Lessons from the Online News Association Conference

The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.

I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.

I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.

 1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.

3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.

4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.

5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!

Status Matters: Top 10 Facebook Don’ts

Can I just say that I love the advent of sites like Failbook and Lamebook because they publicize what I’ve been thinking all along? Think before you update.

I’m not going to be like someone’s HR representative and say you must keep all of your social networking professional, but there is definitely a line between being social and being stupid.

I used to ban myself from doing the following:

a) writing anything slightly related to relationships or men

b) writing something emo that merits a pity party or makes me look depressed

c) updating dramatics (including complaints, frustrations, anger towards something) that would cause a negative reaction from friends

d) friending professional contacts and family members outside of my brother and sister

e) swearing

f) referring in any way to drinking or going out in a social setting

Today, I still think some of those values hold true, but I’ve loosened up a bit on who I friend. Sometimes it’s nice to see your fellow coworkers, bosses, or acquaintances in a non-work environment. I get a little peek into their passions, loved ones, and daily lives. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out you have something more in common than your job.

The reason Failbook and Lamebook are so popular is because we all have a Facebook friend who does the things they make fun of. We all have the emo friend, the inappropriate friend, the friend that advertises how much they party, who they date, misspells EVERYTHING, complains about his or her job, and gives off a negative online persona. Do we all have the right to do these things? Yes. But should we? That’s another story.

My favorite Lamebook example thus far:

And from Failbook….

Here are my personal recommendations on ways to avoid such humiliation. Below are my top 10 DONTs on Facebook (and I guess Twitter for that matter)

1) Do not friend your parents. Even if your profile is relatively clean, you never know when it backfires. Say you tell a white lie that you stayed in and did homework when instead you went out. Say your friend gets inebriated one night and writes something private on there that your parents find first (because if they’re anything like my parents, they get up hours before me). Honestly, they will either lather your page with comments and “likes” or they’ll catch something inappropriate that you or your silly friends write.

2) Do not engage in a heated political or social debate via someone’s wall comments. If someone wants to post an article in favor of health care or gay marriage, don’t use that as an excuse to go on a soapbox. Facebook isn’t really a forum to have intense fights with your friends or your friend’s friends. Take it outside, people.

3) Do not write emo statuses unless you’re willing to acknowledge that you are in an emo mood for the irony of it or if it’s clear you aren’t about to jump off a bridge.  It’s uncomfortable for people to read and makes whatever is wrong seem silly or melodramatic. If you really do feel those sad feelings, broadcasting it to the world probably won’t help and will in fact isolate you more.

Sidenote: Emo songs are also included. I do love my share of Death Cab and Celine Dion, but paragraphs of heart-wrenching lyrics won’t change your luck in life. We’ve all had emo moments, but do you really want everyone to know? A blog dedicated to those thoughts or poetry might be better.

4) Do not make your profile open to the public. Do you really want ANYONE scrolling through your photos, your info and what people say? I took it a step further and made myself unsearchable, but there’s no need to go that extreme. I would advise making it open to your friends only.

5) Don’t post an entire album dedicated to your Mac Photobooth picture twists. Everyone who gets a new Mac does the whole picture distortion thing and it’s just weird.

6) Don’t friend your exes or their new girlfriend or boyfriend. It might be a fun game at first among your friends, but it ends up eating up hours of your time at night when you’re having one of your emo days…which in turn leads to more emo statuses.

7) Don’t over post on your own page. It makes you seem like you’re on Facebook too much or that nobody cares enough to post on your page.

8 ) Don’t gush to your significant other on Facebook. I’m not saying don’t show some online loving, but if your girlfriend takes up your last 10 posts, it might be too much. No need for an album of kissing pictures, closeups of you gazing into each others’ eyes, or little virtual gifts when you’re too cheap to buy a candy bar or something.  It’s not pleasant to look at and it makes it seem like you’re compensating for something missing in your real-world relationship.

9) For the love of God…no Animal farms (farmville?) no virtual pets, no sorority life games, nothing other than the simple act of social networking and article/picture posting. If your page is filled with little turtles and giraffes, you have to find a new hobby.

10) Always log out. If you use a school computer and simply click off of Firefox, your profile is still logged in and subject to embarrassing posts from strangers. Also, NEVER give your password to anyone unless you have theirs in return. I’ve seen too many girlfriends hijack their boyfriend’s Facebooks and what dark direction that turns. And YES…even log out on your own personal computer. I’ve had my Facebook hijacked while going to the bathroom in my dorm. And don’t make your password your name. If you do, then you deserve to get it hijacked.

If you have more, please leave a comment.