Note: This is part of a series of posts written by ONA staff and conference organizers recommending sessions or tips they feel will be particularly interesting or helpful. Previous recommendations came from Julie Westfall and Luis Gomez, co-chairs of the ONA15 Program TeamJen Mizgata, ONA’s Senior Communications Manager, Jeremiah Patterson, ONA’s Digital Manager, Jess Strelitz, ONA’s Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships and Irving Washington, Deputy Director at ONA. These tips were created by Trevor Knoblich, ONA’s Digital Director.

Trevor Knoblich

The ONA annual conference, at its heart, is about connections and innovation. And any expert in innovation will tell you that when tackling a difficult problem, sometimes the best ideas come from outside your industry. Learning how experts in other fields have looked at problems and asking “How might this apply in my own context?” can sometimes foster truly radical ideas  . . .  that may lead to new audiences, new revenue or new ways to tell a story.

Take this tweet from ONA14’s keynote with the muppets of Sesame Street:

In planning for our conference, I’m constantly looking for experts who aren’t necessarily journalists, but do incredible work that relates to the challenges we see in journalism and might provide some interesting insight. For me, these are the sessions that are worth sitting in on — you never know what new ideas and thoughts they might spark.

Don’t be the Leak: Protecting Our Sources and Ourselves
Thursday, 3 – 4 p.m., Santa Monica Room

Information privacy concerns extend far beyond the NSA programs; local law enforcement, businesses and hackers also have access to significant volumes of personal information and communication exchanges. In a conversation with Cory Doctorow, hacker and Founder of the Wickr Foundation Nico Sell will discuss privacy, information security and the founding of her amazing Wickr app. We’re aiming to make this session as accessible as possible, so whether you’re an expert or a beginner, you should find this discussion enlightening. And for us podcast nerds, Planet Money profiled Nico Sell last year.


Sprinkling Pixie Dust on Immersive Events

Thursday 3 – 4 p.m. — Beverly Hills Room

Events are one of the most promising revenue streams in news, and the more immersive an event, the more engaging it is for participants. For all the talk of budding immersive experiences with apps like Detour and hardware like Microsoft’s HoloLens, it’s arguable nobody has created immersive experiences better than Disney. Steve Davison, the man behind some global spectacles that delight millions, will share his experiences in creating astonishing live experiences and what it takes to innovate on the fly. But perhaps most relevant for newsrooms is that Davison has re-imagined how Disney presents its live events by infusing them with something every journalist will understand: a compelling narrative. And if you want to see some of Steve’s work, Disney is providing free transportation and admission to Disney California Adventure on the eve of ONA15 (RSVP needed).

Whose Idea of the Future Is This?
Thursday at 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. — Beverly Hills Room

A lot of ONA fans have been asking for a session like this for a while and this year we’re delivering it in full force. Three incredible media futurists — The Mary Sue’s Teresa Jusino, UC Riverside’s Sherryl Vint and author and filmmaker Ytasha L. Womack — will discuss afrofuturism, latina futurism and the long view of community interaction with media. And the cherry on top of this awesome sundae? The panel will be moderated by the Atlantic’s Matt Thompson.

Human Cognition, Meet Video in the Social Age

Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Constellation Ballroom I

The sheer volume of content we see in a given day can be overwhelming so what inspires us to actually click on that video or photo? Sophie Lebrecht, CEO of Neon Labs and PhD in Cognitive Science, will get at the very core of what motivates us to click (spoiler alert: we like a lot of things that look like us).


While I wanted to highlight non-journalists, I’d be remiss not to mention one of my most anticipated sessions of ONA15:

Journalism’s New Role in the Crowd Economy

Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Olympic Ballroom I

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has an incredible knack for pulling together the threads of social distribution and community interaction with news — so much so that she’s built one of the largest social news sharing platforms in Southeast Asia, and by extension, the world. She’s a smart, engaging presenter who argues that companies that will survive the next few decades are those most open to collaborating with their community. Whether you make watches or inspiring toys or community journalism, people want to be invested in your work.