Archive — Resources

ONA opens 2015 MJ Bear Fellowships for under-30 digital journalism stars

WASHINGTON, DC — The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, today opened applications for the 2015 MJ Bear Fellowships for early-career digital journalists, in honor of founding member MJ Bear.

For the fifth year, the search committee will again select three promising, up-and-coming digital journalists — two in the United States or Canada and one internationally, in partnership with MSN International — who are just beginning to make their voices heard in the industry.

Each selected Fellow will receive virtual coaching sessions with a Personal Advisory Board; a free three-year ONA membership and an expense-paid trip to the Online News Association Conference & Awards Banquet, Sept. 24-26, in Los Angeles, where they’ll have a chance to share their fresh perspectives.

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The three profiles of a digital news team

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.

Photo by Flickr user Graham Holliday.

Over the last decade, as newsrooms across the world have embraced a shift to a digital-first focus, many organizations have experimented with the structure of their digital teams. It seems for every success there is another tech challenge on the horizon to consider, such as the Apple Watch and at-a-glance journalism.

In this ever-changing world, it’s smart to think strategically about the roles digital teams take on across newsrooms. I’ve settled on three profiles that the best digital teams often have: research and development (R&D), news apps and tech. My hope is to provide a smart framework for thinking about how your newsrooms can create the most focused and compelling digital content and products.

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Announcing the First Version of the ONA15 Program

It’s my pleasure to introduce the first version of the ONA15 program! What do we mean by first version? The sessions and speakers you see listed make up only around 70% of the total conference; more topics and presenters will be added until we finalize the schedule in mid-July. For now, here are some highlights.

What’s New

We’re planning to cover a host of new and exciting topics this year. From bots to podcasts, from navigating exclusive sports contracts to creating a more empathetic stylebook, we’ll examine a range of ideas critical to digital journalism.

LIVE__Sessions___ONA15We’re also introducing an entirely new component to ONA15, based on your feedback. We’ve heard clearly that networking is your favorite part of our annual conferences, but that as we’ve grown to a 2,000+ person event, it can be overwhelming to find colleagues who share the same passions and interests that you do. So, this year we are introducing Table Talks – a series of open conversations focused on issues you care about that will take place Friday morning. These discussions  will give you an opportunity to collaborate with top minds in the field to find solutions and explore new ideas. We think these discussions will serve as some of the most exciting activities at ONA15. Watch this space for more details through the coming weeks.

This is the first year we’ve launched with an interactive schedule with speaker bios and photos, as well as session filters. Typically at this time of year, we only have a “static” schedule – essentially a list of session titles, descriptions and presenters. We’re hoping this more robust schedule will make it easier for you to navigate to the ideas that excite you the most. For instance, you can sort by area of expertise — our conference tracks — and we’ve even added a new category this year, “Audio, Photo + Video.”

You can also sort by what you hope to get out of each session:

  • Inspiring - insights from leaders in journalism, media and technology
  • Practical Tips - ideas and best practices to take back to your newsroom
  • Hands-on – experience with a tool in a lab or workshop setting

Coming Soon

As we mentioned at the top, more sessions and speakers will be announced through mid-July. We’ll also have our keynotes, networking events, Midway programming and a surprise or two between now and our official opening. Want to stay in the know? Be sure to sign up for ONA Conference email updates!

We’re also committed to making you feel at home in our host city of Los Angeles. Expect more blog posts about navigating the city, finding cool places to visit and of course, ideas for experiencing the many culinary delights.

And don’t forget: early bird registration ends June 18. We wanted to get you as many details as we could confirm so you can take advantage of this special rate. Register here!

A Huge Thanks

We can’t thank the community enough for the more than 270 ideas submitted to our Suggestion Box. Combined with ideas from staff, board members and our conference committees, we had more than 350 topics to sift through in crafting ONA15.

And speaking of our conference committees … a HUGE shout out to our conference chairs: Google’s David Smydra, USC Annenberg’s Robert Hernandez and the Los Angeles Times’ Megan Garvey, who have been a tremendous guiding force in giving the conference its shape and helping us engage with keynote speakers. Thanks to the Los Angeles Times’ Julie Westfall and the Institute for Nonprofit News’ Luis Gomez, our program chairs, for having level heads and guiding our educational programming. And finally, thank you to the the Program Team and Review Committee who help us select ideas, generate new ones and reach out to presenters from around the globe.

We can’t wait to see all of you in L.A. this fall – it’s going to be a blast!


Knoblich_TrevorTrevor Knoblich is Digital Director with the Online News Association, and is responsible for organizing the educational programming for ONA15.

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Why students should enter the Online Journalism Awards

The Online Journalism Awards recognize excellence in digital journalism … and that extends to student achievements. The awards represent an opportunity to show that those late nights of coding and infinite pizza runs are not in vain. They highlight the best work of digital junkies, new pioneers and social media addicts — which includes students!

Receiving two Online Journalism Awards in 2013 was an unexpected honor for the BU News Service, a team I was part of at the time. I delivered a thank you for those awards before hundreds of veteran journalists. It was a cathartic moment for our newsroom after covering the Boston Marathon bombings. All of our hard work came full circle, and we were able to demonstrate that young people can have an impact on a topic of national importance.

Boston University Professor Michelle Johnson, who oversees the student-run newsroom, noted how quickly students were able to react to the bombings. Standing at the epicenter of the chaos, students used their phones, digital cameras, scrap paper and pens to jot down names, descriptions and describe to the world the story of terror and triumph.

This is what we do; this is our passion as journalists. To student journalists, I challenge you to embrace this opportunity and enter your work to be recognized for an Online Journalism Award. I promise you will not regret it.

Taylor Walker is an Associate Producer at WMUR and recently graduated from Boston University. In 2013, the Boston University News Service won two Online Journalism Awards in the Breaking News and Student Projects category for their work reporting on the Boston Marathon Bombings.

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Understanding your audience … then growing it Pt. 1/2

This is one in a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Anika Anand is Director of Product at Chalkbeat, an education news network based in New York City. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.

Note: This blog is the first in a two-part series. The second post was published on Thursday, June 11.

Photo by Flickr user Robin Hutton

In the premier season of the new podcast “StartUp,” host Alex Blumberg briefly discussed the success of “Serial,” the other extremely successful podcast startup launched at the same time. “If you’re listening to the sound of my voice right now and you have not heard of ‘Serial,’” Blumberg said, “you occupy a very strange niche in culture, and I’d like to hear more about you, frankly.”

As a journalist, it was incredible for me to think that anyone listening to “StartUp” hadn’t followed “Serial.” But assumptions about our audience often turn out not to be true. Blumberg learned this lesson after he received a stream of tweets from people who said they had never heard about “Serial” until it was mentioned on his podcast.

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More time to enter your best digital journalism

The deadline for entries for the 2015 Online Journalism Awards has been extended to Friday, June 5, at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Now that you have more time, here is what you need to know to enter:

  • Ten of the 37 awards come with $60,000 in prize money, courtesy of John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Gannett Foundation and The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

Enter the Online Journalism Awards

Entry fees are $100 per entry for ONA members, $175 for non-members. Fees for student members are $15 per entry; $50 for non-members. Not an ONA member? Join here.

If your question is not answered above, contact us at

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What makes a winning OJA entry? Let’s start with great journalism

We’re often asked what makes an entry an Online Journalism Awards winner.

There is no single magic formula, but there is an overriding philosophy: great journalism that best leverages the power of the digital platform. Some winning entries feature videos. Others are heavy with social media. And still others provide a modest mix of multiple media. But all of them engage readers in compelling and innovative ways that highlight the best the web has to offer.

We’ve seen trends over the past 15 years: games, Flash, parallax scrolling, raw documents, mobile and more. The tools, hardware, software and delivery systems may come and go, but the underlying themes persist: educating the public, investigating corruption, delighting readers and pushing the technical boundaries in what browsers and devices can do.

When considering entries, the judges must use a mix of objective and subjective evaluations on entries that can, unsurprisingly, lead to vigorous debates. Where one entry might be a dramatic and impactful investigation that uncovers abuses of power and systemic social issues, another might be a lighter look with special emphasis placed on technology and design. How to evaluate them against each other?

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Using open-source tools to expedite news graphics

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.

Since the Online News Association’s 2014 Conference & Awards Banquet, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to better integrate newsroom workflows into creating and publishing digital graphics. Many newsroom developers juggle copy from reporters, editors and the copydesk, often forgetting key text, while also working on design and code. In other words, collaborating on interactive graphics is a challenge. Here’s a quick look at solutions from other newsrooms, as well as a technique I’ve developed in my former role at The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

Google Drive as the CMS

Google Sheets is a common tool for powering digital news graphics. While a spreadsheet can’t fully replace a database, it can mimic some of its key characteristics: columns, rows and headers. This provides an easy way for web producers and reporters to add content to a graphic while newsroom developers can focus on the code.


An example interactive map built with Mother Jones’ Story Tools. Source:

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2015 OJAs: New awards for students, sports

by Joshua Hatch, OJA Chair and ONA Board Vice President

We are excited to announce our 2015 Online Journalism Awards, with 37 categories and $60,000 in prize money. Building on 15 years of digital journalism excellence, this year we’ll honor work in three new categories: Pro-Am Student journalism, Sports journalism and our previously announced James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting.

As we’ve seen with our Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, J-schools are finding inventive ways to adapt to the rapid pace of change in our industry. One proven method has been to immerse students in the real-world media environment. For that reason, we’ve created the new Pro-Am grouping for our Student category, designed to honor work done by students in an academic environment who receive compensation from, support from or collaborate with a professional outlet (interns at professional news organizations are not eligible).

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Entries open for 2015 Online Journalism Awards

New: Sports, Student-Professional Collaborations, Conflict Reporting honored

WASHINGTON DC — The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, today opened the call for entries for the 2015 Online Journalism Awards (OJAs), emblematic of the best in digital journalism, with 37 categories and $60,000 in prize money.

As in past years, the 2015 OJAs have been modified to keep up with the rapidly evolving media industry. New developments this year include:

  • The inaugural James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting will honor one of the many journalists reporting under the most challenging conditions. A special committee will select the inaugural recipient, led by Phil Balboni, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Post, who worked closely with Foley, and ONA Board member and Past President Jim Brady, CEO of Spirited Media.
  • Because of a significant growth in entries, “Sports” now has its own category, moved from the “Planned News/Events” and “Feature” categories.
  • The new “Pro-Am” category within the Student awards will recognize outstanding work done by students in an academic environment who collaborate with or receive compensation or support from a professional media outlet.
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