Four years ago, when Daniel Funke was on his flight to ONA15, he splurged for Wi-Fi to update his resume and website before he landed in Los Angeles. He was an anxious junior at the University of Georgia seeking an internship.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” he said. “ONA is an experience that is almost identical for everyone, but no one talks about it.”
Funke said he put so much pressure on himself to get an internship that he didn’t enjoy his first ONA experience as much as he now realizes he could have. Now a fact-checking reporter for The Poynter Institute, he prioritizes differently and suggests others do the same.
He said conferences can seem stressful for first-timers on the job hunt or those learning how to make the most of their experience. But Funke and other experienced conference attendees have navigated the conference enough to provide some thoughtful advice to newbies.
— Lauren Katz (@Laur_Katz) September 12, 2018
Passion is your key asset: When you get nervous while networking, use your passions as your go-to conversation topic, said Trevor Knoblich, head of programs and events for ONA, during a pre-conference webinar for first-time attendees.
Dig past the small talk: Ask questions that get beyond the surface level, Knoblich suggested. While those introduction questions are important, get to know the individual’s interests outside of work as well as problems they are facing within the newsroom, for example.
Wear something from home: “I usually wear something Toronto/Canada-related every year,” said Ron Nurwisah, who runs social media for Huffington Post Canada. “It’s a great conversation starter and makes you a bit more memorable.”
Don’t be afraid of VIPs: Michelle Baruchman, a reporter at the Seattle Times, said to walk up and talk to those award-winning journalists that will be in attendance — including those nominated for an OJA — for inspiration to take back home. “Many of those creators will be at the conference,” she said, “and will be able to speak about how they turned an idea into an award-winning story.”
Be choosy: “As cool as it is to hear people talk about how AI could be the future of news, it isn’t really helpful for dessert,” said Funke. “Save those panels as rewards for yourself — not the main course.”
ONA also breaks down the schedule by giving you tracks for sessions that might fit your sub-field, such as audience analytics, reporting techniques or even entrepreneurship to help you navigate your way through the weekend.
Build a posse: “Find people to swap notes with,” said Phil Tenser, digital manager for WCVB-TV in Boston. “You can’t attend every session, so a collective can take home more lessons than an individual.”
Get off your phone: Don’t overdo it on live tweeting the sessions you attend, said Kelsey Proud, the managing editor for WAMU in Washington. “Tweet highlights or things you really want to share with a broader network,” she said. “Otherwise, let what you’re learning soak in!”
Take care of yourself: Funke said his biggest tips are to drink water (maybe grab a reusable one from The Midway), and get out of the conference hotel from time to time.
“Go find some barbecue or tacos — it’s Austin,” he said. “It’s tempting to go to every event, but you’ll be more productive and present if you take a breath of fresh air at least twice a day.”
My #ONA18 tips:
– Put some of your business cards in the back of your name badge, so handy
– Don’t spend time looking at people’s badges. Talk to people bc they are interesting not bc of where they work
– Take the time you need for yourself. You don’t have to do all the things.
— Heather Bryant (@HBCompass) September 11, 2018
Be active in other ways: Nurwisah coordinates an unofficial ONA run at the conference every year. “Somewhere between 10-20 of us go,” he said. “And it’s a ton of fun and a good way to see the city, meet some of the attendees and get a bit of exercise while you’re here.”
Want to attend the run? Check out the hashtag #ONA18run for details.
Not a runner? Byard Duncan, engagement reporter at Reveal is coordinating a basketball meetup. Sign up here.