Price of admission: stuffing tote bags

Greg Linch, left, and McKenna Ewen help with the live streams at Friday morning's keynote panel. Photo by Ethan Klapper.

Greg Linch, left, and McKenna Ewen help with the live streams at Friday morning's keynote panel. Photo by Ethan Klapper.

Next to the long ONA10 registration desk on Thursday afternoon stood Franco Fernandez, hawking red T-shirts designed by Jennifer Daniel.

Fernandez, a Web producer at United Press International, is one of more than 100 ONA10 volunteers. Due to budget cuts at his employer, it would have been difficult to attend the conference if he had to pay the full price, he said. For an ONA member who registered before Sept. 30, a full conference pass cost $399.

“This year we’ve had to cut back a lot on the conferences we can go to,” he said. “With the discounts, and all that, it’s much easier.”

In addition to T-shirt hawking, volunteers do everything from stuffing tote bags, live streaming the sessions, setting up signs and working registration to helping with the opening night reception. Four hours of volunteering gets a volunteer one free day at the conference; eight hours gets them two free days, said Laura Cochran, the co-chair of volunteers.

Cochran said some prospective volunteers specifically stated on their applications that they would have been unable to attend this year unless they were able to take advantage of the discount.

“There were several people that wrote me and said, ‘it is absolutely fantastic that I’m able to come to the conference now, thank you,’ and obviously that’s a great thing,” she said. “That makes it worth it to me.”

Tiffany Shackelford, co-chair of the ONA08 conference, said the number of volunteers has grown in the past two years. She attributes that not only to the growth of ONA as an organization and the growth of the ONA conference, but also to the “topsy-turvy” job market.

“This year, we’ve had more volunteers than in the past two years,” she said.

Not far from Fernandez’s perch, three young members of the ONA10 “stream team” were walking through the halls of the conference hotel. They’re responsible for live streaming the conference, though only one session was streamed on Thursday, and they had some free time.

Adam Hemphill, a San Francisco freelancer, said recent college graduates like him are thinking of journalism in innovative ways, yet it’s difficult for them to afford the conference.

“We’re kind of what’s happening in online journalism right now, and yet we don’t make enough money to come to the conference,” Hemphill said.

Hemphill and stream team members S.P. Sullivan, who works for, and McKenna Ewen, who works for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, said they were spending the night on couches at their friends’ houses, since staying in a hotel would have been too expensive.

To stay at the Renaissance, the conference hotel, the special ONA10 rate is $249 a night.

Greg Linch, Publish2’s news innovation manager, is coordinating the 12-person stream team and said helping to live stream the conference is a fun way to attend the conference at a reduced rate.

“It’s a chance for them to put their skills to use,” said Linch, a volunteer himself. “So, people who want to come to the conference and might not have otherwise been able to afford it—we can give them the opportunity if they’re willing to put their skills to work.”