ONA wrapup: been a long time comin’

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ETA: I also basked in some Washington and Lee awesomeness at this conference (me, Professor Artwick, my ONA roomie/fellow W&L alum Nicole.

This year, ONA set before me a banquet of food for thought (and for doing too).

Keynote with Lisa Stone, the started out bright and early–we missed some of it because we ran to get breakfast at the Starbucks down the street (of course, there would be a huge line at the one inside the hotel lobby), but the one thing I took away from that was how to be a better blogger: write what you know/like, become an expert in it and share it with other people. You’re there to build community (which makes sense, because if no one’s reading it then what’s the point?).

Then I went to a session on livestreaming video (very timely to know after my recent stint at a TV station) by Joe Ruiz. Main lesson: there are SO many ways to stream live video, as easy as from your mobile phone. Check out Qik, Kyte, Livestream.com, and Ustream.tv. This is something definitely worth picking up on. Case in point–Joe shared a time when his station was covering a fire at an apartment complex. They sent the reporter and the photog out there. Photog got the HD, high quality video, and the reporter also got video with his iPhone. The high quality video went on the 5pm newscast, and the iPhone video went on their site at 3pm when the story broke (a good 2 hours before other stations in his market got video of the news event up).

And where the hell are all the other TV people? There were like 3 people from TV, but you all have news online also. Online news isn’t just for print-based outlets! You need to know these things too.

Then I went to a session on SEO, or search engine optimization. Since all our content is online, SEO is something everyone has to think about. At this session, the main things I learned were SEO basics–changing up your news pages show up higher in search engine rankings:

  • include keywords in the article titles
  • full first and last names (or last name)
  • stay away from abbreviations and alternate spellings
  • include proper names
  • include locations
  • if the story has video, stick “WATCH” in the headline

Oh, and the guy who invented Google News was also there. 🙂

Next, I went to a session on design and data visualization, which are two things I love to see done well by news sites. At this panel, one of the designers from Facebook spoke about invoking emotions through graphics, namely joy. My favorite part of the panel was when someone from Adaptive Path, a user experience firm that worked on the redesign for CNN.com and NPR.org., took the floor. My roommate Nicole tweeted that she noticed that a majority of the journalists in the room ceased typing on their MacBooks to simply listen to this guy speak. I agree.

He spoke about how news consumption patterns vary. Some people want to know the news. Others want to apply it. Still others want to share the news and others consume news because they have an emotional attachment to it.

This is where news sites come in–they need to make sure they’re serving the different avenues people consume news. Not “this is the news, this is how we’re presenting it and here’s why you should care,” but “oh, you love politics? there’s an app for that!” Another thing that stood out to me was that the homepage gets all the attention, but really, every page is the homepage. People will access your stories not just through the homepage, but through search engines, links, Twitter, etc. so every page needs to be created with the same care as the homepage. Our headlines should also tempt people to want to read the story, not tease them and make them wonder what the story is actually about.

But what really got me was that news sites should be more than a publication, but an application for users to explore and make sense of their world. Interactivity only works when someone actually learns something new!

The last session I went to was one on more cool new tools for journalists, and my favorite one was Swivel, where you can make your own interactive graphics (data visualization at it easiest) without being a Flash developer. SO FREAKING COOL! Ahhh, I wish I had a news outlet to use this on.

The awards banquet that night was interesting also. Congratulations to all the winners, but really, all the nominees were spectacular. Apparently, Nicole and I sat at the Norwegian table (though we were there first) with Norwegians, who proceeded to talk to us about the weird stuff they’ve encountered in their travels in America (such as pentecostal church services) and talk in Norwegian amongst themselves about God knows what. Then there’s me, who foolishly brought up how much I loved studying abroad in Copenhagen and that I could say random words in Danish while forgetting the healthy rivalry between the two countries (Norway is a former colony of Denmark). One was incredibly handsome, but what do you expect from the same part of Europe that gave you Alexander Skarsgård?

Overall, this year’s ONA was groundbreaking. It was better the second time around also (last year, when I went I learned so much). Going there made me wish I took the job at KATU so I could share and apply what I learned on their site (and make it kick the asses of the other TV news sites in the market). But I’m confident I’ll be able to use all this knowledge soon–the right one always works out.

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