Start a new ONA Local group

We’re glad to hear you’re interested in starting a new ONA Local group!

There are two types of ONA Local groups: professional and student. The steps below apply to professional groups. If you’re looking to start a student group on your campus, get more details and apply.

The deadline to start a new ONA Local group for 2021 is Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Follow the instructions below to get started.

Steps to start a new ONA Local professional group

  1. Check out where we currently have groups to make sure there isn’t already a group near you and read our organizer description and requirements below.
  2. Identify your organizer team. Each new group needs one or two organizers to start, who will sign a one-year agreement with ONA, renewable at the end of the year.
  3. Review the FAQ below. Your application will be much stronger if you understand how the program works.
  4. Complete your application. ONA reviews Local group applications once a year. The application has a written portion and a video essay so we can get an idea for your communication style. We’ve outlined what you’ll need for it so you can prepare.
  5. Let’s chat. If your application makes it through the first round of review — check out below what we’re looking for in applications — we’ll book a virtual interview to chat about your goals, for you and the group, and for you to ask questions.
  6. Sign on as an organizer. Each accepted organizer signs a one-year agreement, renewable annually, that says you’ll adhere to ONA’s Code of Conduct, follow our branding requirements and that you plan to continue leading the group for a full year, barring unforeseen circumstances.
  7. Participate in the leadership training. As a member of the ONA Local Organizer cohort, you’ll get your New Group Organizer Toolkit and participate in an ONA Local leadership development curriculum designed to build the skills needed to lead innovation in local journalism.
  8. Recruit your support team. While we only require one or two organizers to start, we encourage organizers to recruit and manage their own teams of operational coordinators to help manage the group as it grows. This is also a great way to groom talent for future organizers. Your new organizer toolkit will include suggested roles for coordinators.

New group FAQs

Why should I want to be an ONA Local organizer?

ONA Local organizers help shape the future of journalism. If you’re accepted as an organizer, you’ll join a cohort of emerging local journalism leaders just like you from around the world in a special leadership development program specifically designed for local news leaders, focused on skills that will help you lead innovation in your community and in your newsroom.

In addition to access to leadership training programs from ONA, your work as an organizer will give you hands-on experience in team management, event organizing, building partnerships, public speaking and more. You’ll make new contacts in your local journalism industry and have an opportunity to shine in front of the entire ONA community.

But don’t just take it from us. Here’s some feedback from organizers about what they’ve gained from their participation:

“I feel like a go-to voice in my city for digital media, trends and having connections to a bunch of people I otherwise would hardly know, or only know digitally. At my place of work, I think my role in co-creating and co-organizing the group is viewed as a boon to the organization and shows our commitment to local journalism and collaboration with other media outlets.”

“Being a part of ONA Local directly connected me to rising journalism stars in other communities that I now follow semi-religiously. They inspire my day-to-day work as well as my ONA Local programming.”

What does an ONA Local organizer do?

Organizers lead the operational strategy for the ONA Local group and act as the main point of contact with ONA. They recruit, onboard and manage coordinators — or temporarily absorb those duties into their own responsibilities. They also groom future leaders, grow the diversity of the group in all ways and collect feedback from the community.

Organizers will have one-year term agreements with ONA, renewable at the end of each year. Many organizers operate by themselves at first as their community grows, and then recruit for operational support roles.

ONA is committed to providing a vibrant community, welcoming people from as many diverse backgrounds as possible. As volunteers and ambassadors for the ONA community, ONA Local organizers and all volunteers are expected to create a respectful environment for people of all races, gender, and trans statuses, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and beliefs. Organizers and volunteers are required to abide by ONA’s Code of Conduct.

What makes a good ONA Local organizer?

Great ONA Local organizers are:

  • Proud of their cities and motivated to see local journalism thrive there.
  • Energetic problem-solvers. There’s no blueprint for every community, so if you’re more of a set-it-and-forget-it type you may quickly get frustrated by this work.
  • Connectors who get a kick out of seeing people work together.
  • Get Stuff Done types. Your group is going to be what you make of it — so whatever you do, don’t do nothing! Even if you’re not sure of the best ways to gather people, you’ll need to be able to just get started and experiment until you find out what works.
  • Humble and open to new ideas. Community building is about the community, not the organizer, so you’ll be most successful at this if you’re open to feedback and working to bring in new perspectives.
What type of leadership skills training do ONA Local organizers get from ONA?

In order to drive innovation in the journalism industry, we need leadership training for the people leading the way on the ground, in newsrooms and communities. Because we’re working with small cohorts of organizers with very specific leadership outcomes, we can design our leadership training programs around you, and give participants individualized support in reaching specific development goals. We find a few leadership skills tend to come up repeatedly for organizers, so we aim to tackle:

  • Recruiting and managing diverse teams
  • Leading through influence
  • Leadership styles
  • Managing innovation in legacy news environments
  • Mentorship
What is ONA looking for in new ONA Local groups?

ONA Local organizers act as the face of the ONA community in each location, so when we’re reviewing new group applications and recruiting organizers, there are a few things we’re looking for:

  • Demonstrated understanding of and dedication to the ONA community and what we stand for
  • Demonstrated understanding of the media ecosystem for the group you’re proposing
  • Diverse organizer teams
  • Leadership experience, or demonstrated interest in leadership skill development
  • Previous involvement with ONA — this could be anything from Board of Directors service to attending a conference
  • Intrinsic motivations for leading the group (e.g., wanting to make your city a hub for journalism innovation) rather than extrinsic motivations (e.g., visibility for your venture; access to funding; power and glory. This isn’t the right avenue for you if that’s what you’re looking for.)
What makes a healthy ONA Local group?

We don’t care if your community is 12 or 12,000 people strong — our framework for community strategy is built on these four components of a healthy community:

  1. A common purpose: We all need to know why we’re here
  2. Diversity: Different perspectives at the table
  3. Rules of conduct: Members need to know how they are expected to behave in this community — and how others will behave. We have a Code of Conduct that applies to any ONA Local event.
  4. A forum for interaction and feedback: There needs to be a way for people to get to know each other
Why do we have to create a video for our application?

It’s a good way for us to get a sense for your interest in ONA Local and your communication style. It’s also a chance to tell us the story of your city’s journalism community in a creative way. And we often experience connectivity issues during the application interview, so this helps us get a more complete introduction — without the tech headaches.

What’s the timeline for my application?

Applications to start a group in 2021 are now open, and the application deadline is Friday, November 20, 2020. It typically takes time to prepare your application, including talking to people in your community about the prospect of starting a group and identifying other interested organizers, so we recommend starting early. We plan to have new groups selected from the applications by December to launch in January 2021.

What if I need to step down as organizer?

Circumstances change, and there may be a time when you decide to step down from your role. If that’s the case, we’ll ask you to make sure all the official accounts are turned over to us and you’ll have a chance to nominate a new organizer. (Hint: this is a good reason to start recruiting your volunteer team early, so someone is primed to take over!) If you don’t have anyone lined up to take over, we’ll list the group as inactive until someone steps up.

I have another question about the application process. Who can I get in touch with?

Meghan Murphy, ONA’s Senior Manager of Communities and Local Journalism Initiatives, can answer questions.

Ready to apply?

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