ona15-suggestion-boxOur Suggestion Box is your opportunity to pitch ideas we should discuss at ONA15, ensuring we cover the most important trends and topics in digital journalism. Your ideas account for the vast majority of our programming.

The Suggestion Box closed on April 10. We’re launching a short series of blog posts designed to help anyone who wants to submit an idea understand what we’re looking for, and how the selection process works. Last year, ONA received more than 360 ideas, from the Suggestion Box, staff, Board members and participants.

Once the Suggestion Box closes, ONA staff and a volunteer team of 17 professionals will review each submission and select the very best to be included at ONA15.

We are often asked, “What makes for a good pitch?” Below, we’ve outlined tips for creating a strong proposal. We also share these with the team of volunteers that’s helping us choose topics.

Top 10 tips:

1. Your idea is inspiring, instructional or both. We think most good pitches fall into one of two categories:

  • They should be inspirational or aspirational, representing emerging trends in journalism, or describing our field at its absolute best.
  • Ideas should be about sharing expertise, with clear, specific aims for what attendees might learn.

Inspirational or aspirational sessions make up about ⅓ of ONA programming. For examples, see our Lady Leadership Lightning Talks or the ONA ethics initiatives. Teaching and training elements make up the remaining ⅔ of our programming. For examples, see workshops on design thinking or the social media team that isn’t there.

2. Your idea is specific and solutions-oriented.

There are many intractable problems in any field, journalism included. We look for people proposing solutions to these problems, even if they are imperfect. Simply saying, “long-form stories don’t get enough social media traction” isn’t enough. Complaining about an issue for an hour doesn’t make it go away. Instead, we’d be more likely to accept an idea like, “3 basic improvements to your audience engagement tools can boost traffic to long-form pieces.”

3. Your chief aim is to share knowledge with the community.

Newsrooms create hundreds of cool digital projects every year. We already have a mechanism for rewarding the best ones with our Online Journalism Awards. The conference itself is focused on learning and networking with peers. What did you learn in creating your tool that others might be able to replicate? Better, what didn’t work at all — can you spare others this pain point?

4. You and any co-presenters represent diversity.

We ask our program team to consider 30 factors related to diversity. Chief among these are race, gender, age and professional experience of presenters. But this list also includes geographic diversity, fresh faces v. past presenters, size of newsroom or team, and other factors. Describe how your proposal will contribute to the overall diversity of the conference.

5. You have remembered there will be an audience.

Nobody wants to sit through a conference session with someone droning on about their accolades or reciting a list of talking points. You will have a live audience before you, so tailor your message to a target group and engage with them! We’ve seen presenters create games or quizzes for the audience to complete, field questions via Twitter, ask the audience for specific ideas or input into certain topics, or offer to provide constructive advice on how to make news stories go viral. Be creative. Sessions that include any kind of interactive component are given a higher priority.

6. You have included peers from other organizations.

ONA is about community and collaboration. Submissions that have multiple speakers from the same organization are often perceived as sales pitches by both ONA and conference attendees, and are usually categorically denied. Submissions including presenters from multiple organizations have a significantly higher likelihood of being accepted. Solo speakers, of course, are exempt from this requirement.

7. Your idea feels inspired.

We hear the same topics proposed year after year. It makes it difficult to distinguish between some submissions. There are certainly ongoing challenges in journalism, but what makes your idea a fresh approach? A new technical tool? New research? A potential new revenue stream? A different framework for thinking about an issue?

8. Your pitch is specific.

We often get vague pitches. For example, “New ways to address managing social media traffic.” This sounds like it might be fresh and solutions-oriented … but how? Can you share examples? Is there research you’ll draw from? Have you been testing something but feel the results are replicable? A vague proposal makes us worry you’ll wing it on the day of the conference, whereas specifics suggest you’ve thought this through and will prepare.

9. You are including resources for reference and sharing.

Let us know if you’ll be creating resources, such as slides, a list of references or a guide book. These are seen as high value by the community and as such make for a strong proposal.

10. Your proposed presenters are experienced speakers or trainers.

We are continually revising our requirements for presenters to ensure session quality. If you have a great idea but are not a strong presenter or have limited training experience, consider inviting a colleague with this strength to join you.

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