The Board of Directors and ONA staff in Washington, D.C. for the first board meeting of 2020.

President’s Letter: I’ve never been more grateful for journalism

By on April 2, 2020

We are all navigating uncertainty together, both professionally and personally, and those lines are increasingly blurred. I’m still finding my own groove working from home, and making sure my teams have the flexibility they need to stay healthy and to support their families.

Shazna Nessa

The pace and urgency of the news has hastened new thinking in my newsroom, as we toggle between the most immediate information needs of our readers, while making sure we are seeing the bigger picture. We’re making important information available to everyone outside the paywall, we’re adopting new approaches to live events, we’re creating stories with different audiences in mind, and we’re implementing different digital designs that help our readers find what they need quickly. At the same time, as individuals we are also grappling with how to cope with what we’re seeing and reading about one of the biggest stories we might ever experience.

How the teams in my newsroom are navigating this crisis informs my work with ONA, and vice versa. Like other journalism organizations, ONA has been re-evaluating current plans to adapt to these uncertain times and quickly respond to emerging needs.

ONA Executive Director/CEO Irving Washington recently reached out to the community to check in, and invited input on how ONA can support you. In just a couple of days, we heard from more than 450 newsroom leaders, reporters, journalism educators, media entrepreneurs and other digital media professionals around the world. Your notes and ideas create a powerful picture of what’s top of mind for the digital journalism community.

Many of the challenges that surfaced — from concerns about business models to leading teams through change to ethical implications of coverage — have existed for a long time. Now they are magnified in the context of a global crisis that has added urgency while also removing many of the ways we used to gather with peers to create solutions.

So, what is ONA doing?

We’re tapping into our unique power to convene. Next week we’re launching Community Circles to connect the digital journalism community in a time of physical distancing. Formed around themes from our survey, Community Circles are small virtual groups that provide a way to meet new peers and create a space to discuss challenges and possible solutions. ONA will match peers, provide them with trained volunteer hosts and offer other resources. Some groups might focus on sharing personal experiences and coping strategies, while others might commit to creating practical tools and tip sheets for newsroom leaders and educators.

We’re creating resources for self-care and wellbeing. With generous support from the Democracy Fund, ONA will work with ONA Local organizers to produce a series of virtual events focused on self-care. Events might involve topics such as meditation, stress management or vicarious trauma in news environments, and ONA will provide funding to cover speakers and other resources for executing. Meghan Murphy, ONA Senior Manager of Communities & Local Journalism Initiatives, will connect with organizers directly in the coming weeks about opportunities to get started.

We’re offering a 90-day extension to ONA membership. ONA members enjoy a range of benefits, including generous discounts for training and events, while contributing to ONA’s mission to inspire and support innovation and excellence in digital journalism. We know this is a financially challenging time for some of our members. Through June 30, we are offering a 90-day membership extension to provide some relief. Request an extension.

While ONA experiments with different ways to convene and provide resources in the coming weeks and months, the team is also moving forward with safely organizing our annual conference — ONA20, Sept. 30–Oct. 3 in Atlanta — and adjusting plans as needed. We extended the deadline to pitch sessions to the ONA20 Suggestion Box to April 23, and will shift the call for applications to other conference opportunities that usually open in March by at least a month. We will continue to monitor the outbreak and proactively communicate any changes to our plans.

In the spirit of quickly adapting to change, Irving is collaborating with Freedom Forum fellow Jill Geisler to gather journalism and association executives for a public conversation on caring for teams during a crisis. You can tune in to “COVID-19: Taking Care of Journalists and Journalism” at 1 p.m. ET, on Wednesday, April 8, or look for the recap if you can’t join live.

When I was elected as Board President in January, ONA had recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and the team was diligently implementing a new strategic plan to take us into the next 20 years of leading innovation in the industry. We were planning for the future. That future now looks different from what we expected and planned for, but I’ve never been more proud to be in journalism. Newsrooms around the world are finding ways to deliver timely, lifesaving information, collaborating to amplify stories and coordinating all of this coverage while physically apart. We are adapting and we are in this together.

At a time when journalism is needed more than ever, I am energized to work with my fellow Board members, ONA staff, consultants, volunteers and supporters to continue providing thoughtful support to the journalism community — meeting you where you are, even if from a distance.

Shazna Nessa
Global Head of Visuals, The Wall Street Journal
President, ONA Board of Directors