ONA kicks off sold-out conference in D.C.

Hands-on workshops combine with big-picture panelists this week when the 2010 Online News Association Conference opens Thursday in Washington, D.C.

More than 900 people from 18 countries have registered for the program, which includes pre-conference workshops, an extensive job fair and career summit, panel discussions, case studies and Q&A sessions, as well as an awards banquet Saturday night.

“International attendees and membership are growing rapidly,” ONA Executive Director Jane McDonnell said. “We now have five country chairs: France, Italy, Canada, London [U.K.] and Brazil.”

While general and Friday-only passes have sold out, registration is still open for Saturday-only passes, the Job Fair and Career Summit and for the pre-conference workshops, which includes J-Lab’s “Fund My Media” sessions.

These early workshops also offer a hands-on aspect to the conference that will get participants out into the streets of D.C. “The pre-conference workshops are smaller. They’ll be going out in groups of 35 to 50 on field trips with audio, video and photo experts,” McDonnell said.

The workshops will give journalists a chance to capture the sights and sounds of the District. Leaders include Kate Gardiner of PBS’ Newshour, who is heading up the photography field trip, as well as Elaine Heinzman and Lee Hill of NPR and Doug Mitchell of Webbmedia Group, who are leading the audio field trip.

Additionally, these Thursday workshop topics include Web design trends, open-source technology, real-time coverage and data journalism mining for beginners.

The conference itself offers a variety of panels on a wide range of topics, including Wikileaks, social media storytelling, crisis reporting, the new journalism ecosystem, and starting from scratch with TBD.com.

For this year’s conference, many new faces were recruited. “ONA is increasingly becoming an organization of people in the trenches. I looked for panelists who are able to do creative interesting things,” said Tyson Evans, from The New York Times and chair of programming for the ONA 10 conference.

With this in mind, Evans recruited creative media outlets such as The Onion, which will host “The Onion: Explaining over 250 Years of News Dominance” on Saturday.

“The Onion is being creative, reinventing their brand,” Evans said. The Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies are in Washington this weekend as well, and Evans added, “We have a lot to learn from the impact that fake news is having on the conversations.”

Also new this year is allowing panel topics to be chosen by the public through the ONA’s session selector online, where ideas were pitched and voted on. Panels that came from the session selector include “Bits to Bucks,” “Coders Are from Mars, Designers are from Venus,” among others.

“I saw someone on Twitter compare the ONA Conference to being more like a music festival than a conference. I’m really excited for it,” said Evans.

There will definitely be a large variety of different acts this weekend.

Friday’s “No Comment: Rethinking Online Commenting” panel will be led by NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepherd. Andrew Noyes of Facebook and Adam Clarke Estes of The Huffington Post will discuss comment sections and how some newsrooms are tweaking their engagement policies.

Saturday’s opening panel, “A Wikileaks Download,” will examine the boundaries of digital journalism and the role of the Internet in news and information, moderated by WNYC’s Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of “On the Media.”

Panelists include Gavin MacFayden, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism; Jim Michaels, a military reporter for USA Today; and Clothilde Le Coz, director of Reporters Without Borders.

Twitter and Google are both on the program. There also will be introductory classes on software, including Final Cut Studio.

The Job Fair hosts 30 recruiters representing a range of mainstream and new companies from NPR to Yahoo and Mashable.com. The full list can be found on the ONA conference website.

“If you’re looking for a job in journalism, the Online News Association Career Summit is the place to be,” said Beth Davidz, the AOL senior developer who assembled the panelists for the Career Summit.

“The hiring by media companies has been better this year than last,” said Ernest Sotomayor, chair of the Career Summit and Job Fair, and assistant dean of Career Services at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, “particularly for people who have strong multimedia skills such as social media engagement, video and audio storytelling, programming skills and Web design, and digital content producing.”

More information about the Career Summit speakers and presenters can be found at https://ona10.journalists.org/career-summit-speakers-presenters/.