Now what? How to apply your ONA18 knowledge when you get home

ONA attendees end up with a lot of notes. Photo by Charlotte Norsworthy

In between volunteer shifts at ONA18, Melissa Daniels rapidly typed notes on her phone during sessions. As a freelance journalist, she has spent her conference time searching for best practices to apply to her work in Los Angeles.

“It plants a seed in my brain,” Daniels said, clutching her phone. “I’ll go over my notes on the flight back, but it’s a lot. This is a lot.”

Being able to retain and digest the tools learned at ONA is an underrated skill. Taking ideas from the conference and applying them immediately in newsrooms can be difficult.

This idea connects to a concept in the academic world called transfer of learning. Essentially, it describes how difficult it can be to be able to take information from one experience and then apply it to your day-to-day practice.


For starters, most ONA attendees have to travel relatively far from their home base to get to the conference. Research shows that the further the distance between new experiences and your day job, the harder it is to tether the two.

But, ONA organizers are hoping to help and are encouraging attendees to fill out a digital postcard before leaving the conference. In the form, attendees are asked to detail at least one post-conference goal. This could be a personal development goal or culture shift in your newsroom.

The cool part? ONA staff will send it back to hold you accountable.

Maintaining momentum can be a challenge if the rest of your world didn’t receive a jolt of inspiration at a three-day journalism conference.

Daniels knows this struggle well, but she’s not alone. Speakers, presenters and attendees at the conference talked about how a simple mental shift can be the first step to implementing new methods post conference.

Rethinking attitude

Professors at the Educators Meetup on Thursday discussed the idea that journalism education shouldn’t stop at journalism schools. Newsrooms and journalists should take the experimental and collaborative spirit of the ONA conference and apply it into their operations where possible.

Staci Baird, assistant professor at the University of La Verne and a 2018 Tow-Knight fellow, said that by their very nature, journalists learn new ways to  tell stories every day. She said journalists can apply this attitude to workflow and acquiring new skills.

“Journalism is changing, and the way we think about journalism education has to change too,” Baird said.

Baird said teaching students in journalism schools how to adapt while navigating difficult team environments translates into more innovative newsrooms in the future. Creating a culture of lifelong learners will ensure that the industry stays on top of trends and threats.

“We as educators have to be disruptive,” Baird said. “We have to lead the way.”

Collaboration efforts between college programs and newsrooms are already present with the ONA Challenge Fund, which provides funding to projects that involve bridging the gap between j-schools and local news organizations.

Recipients of those grants said that while the relationship can be symbiotic, it can be hard to realistically implement change immediately, primarily due to communication failure and the fact that newsrooms and universities breed busy people.

To help fix this, Pam Fine, the Knight chair in news, leadership and community at the University of Kansas, suggested putting the “right people on the bus.” Take the time before you begin a project to ensure that everyone on the team can commit the time needed to complete the project.

“Everyone is doing double time,” Fine said.

Rethinking training

Newsroom training often follows the same model use in journalism schools: Once you complete your courses or sessions, you should be ready to go. However, when things change, as they so often do in this industry, organizations like NPR prioritize a more consistent form of training: public resources.

The NPR training team had a strong presence in the Exhibition Hall, where they talked with attendees about ways in which they are innovating training programs within their network and how other journalists and newsrooms can use the tools they’ve created.

“We are trying to work on how we can work better in this system together,” said Kasia Podbielski, a project manager for the training team at NPR. “We are working with news leadership to really identify what this team or that team is really needing.”

NPR has a forward-facing public platform that houses training materials available for free to the public. This method is strategic, said Serri Graslie, director of digital training.

“There are so many people who want to make these stories and don’t have the resources to help them,” she said. “For me, it’s really important for diversifying makers in public media, and it’s important for it to be accessible.”

Podbielski said that constant collaboration within and between organizations and making training resources available to employees at all times has really benefited the organization and, ultimately, the storytelling.

“We want to be able to serve newsrooms in a better way,” Podbielski said.

Rethinking leadership

Pitching innovative ways to go about training, workflow and storytelling can be challenging for those not in technical leadership positions at their organizations. However, Tracy Brown, the deputy managing editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said leadership starts with the individual.

“I think the people that get the most respect in the newsroom are people who show that they can collaborate well across teams — that they care,” Brown said.

Brown said that journalists can tend to be cynical as individuals, and that empathy can go a long way in establishing better trust and camaraderie with coworkers. By beginning to lead the newsroom in a simple culture shift, Brown said project ideas, like those picked up at the conference, actually have a shot at making it.

Brown said this was the case with her newspaper’s shift to podcasting.

“Initially we all thought, ‘We’re a newspaper,’” Brown said when the idea for a podcast came up. “But this gave us an opportunity to expose our brand to a much broader demographic than just the newspaper.”

Brown said because of this shift and many other internal efforts to broaden their storytelling capabilities, the AJC has transformed from just a newspaper to a multiplatform news brand.

Listen to Brown’s full thoughts on leadership in the newsroom: