Minutes – May 29, 2015

Online News Association Board of Directors Meeting

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles, Calif.

In attendance: ​

  • Meredith Artley,
  • Jim Brady,
  • Jody Brannon,
  • P. Kim Bui,
  • Eric Carvin,
  • David Cohn,
  • Josh Hatch,
  • Robert Hernandez,
  • Mandy Jenkins,
  • Greg Linch (via phone),
  • David Smydra,
  • Benet Wilson,
  • Jose Zamora

Not present: ​

  • Steve Hermann,
  • Jim Roberts

Staff​ in attendance:

  • Jane McDonnell, Executive Director;
  • Irving Washington, Deputy Director;
  • Trevor Knoblich, Digital Director;
  • Jessica Strelitz, Strategic Partnerships Manager;
  • Jen Mizgata, Social Media and Communications Manager;
  • Jeremiah Patterson, Digital Manager

The meeting was called to order at 9 a.m. PST.

Old Business

The board unanimously approved the minutes for the April board call.

Board Business

Legal Counsel (Jane McDonnell): ​Jane announced to the Board that Michael Kovaka will no longer be serving as ONA’s legal counsel. ONA has started talking to potential candidates, but nothing is finalized yet. Jane said she and Josh Hatch would seek advice on acquiring new counsel from Jon Hart, the former legal counsel for ONA. Eric asked what sort of traits ONA was seeking in legal counsel. Jane explained the ideal candidate would be knowledgeable about media access issues, as well as intellectual property and copyright law.

Legal Needs (Josh Hatch):​Josh addressed strategies we should think about without relying on a professional attorney. He suggested ONA instead consider securing a one-year legal fellow who could be funded with a grant. This person, Josh said, would be able to lead efforts on the legal committee to seek out new cases that meet ONA’s interests, take on amicus briefs, attend SGI meetings, etc. This could create a group of legal alumni steeped in the legal issues ONA cares about. Josh also noted that as ONA grows, a single law firm may not be ideal to handle both the association’s legal needs as well as the legal issues taken on by the legal committee.

New Titles (Jane McDonnell):​ Jane congratulated Steve Hermann on becoming Executive Editor, Digital for the BBC and Kim Bui on her new title as Deputy Managing Editor at Reported.ly.

ONA15 Board Dinner (Jane McDonnell):​Jane suggested the Board consider moving the night of the Board dinner during the conference, as Fridays are always heavily scheduled. The Board discussed the possibility of meeting up on Wednesday, or at a different time of day. Discussion was tabled to a later meeting.

Financials and Audit

Terri M. McKnight, CPA, Partner/Audit Department Director, Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman; Carolyn Skinner, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP, joining the meeting via phone.

2014 Audited Financials (Terri McKnight): ​Terri thanked Jane and Carolyn their dedicated work on the audit, saying they were efficient, had all the necessary information and were very well-organized. Terri reviewed the audit documents for the Board, including the audit letter and required disclosures. She reported no difficulties conducting the audit, found no misstatements and had no disagreement with management.

Cybersecurity: ​Terri also highlighted some best practices included as part of the audit around cybersecurity and internet technology control. Terri and the ONA staff consider this to be resolved, as Jeremiah, Trevor and Irving developed some IT best practices for the next year to address some of the recommendations. Jeremiah noted ONA has unique challenges for IT security, as the staff works on personal devices, often using NPR’s wireless network and their roles include a great deal of telecommuting. Irving noted ONA does not hold on to any members’ financial info locally, so security of that information is not a concern. Mandy and Kim offered their companies’ best practices around cybersecurity if needed.

990 Income Tax Exemption Form (Carolyn Skinner, Irving Washington): ​Irving noted the 2014 budget plan had ONA ending 2014 in the red due to spending the Challenge Fund grants, but the organization ended the year in the black. Carolyn talked the Board through the 990 Income Tax Exemption Form, reminding them that the form is public and published on journalists.org. She explained that ONA is a more complicated organization than it was 15 years ago and it is maturing in its financial health. Carolyn reiterated that to maintain ONA’s tax exemption status, the IRS wants it to be diverse in its funding, including public supported and acquiring grants and sponsorships from a broad group, not just a few large donors.

MJ Bear Fund (Jane McDonnell): ​Jane said the funding for the MJ Bear Fund is currently invested with Merrill Lynch, which has decided they will no longer take on investment business under $250,000. After some research, the staff has decided on a new investment firm, Milestone Investments, LLC. The move will take place in the next few weeks. Jane reviewed the investment plan and strategy for the MJ Bear Fund investment account for 2015. Jane and Irving explained the management of the credit card and checking accounts for the MJ Bear Fund.

The Board unanimously voted to approve the 990 and audit as presented.

Board Contributions (David Cohn):​David outlined that 100 percent of the Board must make pledges for their annual contributions, as donations and pledged fundraising. The Board submitted pledges earlier this year and David will be following up to ensure those pledges are fulfilled. There is no minimum for donations from Board members, but ONA needs 100% participation on this front, David explained.

2015 Board of Directors Elections

(Meredith Artley)

The following Board members are up for reelection in 2015: Meredith Artley, Jim Brady, Kim Bui, Eric Carvin and David Cohn. Steve Hermann and David Smydra’s appointments are also concluded in 2015, so they will be eligible for election this fall.

Jim Brady announced he will not be seeking re-election. The other Board members with expiring terms opted to seek re-election in 2015.

Meredith noted the Board has discussed in the past holding on to one Board seat (or more) for appointments for skills needed on the Board.. Following those conversations and others, Meredith suggests ONA put up five seats for election in September and hold on to two for appointments. This way, she said, the ONA Board can ensure it acquires needed skills and backgrounds (international presence, financial background, business background, diversity, etc.) even if the membership doesn’t select those candidates to fill those needs.

Board members inquired as to voter turnout information for recent Board elections. Jeremiah said ONA’s membership fluctuated between 12 to 21 percent voter turnout.

Meredith explained existing appointees can run for election – Steve and David – leaving those appointed seats available for others.

Robert suggests ONA hold back one seat each year instead of two seats in 2015. Josh noted the appointments are good to have for each year to stagger terms and maximize flexibility.

Greg suggested the ONA Board consider appointing a student member. Josh outlined that ONA’s bylaws allow the Board to appoint any number of non-voting members, and a student member could apply there. They would not be able to run for officer roles. Benet said the National Association of Black Journalists’ (NABJ) Board of Directors includes student members who have voting roles. NABJ also covers travel and costs for those student members. Jody suggested a possible benefit for future MJ Bear fellows might be to bring them onto the Board to have their voices heard.

The Board held further discussion around appointing student board members, holding seats for appointments and how those decisions are communicated to membership.

During a vote later in the day, the Board voted 7-6 in favor of holding one seat from election instead of two. David Cohn abstained. The Board voted unanimously to explore appointing a non-voting student member to the Board.


(Trevor Knoblich)

Trevor said the initial schedule launch for ONA15 is planned for the first week of June.

New at ONA15: ​Trevor described the new features ahead at ONA15, including:

  • Schedule adjustments for a shorter lunch and earlier keynote times to prevent overlaps with outside evening events.
  • An improved first-timers orientation, which will be a breakfast this year.
  • Saturday afternoon will feature improved Lightning Talks, a “Fail Fair” and a Educators’ Meetup.
  • A mini “culture and philosophy” programming track, with an LA-based focus on food, fashion and entertainment.

ONA14 Feedback​: Trevor said ONA15 programming is somewhat being shaped by feedback from ONA14, which surfaced two issues: Networking is the primary value for attendees and it is difficult for new attendees to break into conversations. The programming committee is strategizing around the second issue by holding simultaneous roundtable discussions on Friday around pre-identified industry topics. ONA is asking confirmed speakers to lead additional roundtable discussions, as well as major donors and other interested parties.

Keynotes: ​In terms of keynote sessions, Trevor said the schedule includes spots for three, but the team is pursuing five sessions in hopes of confirming at least three. There is one confirmed keynote: Fighting Online Harassment and Abuse of Women in Media. Trevor explained the aim in not just to focus on all of the negative things happening to women in media, but also delving into solutions.

ONA15: Karaoke and Fundraiser (Jess Strelitz): ​Jess noted 2014 was ONA’s first year trying this formerly unofficial activity as a fundraiser and it went very well. This year, karaoke is moving to Saturday night and ONA is framing it as an official Closing Night Party to be held inside the hotel. ​Jess said sponsorship is currently open for this event as part of a $15,000 package. It will also still be a fundraising event to be led by Greg Linch and the ONA Fundraising Committee. Greg said he is planning to use the same online fundraising platform as last year and will be seeking new subjects to be the crowd-funded singers.

ONA15: Sponsors (Jess Strelitz): ​Jess informed the Board ONA is on pace with 2014 fundraising as of this time last year. She said that while many sponsors from last year are back, there are many new sponsors, such as Social News Desk, Help A Reporter Out, Huffington Post, Phittle, Discors, Maps4News and Shorthand. ​Jess said the Midway Salon, booth and startup sessions, bags and diversity receptions are closed for sponsorships. The sponsored sessions, which were a first-time offering, sold out in nine weeks. ​The Online Journalism Awards, Opening Night and Friday Night events are still open for sponsorships.

Future Conference Growth (Jane McDonnell and Irving Washington): Jane said the Board discussed in January that ONA would likely need to move to a convention center instead of a hotel if the conference attendance were allowed to keep growing. Irving said the staff did some research about the costs behind a move to a convention center. They found that such a move would have to be part of strategic growth – the conference attendance would have to grow enough to offset the increased costs behind convention center use such as higher costs for room rental, services fees, refreshments, etc. In brief, Irving concluded that such a move doesn’t make sense for ONA now, but gives the Board and staff background for future growth discussions.

Digital Initiatives

(Trevor Knoblich, Jeremiah Patterson and Jessica Strelitz)

Build Your Own Ethics Code/Digital Toolkit: ​Trevor said the goal of the Build Your Own Ethics Code was to create a wizard that would convey a great deal of information in a way that is useful for newsrooms. Jeremiah said this was made possible by combining a lot of documents into an interactive interface. ​Jeremiah and Trevor shared screenshots of the application with the Board. Jeremiah noted a schedule tool, which is a WordPress plug-in, is also in the works. Trevor said ONA is approaching these tools as a minimum viable product for future improvements and iterations.

Journalists.org overhaul:​ Jeremiah and Greg have been working on a redesign of the primary ONA website. Jeremiah said it is always in-progress, as the team is working on functionality and features. He said they are not looking for it to be a dramatic redesign, just getting the site to a place where it can grow and iterate.

ONA Jobs Site: ​Jess told the Board about Boxwood, which powers the back-end of ONA’s jobs site, which launched in August 2014. Since then, it has typically generated $​3,000 in sales each month. The site features 84 unique recruiters, led by McClatchy. She explained the jobs site seems to be effective and feedback so far has been positive.

Membership:​ Jeremiah shared membership statistics and demographics from the ONA membership site on ethnicity, age, location, etc. ONA has about a 25 percent completion rate for members filling in demographic info on the site, but it isn’t required right now. He reported that number is growing, however, so ONA is getting more information on the membership base all of the time.

Two-Year Strategic Plan for 2016-2017

(Jane McDonnell and Staff)

Jane revisited the plans from years past:

  • Connecting/Community/Convening: Networking, careers, ONA Local
  • Conference: All domestic and international events, trainings, workshops
  • Content: Programming, diversity

Jane noted the above still very much underpins ONA’s strategy going forward. Jane outlined ONA’s current revenue streams and said the percentages show it to be a very healthy organization:

  • Grants (33%)
  • Conference Events (33%)
  • OJAs (15%)
  • Memberships (15%)
  • New business (4%)

Key Initiatives

1. Domestic Expansion

Jane said the strategic plan would expand the breadth and depth of ONA Locals. A Knight grant will be used to bring on a new ONA staff member dedicated to managing that program at scale. The intent, she said, is not to take over local groups, but help new ones grow and give support to existing groups as they need it. Right now the staff is working at capacity in terms of ONA Local support.

2. International expansion

Conference: ​Jane said ONA is readying for a second international conference on the heels of the first in London in spring of 2015. Rich Jaroslovsky put forward the idea of hosting the next edition in Tokyo, Japan. She noted there’s also interest in Copenhagen for the next session, as there’s a Danish broadcaster who may be an ideal partner, as they have a well-located headquarters that could host a mini-conference. There’s a Danish Online News Association (which is unaffiliated with ONA) who is interested in working with ONA. Jane asked the Board for other suggestions for future international event partners and/or locations.

Newsroom tours:​ Jane said Amy Webb and others have interest in hosting newsroom tours for international journalists along the West Coast, culminating in the ONA conference in Los Angeles. Google News Lab:​Jane said Google is partnering with news organizations and journalism organizations to develop tools to help journalists. Nicholas Whitaker at Google approached ONA about helping Google recruit journalists to test and use these tools. Google will also be holding trainings in international newsrooms, which would be a good fit for ONA’s international efforts, should the Board choose to participate. Jane said it would give ONA a presence in news organizations it might not otherwise be reaching, though ONA would have to be aware of the optics, since there is a Google executive on the Board.

Due to that, David S. recused himself from the Board’s official discussion and vote. The Board and staff discussed the optics issues as well as potential competitive and ethical concerns of working with Google to help implement their tools in newsrooms. The Board ultimately decided against this particular venture with Google. There was no official vote.

3. Leadership

Digital Leadership Breakfasts​: Jess said there have been four breakfast events so far, with a fifth to be held in New York in mid-July. The staff is still confirming speakers at the right level and organization(s) to discuss the topic of Snapchat as a platform. Jess asked the Board to help with sourcing ideal invitees.

Women’s Leadership Academy:​ Jane said the first Women’s Leadership Academy was a success and the energy of the attendees was fantastic. She noted ONA is hoping to make next year’s edition even better, with an aim for the next group of attendees to be at a slightly lower level of management, with a focus on new managers.

1-Day Leadership Summit:​ Jane said ONA is considering holding a one-day leadership summit around a specific issue that is affecting newsrooms. Though funding for this sort of event is still in the works, Jane said she is confident there would be interest from newsroom leaders to attend if the selected issue is right.

Issue-specific convenings: ​Jane said the ONACamp from 2013 based on the Boston Marathon Bombings was a great learning experience and ONA is interested in doing something like that again, perhaps around the coverage of the unrest in Baltimore or related news stories. She said the idea is to have a conversation with local people, police, etc. and journalists to discuss coverage, challenges and solutions. The Board held a brainstorming session around issues facing newsrooms that could be the focus for single-subject summit.

Ethics/legal news share:​ Eric reviewed the UGC Ethics committee’s plans for a UGC Ethics podcast series. He said he is also planning some sort of pre-conference convening around UGC ethics issues. Josh said the continued interest and need for work within the legal committee has created a need for more assets there. As mentioned earlier in the meeting, ONA is exploring the idea of acquiring a grant to bring on a legal fellow to seek out cases, take on amicus briefs, attend the SGI meetings, etc.

4. Pipeline & 5. Diversity

Jane said a key set of future initiatives for ONA focus on programs to develop diversity and a pipeline of future members and leaders, including:

CNN and Historically Black Colleges and Universities Fellowships: ​CNN will sponsor five diverse journalists to attend ONA, all expenses paid. The HBCU program will continue for future conferences.

Challenge Fund: ​Irving said the program has grown by leaps and bounds but it is being retooled. It is definitely being renewed, but will have some changes to make it even better.

MJ Bear Fellowship:​ Irving said among the changes ahead for program is a professional board of advisors over assigned one-to-one mentoring, which has had mixed results. This way, if a mentor-mentee relationship doesn’t work out, they still have resources. Josh asked what, if anything, ONA is doing to organize a community around those who have been MJ Bear fellows in the past. Irving explained ONA is maintaining an alumni network for those fellows, including creating a Facebook page for that group to connect. ONA is also thinking of some sort of alumni community based around past participation in the Student Newsroom. Josh advised the Board and staff to consider how ONA should highlight the MJ Bear program as an elite fellowship.

Diversity Events at ONA15: ​Irving said the diversity reception is going to be bigger and better this year. And NBC is also holding an event around diversity at the conference.

6. Online Journalism Awards’ Next Iteration

Jane said in looking at the last strategic plan for the organization, ONA has fallen short on plans for the OJAs. Josh has brought the program long way and ONA can take it further. She said the OJAs need a rebranding to up the level of cachet and to make it stand alone as its own event, even aside from the conference. ONA is developing a microsite around the awards, which is still in the early phases. Josh said the dinner has been pretty successful in recent years. The program was refocused to be fun and short, which people appreciate. Robert asked how many conference attendees attend the OJA dinner. Jess said last year 20 to 25 percent of attendees attended the dinner.

Meredith asked if it would it make sense to bring on professional event planners, marketing teams, etc. to handle the awards. Jane suggested ONA consider separating the awards ceremony from the conference. The Board discussed the pros and cons of holding the awards as a separate event from the conference, changing the timing of the event and other means of improving the OJAs. The Board also held discussion on possible ceremony emcees.

7. Conference

Jane said Trevor is working on evolving the content, design and format of the ONA conference. The staff has been going to other conferences and seeing what’s working and what ideas might work at ONA. Josh said he had heard in the past that ONA needed to take better control of conference programming to hear new voices on the stage and that Trevor is doing great work toward that goal. The Board held discussion of panelists and panel ideas at ONA15.

8. Potential Revenue Streams

Jane said ONA had revenue plans that have long been considered, but that have been relegated to the back burner so far, such as:

Corporate memberships:​ Jess said she is often approached about this need every couple of months, especially around the conference. It is a very viable option, she said, but the missing components to it are quite large.

Virtual Job Fair:​ Jess: said ONA is exploring ideas for this sort of program right now by doing research on what others have done in the space.

Building and sharing Industry research and data: ​Jane said ONA has interest in a scientific survey of the ONA community around compensation, job titles, job descriptions, skills, platforms, demographics, etc. to potentially present to a research group such as Pew. She said such a data set could be a real service to the digital media community. ​Robert was inspired by a session at NICAR that asked attendees their compensation and job titles/descriptions to build a data set, this is a next stage approach to that process..

Jane concluded with action points for staff and Board:

  • Use the Career Center to promote job openings
  • Help provide contacts for new sponsor prospects
  • Help with landing big-name keynotes
  • Share ONA opportunities with the Board’s networks
  • Encourage networks to participate in Lightning Talks at ONA15
  • Collaborate on a calendar for relevant Board/Staff travel to conferences and events

The meeting ended with a tour of the facilities at 4:45 p.m. with final adjournment at 5:21 p.m. PST.

The next call will be June 12, 2015 at 1 p.m.

These minutes are submitted by Secretary Mandy Jenkins