ONA23 Suggestion Box Guide
The Suggestion Box is now closed. The deadline for submissions was Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at 9 p.m. EDT (01:00 UTC).
The 2023 Online News Association Conference (#ONA23) is Aug. 23–26 in Philadelphia and Sept. 28-29 online.
With community input, we are designing two types of programming this year.
In August, ONA23: Philadelphia will focus on in-person interactive sessions and conversational learning.
In September, ONA23: Onward will be a virtual, lean-back experience focused on sharing the biggest ideas in digital journalism, designed specifically for online participants.
This document contains supplemental information for those interested in the ONA23 Suggestion Box session submission process, and will be used to field pitches for both the in-person and virtual programming events.
For further questions not covered here, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
What happens after I pitch?
ONA has convened a volunteer Program Committee comprising media professionals, educators and technologists who review every pitch received. From those pitches, this team recommends topics, sessions and speakers to ONA staff and together these groups build a conference program.
Who serves on the selection committee, and how can I join?
The volunteer Program Committee is a group of journalists, news leaders and related professionals who review submissions and design programming for the annual conference of the Online News Association. The bulk of their work takes place from April through May each year, in advance of the annual conference which is usually in September or early October. If you are interested in serving on the volunteer committee, and that timing works for your schedule, please reach out to Learning Director Kelsey Proud, email@example.com for more details. You can also see more about the Selection Process, including timeline, below.
Will I be notified about my pitch’s status?
ONA will notify all submitters, whether they are selected or not, by mid-July.
Who can submit a proposal to the ONA23 Suggestion Box?
Anyone! ONA encourages executives and managers, journalists and reporters, designers and developers, consultants and vendors, students and academics, and even news consumers and other journalism enthusiasts to submit their great programming ideas. You can submit ideas that you, yourself will present, or even just an idea you think you’d like to see someone else share.
I have a great ONA23 topic idea but … it’s all about my company. Can I still submit?
ONA does not accept Suggestion Box proposals promoting a single product, tool or service, but there are plenty of ways to let people know about your awesome work. Visit our sponsorship page to learn about opportunities for your organization to connect with the ONA23 community.
What makes for a good proposal?
The more specific, the better. A specific proposal demands a lot more planning and thought given to what the audience will get out of the session. In general, ONA organizers are more interested in information-rich pitches, with thoughtful speaker ideas and presentation options, rather than more generic or basic concepts. Remember: ONA23: Philadelphia will focus heavily on interactive and participatory sessions, while the ONA23: Onward will be more focused on panels and presentations. See our Tips section for more.
How important is diversity in consideration?
ONA is strongly committed to being as inclusive as possible in speaker selection and topic programming. This means supporting diversity in speaker demographics, including sex and gender, ethnicity and race, ability and disability, region and geography and professional background and experience, among other metrics. It also means respecting what’s best about our two different programming types this year (in-person versus virtual), programming for people working in multiple news focus areas and work roles, attracting ONA conference newcomers and making sure sessions are not dominated by a single organization. Sessions which are not sufficiently and thoughtfully representative will not be programmed.
But wait. I work for a company with multiple properties. Can I submit a pitch with a colleague from a sister organization?
Absolutely! We prefer presenters from multiple organizations as it can provide a range of perspectives. If you can meet that goal from within your parent company, that’s great, especially if you are also able to mix people working in multiple mediums and/or regions.
Is it better to submit a panel or another type of session?
While there may be some panel discussions at ONA23 in Philadelphia, the focus will be on providing attendees with a variety of workshops, collaborative documents and other engaging session types to help everyone benefit most from sharing physical space. These should feel more like a well-run meeting or gathering, not an email — the more thought given to keeping your audience involved and participating, the better.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t space for big conversations and panels with impact. We will also host the all-virtual component of the conference, ONA23: Onward on Sept. 28-29 centering on a more lean-back experience for attendees to hear more about some of the biggest ideas in journalism from dynamic speakers.
If you have an idea about a big conversation the industry needs to have, and/or someone who should speak to that idea, we’d love to have those pitches as well in the Suggestion Box, for possible consideration for ONA23: Onward in September.
All submitted sessions will be considered and evaluated for both ONA23: Philadelphia and ONA23: Onward in September.
What makes for a good title?
Cute titles are really fun! But keep in mind that your title will be fighting for attention with hundreds of others. So, the more direct and descriptive you can make it, the better. Attendees will search the conference schedule for topics and keywords relevant to them — you won’t reach them if your pitched title isn’t easy to find in a quick search. Please note that while your pitch may be selected, the title itself may be changed in the preparation process.
Do I need to have all speakers confirmed when I submit my session idea?
No. In fact, ONA appreciates the opportunity to ensure there is sufficient diversity and expertise represented in every session. Confirmed by pitchers ahead of time or not, ONA staff will work with every accepted pitch to get the right mix of speakers for each session.
How does the selection process work?
After reviewing each submission, the ONA23 Program Committee and ONA staff recommend the sessions they believe should make up the core of the conference’s educational programming. Additional topics or speakers are then sometimes added on an invite-only basis to ensure diversity and representation, cover breaking news topics or meet other pressing conference needs. More about the Selection Process.
If my idea is selected, what happens next?
ONA will work closely with you to fine-tune the focus of your session as well as to select additional speakers if needed. As a general rule, the more preparation put in, the better the session turns out. Pre-event preparation means communicating with other speakers weeks ahead of time to clarify the focus of the session and discuss how to keep the audience engaged. ONA attendees are smart people who enjoy smart programming. They will figure it out if you have not fully prepared and will leave your session and go find something more interesting next door.
Why does my proposal have to be so detailed? Can’t I just submit an idea without thinking about speakers or format?
Programming a conference like ONA23 takes a massive amount of time. The Suggestion Box is intended to give people who have fully thought out their ideas a way to submit them.
If my idea is selected, what does ONA pay for?
Invited presenters receive complimentary ONA23 registration. ONA is not able to provide travel, lodging or other financial compensation for speakers.
We are looking for sessions to support best practices or innovative ideas for:
- Audience development and metrics
- Emerging technology
- Innovative news storytelling
- Leadership development
- Revenue, content strategy, or product
Get creative with your session format
The ONA23 Suggestion Box, open March 1 through March 22, is your opportunity to pitch session ideas and presenters for both ONA23: Philadelphia and ONA23: Onward.
When attending an in-person event, most attendees prefer a more interactive environment rather than a passive one. This approach gives people a chance to create something, or share and reflect on their own experiences. For the sessions that we ultimately select for ONA23: Philadelphia, we’ll have a variety of sessions, but less space will be dedicated to passive lectures or panels. We’re aiming to ensure that most sessions are interactive with strong consideration for an in-person environment.
The popularity of ONA’s year-round virtual programming has also demonstrated that attendees also want the opportunity to lean back and hear big ideas. In response to that need, we’re offering the virtual-only ONA23: Onward in September to center that experience.
All submitted sessions will be considered and evaluated for both ONA23: Philadelphia and ONA23: Onward.
For inspiration, here are a variety of session formats, organized from more interactive to more passive, including examples from recent ONA events. Feel free to experiment; you may even have your own creative format in mind.
Session Format Ideas for ONA23
Best practices: provide takeaways for tips and tricks for improving work; 3 presenters max
Case Studies / Under-the-Hood: provide a deep dive into a project, illuminating both successes and challenges; 2 presenters max
Learn a skill: workshops that provide a hard skill to take back to your organization; 3 facilitators max
Masterclass: a solo talk or fireside chat with a topical expert; 2 presenters max
Solutions gathering: get a group of people together in your network to dive into a current challenge and work to define a solution; 2 facilitators max
Template building: collaborate together on a template organizations could use to start a project or initiative, or improve workflows; 2 facilitators max
Better Suited To Virtual Event Environments:
Panel: a nuanced dive into a complex topic or challenge; 5 presenters max, including a moderator
Research: new information about the latest trends in news; 2 presenters max
How we select sessions for the ONA annual conference
The ONA23 Suggestion Box, open March 1 – March 22, is your opportunity to pitch session ideas and presenters. Here is what happens to the hundreds of ideas we receive!
Step 1: Read every idea and nominate the best
Early April 2023
Ideas come to us from the Suggestion Box, the ONA23 Program Committee, ONA Board members and staff. The Program Committee — a diverse, volunteer group of professionals and technologists — reviews each and every idea. We regularly receive hundreds of ideas through the Suggestion Box each year, so this is not an easy task!
The group is looking for the best and most innovative ideas and presenters to help move digital journalism forward. They review the proposals based on specific criteria that add up to a great fit for the ONA conference and come up with a “short list” of sessions. These recommendations account for roughly two-thirds of our final conference programming.
Step 2: Create a draft program
April & May 2023
Once the Program Committee completes its review, ONA staff go through the list of recommended sessions and speakers and begin selecting ideas. We give the pitches a deeper look for quality and speaker diversity. We sometimes combine sessions on similar issues or ask submitters to add another presenter to their roster.
By mid-May, the conference schedule is 80% complete. We’ll leave a few slots for breaking news, emerging issues and any gaps identified by staff.
Step 3: Confirm speakers and post initial conference schedule
We confirm speaker availability and post as much scheduling information as we can to the conference website. While we may still add a few more sessions, we are no longer looking for submissions on speakers or topics. We do add sessions around breaking topical news as deemed critical by ONA staff.
Step 4: Final Conference Schedule
The final schedule is available by mid-July. We may still have a surprise or two, be that confirming a great keynote speaker or addressing an urgent breaking news issue. By this time, we’re more or less finished and looking forward to conversations with all of you at ONA23 in Philadelphia in August and ONA23: Onward in September!
If you are interested in serving on the volunteer committee, please reach out to Learning Director Kelsey Proud, firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Thinking of pitching a session to ONA23? Remember to be:
- Specific. Your session title should accurately describe its topic
- Mindful. What audience are you trying to reach? What will they get out of it?
- Refreshing. Reach for new speakers and concepts relevant to news and technology in 2023 and beyond
- Realistic. ONA provides speakers with free conference registration, but cannot cover travel, hotel or meal expenses
- Inclusive. ONA strives to support all types of diversity
- Enterprising. Go beyond demos and spiels to help others learn something practical they can use right away.
- Event-Environment-Minded. ONA23: Philadelphia will be highly focused on in-person interactions, while the corresponding ONA23: Onward in September will be entirely virtual, focused on big ideas and broader concepts. How will you make sure everyone, regardless of how they attend, is engaged and fulfilled by what you present?
10 factors that make for a great session pitch
The ONA23 Suggestion Box, open March 1 – March 22, is your opportunity to pitch session ideas and presenters. Everyone is welcome to submit — journalists, executives, educators, students, product managers, change-makers of any stripe — we’ll take good ideas anywhere we can find them.
Here we’ve outlined the factors that make for a strong pitch.
1. Your idea is inspiring, instructional or both.
We think most good pitches fall into one of two categories:
- They are inspirational or aspirational, represent emerging trends in journalism, surface a provocative idea or describe what journalism could be if we reached a milestone; OR
- They propose sessions to share expertise with clear, specific aims for what attendees might learn.
2. Your idea is solutions-oriented.
There are many intractable problems in any field, journalism included. We look for people proposing solutions to these problems, even if they are imperfect. Simply saying, “disinformation is corrupting democracy” isn’t enough. Instead, we’d be more likely to accept an idea like, “How to confront networked harassment campaigns” or “Let’s discuss the capabilities of solutions journalism.”
3. Your pitch is specific.
We often get vague pitches. For example, “New ways to address managing social media traffic.” It sounds like it might be fresh and solutions-oriented … but how? Can you share examples? Is there research you’ll draw from? Have you been testing something and feel the results are replicable? A vague proposal makes us worry you’ll wing it on the day of the conference, whereas specifics suggest you’ve thought this through and will prepare.
4. Your chief aim is to share knowledge with the community, not brag about a product or project.
Newsrooms create hundreds of cool digital projects every year. We already have a mechanism for rewarding the best ones with the Online Journalism Awards. The conference itself is focused on learning and networking with peers. What did you learn in creating your tool that others might be able to replicate? Better yet, what didn’t work at all? Can you spare others this pain point?
5. You provide resources for reference and sharing.
This is super important for ONA23 as a two-event set of experiences, one in-person and one virtual. People attend conference sessions with a specific purpose: to get inspired by a new idea or learn a new skill. You can drive your point home by offering resources to attendees. Resources might include a list of articles related to your topic; a worksheet for attendees to complete; a breakdown of “Top 10 Tips” from your presentation; a research or white paper and more. These types of resources offer high value for the community and as such make for a strong proposal. It’s why we ask about resources specifically in the Suggestion Box submission form, too.
6. You and any co-presenters represent diversity and inclusivity.
Diverse perspectives encourage nuanced, innovative ideas. We ask the Program Committee to consider many factors related to ensuring our conference is inclusive of a variety of voices. Chief among these are race, gender and professional experience of presenters. But this list also includes geographic diversity, fresh faces v. past presenters, size of newsroom or team, and other considerations. Describe how your proposal will contribute to the overall diversity of the conference. And, if your proposal highlights work or ideas relating specifically to one community or another, it is important you include someone representing that point of view among your presenters or speakers.
7. You keep the audience in mind.
Nobody wants to sit through a conference session with someone droning on about their accolades or reciting a list of talking points. You will have an interested audience before you. Don’t treat them as passive listeners; engage with them! Host a session that’s Q&A only; ask the room to contribute to a collaborative document to solve a problem; create a worksheet for people to complete in small groups. If you’re presenting at ONA23: Philadelphia, you’ll have some of the best and brightest in journalism right in front of you — pool that talent and get some creative ideas into the room. At ONA23: Onward, make sure those who listen to your ideas have clear takeaways and can share what they heard with others easily.
8. You include peers from other organizations.
ONA is about community and collaboration. Submissions that have multiple speakers from the same organization are often perceived as sales pitches by both ONA and conference attendees, and are usually categorically denied. Submissions including presenters from multiple organizations have a significantly higher likelihood of being accepted. Solo speakers, of course, are exempt from this requirement. Note: If you have presenters from two organizations within the same parent company, such as NPR member stations or Tegna stations, this is fine. Just remember, we do look for diversity in terms of region and medium that you work in.
9. Your session contributes something new.
We hear the same topics proposed year after year. It makes it difficult to distinguish between some submissions. There are certainly ongoing challenges in journalism, but what makes your idea a fresh approach? A new technical tool? New research? A potential new revenue stream? A different framework for thinking about an issue?
10. Your proposed presenters are experienced speakers or trainers.
We are continually revising our requirements for presenters to ensure session quality. If you have a great idea but are not a strong presenter or have limited training experience, consider inviting a colleague with this strength to join you (keeping the diversity requirements in mind, of course!).
Happy submitting! The deadline for Suggestion Box submissions is Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at 9:00 PM EDT (01:00 UTC).