Note: This is third in a series of posts written by ONA staff and conference organizers recommending sessions they feel will be particularly interesting. Of course, we hope every session is valuable to the right audience, but with so many things happening at ONA15,  we want to offer useful highlights from a variety of viewpoints.

Previous recommendations came from Julie Westfall and Luis Gomez, co-chairs of the ONA15 Program Team. This list was created by Jen Mizgata, ONA’s Senior Communications Manager.


Jen Mizgata

One of the very best things about working at ONA is getting to suggest ideas and speakers for the annual conference.  This is my fifth ONA conference (!) and ONA15  is hands-down the highlight of my work year. It’s so energizing to have meaningful conversations about what is working in journalism and how others can learn from the best projects and initiatives we’ve seen over the year.

My bread and butter at ONA is community engagement, so I’d be remiss not to mention that we have a whole track focused on audience and engagement and impact, which is full of really excellent sessions.

This year, I want to highlight a range of things that I’m super psyched about because they represent important conversations that the industry needs to be having today, but often haven’t been raised at our conference or other digital journalism conferences.

Blood on the Screen: Dealing with Vicarious Trauma Via UGC
Thursday, 11 a.m.- 12:00 p.m., Westwood Room

This is an important session, especially  for anyone who deals with user-generated content and breaking news. As journalists are placed at the front-line of vetting photos and videos during traumatic events, the job can take a real toll on their emotional well-being. In this session, Bruce Shapiro of the DART Center,  Kim Bui of and Fergus Bell of Dig Deeper Media will talk about challenges their newsrooms have faced and what steps journalists and managers can take to take care of themselves and their colleagues. This is a must-attend session for all social newsgatherers, and really anyone who uses the internet. In the age of auto-play video, we’re all faced with disturbing videos and images that come through our timelines and having mechanisms to deal with the impact of those images is important.

Music Journalism and the Beat of Disruption
Thursday at 3-4:30 p.m. — Sherman Oaks Room

The way we listen to music has been changing in recent years, which also means the role of music journalists have shifted too. In a world where we have constant access to tons of music, where do music journalists fit? This session taps into local talent, featuring Rebecca Haithcoat, a freelance journalist who writes for LA Weekly, Billboard, Vice and more; Mikael Wood, staff writer covering pop music at the Los Angeles Times, and Senay Kenfe at the Hundreds. They’ll talk about what they’re doing to engage audiences now that artists can bypass media altogether and reach directly to fans.

Plunging Into The Dark Net
Thursday at 4:30-5:30 p.m. — Beverly Hills Room

Andy Greenberg is one of the smartest journalists writing about digital security issues today, and he does it in a way that’s understandable and accessible.  We’re thrilled that he’ll be joining Alex Winter, director of the new documentary “Deep Web,”  to discuss stories journalists can find in the Dark Net and how they can navigate in communities marked by anonymity. Sarah Jeong, who did excellent coverage of the Silk Road trial (with 2015 Online Journalism Awards’ finalist Susie Cagle), will moderate.

Bonus: You may recognize Alex Winter from his role as Bill in the  “Bill and Ted” movie franchise, or from directing “Downloaded,” his excellent documentary on Napster.

Pushing Back Against Online Harassment
Friday at 9-10 a.m. — Los Angeles Room

Is it cheating to recommend a keynote as a can’t-miss session? Maybe, since all of our keynotes touch on topics that are important to the industry right now. But this conversation on how journalists, and especially female journalists, are trolled online and the disproportionate amount of harassment they face  is very important to me. I’m proud that ONA is taking this issue seriously and elevating the conversation to a keynote level. The journalists who will join us —  Laurie PennyAmanda HessDr. Michelle Ferrier and Soraya Chemaly — are exceptionally smart on this topic and have all pushed back against abusive behavior online. Expect this to be an inclusive and participatory conversation where you can learn short- and long-term strategies to make online communities more welcoming to all.

ONA Local: Creating Great Events for Networking, Learning and Fun
Saturday at 3:30-4:30 p.m. — Sherman Oaks Room

ONA Local groups are a great way to network and share projects with other digital journalists.  Interested in hosting local meetups for digital journalists in your towns, cities or states? Already working with an ONA Local group and want to brainstorm new events with other local leaders? This practical session will give you ideas on how to create successful and fun events and help you troubleshoot any challenges that have come up when you’ve been planning (or thinking about planning) ONA Local meetups.

Bonus: if you’re involved with ONA Local or interested in starting a group, come hang out on the Midway from 4-5:30 p.m. on Thursday for a fun reception.

It was so hard to narrow this post down to just five sessions to highlight, since I’m really excited about so many things this year (ahem WNYC’S Podcast Accelerator at ONA15 ahem). This is our biggest conference yet, in one of my favorite cities, and I can’t wait to see you there. Have a question or want more recommendations for people who love community engagement? Tweet me at @jmizgata.