The Online News Association (ONA) held its 22nd annual conference last week and we couldn’t get enough of the incredible speakers and content. More than 1,000 digital news and media pros virtually gathered to talk about innovation and the future of online journalism.
While every session was unique and featured varied points of view, a handful of themes seemed to bubble up in many of the talks. Check out the five themes that caught our attention and are top-of-mind in the realm of digital news.
Making News Requires More Collaboration than Ever
Teamwork makes the (digital news) dream work. Collaboration was a hot topic on many fronts - from battling misinformation to streamlining production and maximizing monetization. With ever more news to cover and reduced staffs at major outlets, digital journalists must continue to find ways to work together across organizations to craft compelling narratives quickly and accurately.
Embrace New, Diversified Financial Models
Is the advertising model dead? Depends on who you ask. Will the future of digital news be based on independent journalists, subscriptions, and emerging platforms like Substack? Again, depends on who you ask.
One thing most ONA21 speakers could agree on, however, is that the economic model of digital news is changing. From hybrid advertiser and subscription models to affiliate marketing, newsletters, social media, and branded content, digital media organizations have more options than ever to diversify their sources of revenue. And in this digital-driven world, ensuring equitable and ethical monetization for journalists is paramount.
Leverage Video Proof to Reestablish Trust
Misinformation runs rampant, hyper-partisan outlets continue to proliferate, and mainstream news outlets have a long way to go to regain the trust of the communities they serve. Though journalism has long been predicated on delivering the facts and separating fact from fiction, audiences often give more credence to an information source than the information itself. This is where video proof can play a powerful role in delivering the truth, creating a shared sense of reality, and rebuilding the trust news organizations have lost over the last several years.
Diversity in Newsrooms is Vital to Representative Reporting
Accurate representation of the communities digital journalists serve dominated several ONA21 sessions. Topics ranged from newsroom inclusion, source diversity and web accessibility for disabled readers, to accurate language translation and coverage of traumatic events. The takeaway was clear -- long-overdue changes MUST happen inside newsrooms regarding staffing, source identification, gendered language, content accessibility, and equity in coverage. Evolving newsrooms to meet the moment is paramount to regaining trust within the communities journalists serve every single day.
Explore New Methods and Channels to Reach the Right Audience
News audiences have more options for information than ever, ranging from quality journalism to outright propaganda. For digital news organizations of all kinds this means looking for new ways to meaningfully connect with audiences to capture attention and maximize reach.
One approach is to experiment with new channels (such as text) and new content types (such as events and branded content) to cut through the noise. We heard from other journalists that another successful technique has been to provide even greater transparency and to directly speak with audiences. Essentially breaking the fourth wall to create a dialogue with audiences and bring them closer to the story.
With so many incredible storytellers in one place, it was inevitable that ONA21 was going to be full of thought-provoking content and a vision for the future. We'd love to hear about which moments stood out to you. Drop us a comment and let us know what got you thinking.