Live Blog: ONA Chicago Wrap-Up

By A.J. Feather

Welcome to the live-blog of our ONA Chicago Wrap-Up session.

The panelists are Brian Steffens, Director of Communications for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Stephanie Ebbs, a masters student at MU, Annie Hammock, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri and Dan Archer, a RJI residential fellow who has done a lot of experimentation in interactive storytelling.

Steffens says the sessions on ethics and new media were the most interesting to him.

Ebbs, a masters student at the University of Missouri, worked in the newsroom at ONA Chicago. She wrote several articles throughout the session, including one on algorithms.

She focused on the use of algorithms in news.  Ebbs says she wants to communicate to the average consumers how algorithms are used to help both advertisers and consumers.

"The biggest takeaway for me was some of the work the Des Moines Register was doing with the Oculus Rift." Steffens said.  "Dan Archer (another panelist) from here at MU also got a lot of buzz and a lot of one-on-ones."

He says the experimentation in the virtual reality space. is really important and gained a lot of attention.

"I felt people were a lot more open to innovation," Archer said.  "They're finally starting to see these pieces as stories, even if they're in another format."

Hammock says she heard a lot about the death of the home page.  She says it's no longer as important to get your story on the front page of a newspaper or the front page of a website.

"When your story is pushed out [via push notification], it vibrates on people's legs," Hammock said.  "That's powerful."

The panelists also talked about what they think student journalists should start paying attention to.

Steffens said it's important to focus on data that tells you what to do next, not just what you have done.  He also said it's important for students to understand things are changing continually.

"Predictive analytics may be the thing this week or this month, but it won't be next month or next year," Steffens said.

"Analytics tend to not conduce creativity." Steffens said.  "These quotas can be unproductive."

He also said it's important to build a network.

"A lot of students don't do it till their senior year, but it's hugely important," Steffens said.

"Stories matter even if they aren't getting the big numbers." Hammock said. "That's because the audience is not monolithic."

Ebbs said it's important for people to be knowledgable about analytics.

Archer said students should learn how to build arguments through several pieces.  He said it's more about forming the narrative through several pieces that engage people than writing any one story.

"It fosters a sense of transparency and it's good for the audience," Archer said.

He suggests students and journalists develop an elevator pitch that focuses around their niche.

"If there's something in particular that speaks to you like coding, then that would really help," Archer said.

Steffens recommends journalists always have something new to present.

"It shows growth," Steffens said.  "If you really want to work some place, do that every three months."

Steffens talked about how advertising is driving some of the innovation in journalism.

"Some people said you have to have a team that does that and they're separate from the editorial team," Steffens said.  "That's a pretty standard response.  All the ads that are in the Missourian or the Tribune are sponsored though.  If you produce content that adheres to all the rules of journalism.  You can have a sponsor."

Hammock agreed.  She said they need some of that money because of the way digital journalism is built.

"You need to make it clear it's an ad," Hammock said.  "I think people are more willing to discuss the idea now.  They didn't use to."

Archer said he's still impressed with the use of Twitter and how prominent it is.

Ebbs said people were really excited about how journalism jobs look in a few decades.

"While everyone's thinking about how flexible and adaptable we need to be, even big companies are struggling to do that," Hammock said.  "The fact that that's still an issue means there's a lot of work to do."

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