Suggestion Box: What Makes for a Great Pitch?

By on March 2, 2017

This is the first in a three-part series of posts on our Suggestion Box — your opportunity to pitch session ideas and presenters for ONA17. We’ll publish the next two posts shortly. You can follow us on Twitter @ONAConf or subscribe to our newsletter to keep the latest news coming to you.

Our Suggestion Box, which closes April 13, is your opportunity to pitch ideas to ONA to ensure we cover the most important trends and topics in digital journalism. It also represents the best opportunity to present at ONA17, as most of our sessions are selected through this process.

Want to share your inspiring ideas or expertise with your favorite colleagues at ONA17 in Washington, D.C.? Now is your moment to shine! Let us know what important topics and trends you’d like to discuss at ONA17. The Suggestion Box is open through Thursday, April 13, so be sure to submit early and often.

Everyone is welcome to submit — journalists, executives, educators, students, technologists, Neil deGrasse Tyson (please?) — we’ll take good ideas anywhere we can find them. Submissions will account for the majority of our ONA17 educational programming, so this is your best chance to get involved.

Once the Suggestion Box closes, ONA staff and a volunteer Program Team will review each submission and select the very best to be included at ONA17.

We are often asked, “What makes for a good pitch?” Below, we’ve outlined tips for creating a strong proposal.

Top 10 tips for proposing ideas to ONA17:

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 from last year, see The Revenue Roundup: 6 Idea$ to Monetize Your Newsroom or our Rethinking ‘Diversity’: How to Cover Race and Inclusion. Practical tips and training elements make up the remaining ⅔ of our programming. For examples, see how to create narrative push alerts or a workshop on best practices for live streaming.

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 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. Note: If you have presenters from two organizations within the same parent company, such as NPR member stations or Tegna stations, this is fine. Just remember, we do look for diversity in terms of region and medium that you work in.

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.


Trevor Knoblich

As ONA's Chief Knowledge Officer, Trevor works to coordinate information sharing internally, oversees learning for all ONA programs, as well as registration and logistics for events.