≡ Menu

Breakdown of ONA14 Attendees

screen shot of the ONA14 page

I’ll be at the Online News Association (#ONA14) conference in Chicago, IL USA this week. My attendance is being funded by Temple University’s Center for Public Interest Journalism. I’m looking forward to learning lots and meeting a ton of journalists, editors, and web producers. I’m also hoping to make some connections with editors who get and appreciate my focus on Psychology of Information Technology. Somehow my writing isn’t connecting; I need to figure out what I’m missing.


A pesky thing about being a Psychology nut is one’s need to quantify human traits and behaviors. When the Online News Association emailed out a list of #ONA14 attendees, my curiosity soon had me constructing data of the gender distribution. Here were my quasi-scientific methods:

  • Sort categories: 1=female 2=male
  • Traditional names were designated according to common Western cultural standards. (e.g., “John”=2, “Mary”=1.)
  • About 100 names were not immediately identifiable, due to gender neutrality (e.g. “Chris” or “Pat”) or lack of familiarity (e.g., traditionally Asian names). Unknown names were given a “?”
  • Each ?-designated name was Internet searched. About 98% were successfully identified via pictures or third-party pronoun usage in reference to the participant. i.e., pictures depicted genders clearly and LinkedIn references with “he” or “she” referring to the subject confirmed subject’s gender.
  • About 3 names were unidentifiable via Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook searches. A Google image search on the first name was then used to identify the common gender associated with the name, and an approximation was made.
  • Error rate on this distribution is not determined, but probably lies within 1-3%, so give or take 3-5 males or females on either side.


My many years in IT prepared me for a very male crowd, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the distribution is pretty even (51% female, 49% male, of 1617 attendees listed in the ONA “attendees list” document):

The gender distribution for attendees at 2014's Online News Association Conference

The gender distribution for attendees at 2014’s Online News Association Conference


The count is pretty evenly distributed, so the error rate isn’t all that significant. Plus, we aren’t publishing here, people, we’re simply trying to get a lay of the land. I’ve attached the attendee list with my sorting results here (.csv raw data): ona14_attendees_by_gender. Here’s a more easily-read pdf: ona14-attendees-by-gender

Next I sought to categorize the self-reported data of titles and occupations. E.g., how many people had “editor” in their brief description of their work position? Producer? Or C-suite title? Was this a conference for management or would I be meeting mostly the ground troops? (This list probably does not include any of those who are manning the Midway tables. At least some big news and tech agencies will be sending at least one recruiter or manager for those display areas.)


Titles are hard to categorize as they tend to be very workplace-specific. An “editor” at a small start-up ezine doesn’t wield the same power as an “editor” at a Gannett property (if there are any left, after all the layoffs, natch). But for this exercise, words alone were categorized in their groups. My judgment determined what sounded like an executive position (“c-suite”). I had to make some guesses, maybe 20 or so out of all 1617 attendees. Some examples of job titles are listed below under each category.

Total N (# of attendees)=1617

  • a=academic (professor, lecturer, assistant professor, dean, chair, fellow etc) N=122
  • c=executive (director, including assistant and associate directors, founders, presidents, heads) N=481
  • d=developer (engineers, app developer, technologist) N=51
  • e=editor (including assistant and associate editors, etc.) N=394
  • j=journalist (reporter, photographer, freelancer, writer, script writer, guest, N/A) N=129
  • m=manager (engagement editor, account manager, outreach, sales, project coordinator, social media) N=241
  • p=producer (content manager, art director, curator, artist, performer) N=99
  • s=student (graduate students, interns, PhD candidate) N=93

Here’s the distribution:

The distribution of professions, self-reported, of N=1617 ONA14 attendees

The distribution of professions, self-reported, of N=1617 ONA14 attendees

One would expect more journalists to be in attendance, but this conference is an expensive endeavor. I would guess a good amount of those journos are somehow local or funded, like me, to attend. There were more students and academics than I expected. Many of the academics belong to a Journalism department.

There are technically-savvy types spread throughout the pie. I placed most “social media” titles under the “Manager” category, “digital editors” under the “Editor” title, and all “developers” or “engineers” in the “Developer” group. Many of the c-suite “directors” had some sort of reference to digital news or data in their title. We’ll have a generally technically sharp population at the conference. Next year, though, I think the ONA should court more app developers, perhaps making a track just for them. We need to make nice-nice between the journos and the data wranglers if we are to be useful. 51 coder types is a start.


I could comb this data all day, but this is it for now. You can download the .csv document and give it a go yourself. A profession breakdown by gender would be interesting to see. I noticed a lot of the c-suites were males, but that could just be a sexism bias on my part.

Going to #ONA14? Give me a shout on Twitter @PurpleCar or say hey in the comments.

street art of Rosey the Robot Maid

Big Village. Rosey the Robot Maid from The Jetsons in the stairwell of Hibernian House in Sydney.

Back in denim-clad, braided summers when we Generation Xers were left to raise ourselves, way before travel curling teams and 3-D coding camps, we goonies, banished from our homes until dinnertime, would gather in a lazy haze on a stoop or in the tall grass and fall into deep discussions on matters of national importance. Swedish Fish vs. Any Other Candy, for instance, or if it was an especially close group, Proper Bubble Blowing Technique.

But the most heated arguments by far, peppered with judgments and insults of epic proportions, centered on The Jetsons. In reruns in the GenX’s formative years, the 1962 animated series of a tech-filled 2062 hurled our imaginations into a near future where all conveniences would be computerized. Which invention would we want first? The food replicator or vacuum tube transport? The TV phone or flat screens stored in the ceiling? The flying car or the jet pack?

For the kids in my town, a poor backwater hidden on the top of a mountain, the reigning tech of choice was the jet pack. Being one of the youngest in the group, I always agreed. I understood the desire; My young eyes and my little ears were big enough to catch our neighborhood’s scenes of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. The jet pack’s personal propulsion provided immediate and forever escape. picture of lone man in airfield hovering about 20 feet above the ground using a two cylinder jet back pack

Secretly, though, I wanted Rosey. That robot maid was not simply the Jetson’s family’s housekeeper, she was its moral center and fierce protector. I wanted a robot made of rivets and casters and a computer brain full of practical logic. Rosey was caring, clean, and a perfect protector and companion. I didn’t want escape; I wanted a solution.

Fast forward to now, a future with awe-inducing robotic advances like the Roomba, Siri, Asimo, Kismet, Jibo, and drones. The newest addition is Botlr, a rolling computer that makes deliveries in service of a Silicon Valley hotel. But my jet pack GenXers don’t seem impressed. In a recent Slate article, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, wrote about Botlr that human butlers need not fear for their jobs yet. Judging by Botlr’s design and features, Pang writes, engineers should “pay attention to what butlers actually do.” 

“Butlers turn out to do lots of hard, hidden work in order to create an atmosphere that is ‘unhurried, untroubled, and not informal, but full of ease,’ as one put it,” Pang reports. The argument here is age-old: nothing can replace humans. Rosey the Robot won’t ever read a furrowed brow. Siri will never sense sarcasm. 

Here we are, GenX grown up, left to raise ourselves in this digital age, and we’re opting for the jet pack of stories. Fill up those fuel cells of human fitness. Rev up the rockets of righteousness. Instead of the soaring imaginativeness of our youth, we have the same will-they-replace-us anxieties of every other generation before us.

Something about this idea – that we are unique and our value as humans lies in that irreplaceability – makes us feel better. But I anticipate a lot of angst coming our way if we stick to that story. The robots are here, more are coming, and the kids you spent your summers with will be the cyborgs down the street. The Industrial Revolution is now over 250 years old. It’s time to stop asking the same old panicked question. The answer is yes, the robots will replace us. They already have replaced humans in a myriad of ways (especially if you include computers). Let’s stop trying to escape that already-here future and let’s start working on what we want our coming future to look like. 

Will drone deliveries be OK or annoying? What will the US Postal Service look like? Is the Internet a public utility, like gas and electricity, or is it to be a private enterprise with slow lanes and fast lanes that go to the highest bidder?

These are the water cooler dust-ups we should be having. Our GenX imagination is unlike any generations’ before us, for it was formed in a world of moon landings and laser beams. It can’t be fettered with all the old fears. It’s up to us to forge forward, to not seek escape but instead form solutions. It’s up to us to shape the future we want. 

As for me, I still want my Rosey. But she’ll need to be able to fly the car and call the kids in for dinner. 

Rosey Pic: JAM Project on Flickr

Jetpack pic: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr


Love in the time of SHiYA

silhouette of a cat against an ocean sunset with the overwritten title: "things I don't do:" and checkmarks next to "Share" and "agree"SHARE IF YOU AGREE!

You’ve seen them; At least one friend that loves to post them: Overwrought, emotional value statements, probably written in Papyrus and overlaid on a pic of a cat thoughtfully gazing at a Malibu sunset. Facebook is full of them. Pinterest is packed with them. The aughts was the decade of the motivational poster. The teens is the time of the SHiYA (SHare if You Agree) poster.

Some common elements of the SHiYA:

  1. Background is usually a photo or artwork, but occasionally a solid color or blank
  2. Words are commonly written over artwork but above/under photos (like a title/caption)
  3. Content conveys some emotional state, personality trait, political leaning, or common experience
  4. A call-to-action, implied or explicit, to comment, upvote, and/or share the post

The SHiYA serves many ego-validating purposes. Some are:

  1. political beliefs
  2. moral value
  3. current feeling/emotion
  4. world view

SHiYA is a new passive-aggressive weapon in a post-political world. In a timeline where a clear political discussion wouldn’t fly, the SHiYA flags down fellow believers. In a world where straight emotional statements are suppressed, the SHiYA slyly expresses our joys and despairs. It’s sibling, the LiYA – Like if You Agree, is a scammer’s heaven. Post a puppy pic, amass likes, sell the file & all the “like” data to the highest bidder. It’s called “like farming“. (You can pronounce it like “Liar” – because that it what the scam amounts to.)

What are these posts doing for us and are they effective?

We are what we share

We share these blanket value statements in hopes to strengthen our bond with compadres, but we assume everyone who sees our (default: public) posts are in our camp. As social stream use becomes the norm, we run the risk of getting on the last nerve of our bosses, colleagues, neighbors and friends. Our belief system may be a rich source of pride and identity; we make take some pleasure in miffing those of opposite views. Over time, though, discourse gets shut down and friendly connections fade.

We should take the extra time to selectively share our SHiYAs with a group or a custom list. We could hunt out a like-minded forum. We could send it in a personal message to a friend instead of plastering our public feeds. If you want to truly connect with other people, do it in a more direct way by posting to a smaller venue or take the time to write a comment or a message. A micro connection will always trump a macro distribution.

‘Fess up

Do you share value statement/identity validation media? Why? If not – on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high) – how would you rate your annoyance levels when you see these ShiYAs and LiYAs in your stream?


“Sunset Cat” by Kate on Flickr, edited by me, Christine Cavalier



a red ban slash circle over a 4x4 grid of MBTI personality typesThe business world loves measurements, obviously. It’s all about the bottom line. This isn’t such a bad thing, but it turns dubious when the measurements are false and paint a skewed or patently untrue picture with their results.

One of the common glaring falsehoods is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That pyramid is the pinnacle of overblown crap. Maslow was merely theorizing and backed up the theory with zero research. Nevertheless, CEOs everywhere plastered the triangular pic on every training manual within their reach. The whole thing is more than a little annoying to anyone who has studied the field of Psychology.

Next on the annoying list is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment loved by business folks the world over. Whereas Maslow was actually a trained researcher, the people behind the MBTI were hobbyists who hit it big. They mashed up a bunch of stuff from crazy-guy Carl Jung’s unsupported theories, wrote up questions and called it valid. Now it makes millions. It’s a scam of epic proportions.

Dan Ariely, a human behavior researcher and author of a few good books on Behavioral Economics, summed it up nicely in his advice column recently. His answer to writer “Cory” was short, sweet, and cutting:

Dear Dan,

A few years ago, I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and decided to take the test, which seemed pretty detailed. When I was shown my resulting “personality type,” I was blown away: It seemed to explain things about my personality that I had felt but had never put into words. But ever since, I’ve been insecure about whether my MBTI type is my “true type” or just confirmation bias. Help, please?


Next time, just look at the horoscope. It is just as valid and takes less time. -Dan


I love this man.


Check out the PurpleCar Park interview of Dan Ariely from a few years ago. Check out Dan Ariely’s books and his website.


Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Going Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness jessie.orgOne of my best friends is losing her 13-year-old to cancer. Her daughter will be one of almost 2,000 children this year to die from the disease. I met and have loved this little girl since she was in tiny diapers. The pain is devastating.

The research in pediatric oncology is severely lacking. Actually “severely lacking” is an understatement. There basically isn’t much kids cancer research at all. The research and advances you thought were happening in the childhood cancer realm aren’t happening. Children with cancer are mostly treated with adult remedies, put through adult chemo rounds, and hit with adult-sized radiation. Children aren’t eligible for adult medicine trials. Some of these trials extend patients’ lives for a year or two, but no child or teen is able to enter the experiments, despite the fact they’ve been treated like adults all along.

September is the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. My friend is using her daughter’s illness as a conversation point, a face, a reality to help hit the message home. When you learn about the lack of options for these kids, you can’t help but wonder if your child’s suffering is needless. You wonder if there were only more scientists and drug makers interested, perhaps your child could live. The anger and the shock are unbearable.

The awareness is so low, a simple social share makes a difference. You can change your icon to the image above. You can share the following links on your social media channels to help spread the word. You can donate to one of the causes. But mostly, all I ask is a simple tweet, FB post or share, anywhere. Let’s raise the profile of kids cancer research and give people the chance to help. Thank you.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Jessie Rees Foundation (jessie.org)

Brain Tumor Avengers – Kid’s Division


Powered by ShareThis