the law."


Why it's awesome: I don't need to say much. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2011 established a drone-journalism lab where "students and faculty will build drone platforms, use them in the field and research the ethical, legal and regulatory issues involved in using pilotless aircraft to do journalism." Intrigued?

If you could add a session to the conference schedule, what would it be? Leave us a comment.

Image courtesy of the Online News Association

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