Online News Association Preliminary Schedule Released Today

Today the fine organizers of the Online News Association Conference released the preliminary schedule for the ONA 2011 Conference in Boston.  They’ve also extended the early-bird registration deadline to give potential attendees time to check out the programming. As someone who has attended ONA conferences for the past two years, I’ve found immense value in meeting people in journalism and technology. These are a few of the sessions that stand out to me so far, and why I think they’re important.

Entrepreneuring 3.0 Workshop

Schedule description: Local news entrepreneurs need to know more than just how to launch a news startup these days. You need to know when to add satellite sites, how to expand your distribution pipeline and how to bring in new kinds of revenue. J-Lab returns for another daylong workshop that will focus on staying power, growth and expansion, ad networks, content partnerships and even the new ethical minefields in local news ecosystems.

Why it’s important: We’ve heard a lot about entrepreneurial journalism — over and over again. This workshop goes beyond the act of starting a company and delvs into sustaining that company. The focus on experimentation and potential failure has been great up to this point for getting new ideas up and running, but if we want to create a journalistic future that works, we need to create companies that don’t go under after a few years.

Innovative Ways to Cover the 2012 Election

Schedule description: Before 2012 arrives, learn what you’ll need to know about building and maintaining an election site. Developers will discuss using the best (cheap or free) sources for results data, social media, and maps to make your local, state and national election efforts stand out — and stand up to heavy traffic.

Why it’s important: The 2008 election was revolutionary because it was the first time we had mainstream saturation of tools like Facebook and Twitter. Four years later, imagine what we can do when we combine data, social and other new tools.  Because the session will be led by Derek Willis from The New York Times and Al Shaw from ProPublica, its just that much more awesome — these guys know what they’re doing. Also, it’s important to go to sessions at ONA that go beyond the philosophical and actually talk about practical implementation.

B.S. Detection for Digital Journalists

Schedule description: Accuracy is fundamental to what we do, but it’s a challenge to verify information when it flows at digital warp speed from so many sources. Get specific tools, advice and strategies to master the art of online verification. Learn how to verify a tweet, evaluate if a website is credible and check the accuracy of your own work.

Why it’s important: There’s a flood of content that news orgs can pull from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr… do I really need to name them all at this point? Being able to properly verify that outside content is an important part of ours jobs as journalist in the social era.  Craig Silverman of Regret the Error at the Columbia Journalism Review also has the necessary street cred to lead the session. But honestly, this day’s sessions will be the hardest to choose among: Michelle Minkoff of PBS, Megan Garber of Nieman Journalism Lab and Matt Thompson of NPR have sessions during the same timeframe!

“If I Were in Charge, I’d _____”

Schedule description: Come hear a group of young, up-and-coming online journalists who will have 10 minutes each to explain one thing they would change about our industry and get instant feedback from the audience.

Why it’s important: More so than being important, this session just sounds like pure fun to journalism nerds like me. Ten minutes per person of talking about how to change journalism, equipped with real-time feedback from an audience of smart, plugged-in peers.

Journalists Behind Bars

Schedule description: Swept up in the revolutionary fervor that gripped the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring, reporters who were held captive during that time discuss their experiences — and offer tips on how to prepare if you ever venture into countries where detentions and interrogations are an occupational hazard.

Why it’s important: Dorothy Parvaz of Al Jazeera English was recently released after being held in Iran since April 29. She’s the person leading this session, bringing her first-hand experience to the table to help other journalists who travel abroad be prepared. Her story is a traumatic one — from being pulled around by her hair, to being locked up in a small cell, to being yelled and cursed at, fed rotting food. Although the likelihood of being held captive is relatively low, Parvaz is proof that it happens. And just listening to her traumatic story would be a fascinating, interesting and eye-opening experience.