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Vendors at the Online News Association 2014 Conference


The Tableau Software table at the #ONA14 Midway, with Tara Walker giving a demo.

Vendor Cool Kids

While the executives of the news industry seem to be stuck pining away for the the good ol’ Girl Friday days, third party vendors are innovating the space faster than the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run. Let’s take a quick look at some of the software apps and services that set up shop on the Midway at the Online News Association 2014 Conference held in Chicago in September (#ONA14).

The vendors showed some cool stuff, mostly focused on one of my great loves, measurement and statistical reporting. A weird note: their swag was… traditional; I’ll get to that in a minute. Big powerhouses like Gannett and Tribune were there, but so were Google Glass and Oculus Rift, wowing non-techies. I’ve seen both technologies before so I didn’t put any time at those tables. (Plus, call me paranoid – or perhaps just female – but I’m not rendering myself blind to my in-real-life crowded surroundings. Oculus Rift’s demo was right in the middle of the exhibition floor. Yeah. No.)

Admittedly, I was quite shocked at the low level of tech knowledge and presentation at the conference. I expected something along the lines of a podcamp at least. Sure, they can’t all be sys admin conferences but jeez. I wrote out my frustrations in another post, where I let rip my full cynical-techie disdain (“Get off your high horse” probably wasn’t necessary), but for now let’s flip that cynicism over and present what seems like a dearth of tech leadership in news industry’s c-suites as a golden opportunity for disruption.

Here is a short video (made with a young ONA intern wielding Google Glass) showcasing some of the more innovative vendors on the ONA Midway:

midwayIn the video, in order:

Market Wired
Tableau Software
Rivet News Radio


Coolness Factor

Here’s where I talk about the swag.

Here’s a little techie hint: The vendors and the swag are a good tone/temperature indicator of any conference. The gifts vendors present say a lot about what the vendors think of attendees. The vendors at #ONA14 assumed that all the attendees wore fedoras with “Press” badges stuck in the brim and wrote copious notes using ink and paper. For a lot less money they could’ve handed out USB sticks, like the Knight Foundation did, or iPhone chargers like Tribune. Nope. It was all tote bags and wirebound hardcover notebooks. Some toys were thrown in there, and that reeks of “tech conference” but the toys weren’t too innovative or tech-traditional. Not one propeller beanie among them (you’d be surprised how fast these go).

Paper Paraphenalia

Bobbi Booker and I with the Roost guys

Bobbi Booker and I with the Roost guys, whom I tried to convince to move their startup to Philly rather than NYC

I collected printed info from as many vendors as possible. The handouts put forth the best picture the vendor wants to share. I’ll be putting all of it in a binder to share at an upcoming ONA Philly event. It will give people an idea of which companies populated the Midway.


Any vendors from #ONA14 reading this and want to get in on the fun? You can always leave a comment with a link back to your site. The Midway was indeed a fun place and filled with wild and crazy guys. MuckRack won me over with sheer spirit(s), so I started a page there. I spent a whole evening at the Museum drinking with and trying to convince the Roost guys to move their start-up to Philly instead of NYC. And AFP – I know you’re out there, you insane people – I love you guys and I want to attend every conference AFP is sponsoring.

Anyway, I spent time talking with almost every vendor and I got a sense that although traditional news places may be slow to turn the ship, there are major rumblings beneath the surface. Things are imploding, exploding, and taking over. It’s only a matter of time – less than 12 parsecs for sure – when we’ll see those ad revenues go up and online will finally be earning more than print ever did.

Want to know more insider tips about attending conferences? See my post on LinkedIn: 5 Reasons Why I Talk to Vendors at Conferences (and You Should Too)

Were you at ONA14? Let me know in the comments.


My best Girl Friday impression at the dotPress table


Photo Credit: Tableau Software pic courtesy of Tableau Software on Flickr. Edited by Christine Cavalier

YouTube video by ONA Newsroom on Youtube

Remaining photos: Christine Cavalier


Updated ONA Attendees Breakdown

The Online News Association sent out an updated list of attendees after the conference held in September (ONA14). My analysis on the pre-conference list was popular with speakers and sponsors. Some used the data in presentations and others quoted it to attendees and their staffers back at work.

Having met quite a few people at ONA14, I can safely say this list is not comprehensive. Names are missing, especially those of staff at the sponsor tables on the Midway. Some numbers:

  • Original List N=1617
  • Updated List N=1863 (8 of which were in the original list but not on the final list. We can assume these 8 people registered for the conference but never checked in to receive their badges).
  • Difference of N=246

Here are the distributions of careers-by-gender from the updated list:

Self-reported job titles among the female participants:

69 Students (7%), 67 Academics (7%), 65 Producers (7%), 212 Executives (23%), 18 Developers (2%), 245 Editors (26%)m 88 Journalists (10%), 161 Managers (17%). Estimated. All female ONA14 attendees

Final count of attendees, female, by job title.

Self-reported job titles among the male participants:


Final count of attendes, male, by job title


What can we deduce from the data and this chart?

  • The news industry appears uncommitted to hiring or sending developers to continuing-ed type conferences.
  • The “managers” and “editors” categories vary widely in actual job duties.
  • The “editors” include web editors and many editors are also writers of some sort. Indeed, many jobs in journalism are mash-ups.
  • Gender inequality in the “Executive” and other categories is painfully obvious.

Please add your own observations in the comments.

This Wednesday, October 29th, 2014, I’ll be speaking at ONAPhilly’s “ONA Takeaway night” on at 7pm at The Pen and Pencil Club in Philadelphia, PA. A bunch of attendees will be sharing knowledge of the conference. See you there.



Hopping the train: women’s careers derailed

Moms with kids don't get to ride

Moms with kids don’t get to ride

Don’t get old

When “The Basket Case” Allison said “When you get older, your heart dies” in the Breakfast Club, my young self vowed to never let that happen. 30 years later, I’ve only succeeded in putting it off. Perhaps its the onset of a mid-life crisis or it’s all the fuss over Renée Zellweger’s face, but something in me has changed. It’s like a big train jumped the rails and barreled into my afternoon tea. “Silly me,” I’d say to my traumatized guests, “I forgot to mention this train. Canape?”

Ms. Zellweger, beloved portrayer of every-woman Bridget Jones, apparently committed a crime against humanity by getting her eyelids done. My friend and fellow writer Jill Ivey said Zellweger “Jennifer Grey-ed” herself, referring to a nose job that rendered Ms. Grey unrecognizable. Ms. Zellweger responded to her many critics by saying her career had become “not realistically sustainable” and that she is “living a different, happy, more fulfilling life and [she’s] thrilled that perhaps it shows.” God forbid we age or transform our career focus. My heart’s dying alright, but not from old age. It’s letting go of that last glimmer of hope my own career will turn out the way I was taught to expect.ReneeZellweger

Ms. Zellweger and I are not alone on this ride. Our peers, the ne’er-to-be-classified Generation X, are moving into salad-and-sandwich days. 47% of “middle-aged” (that’s the older Xers and younger Boomers) are simultaneously raising kids and caring for aging parents. On top of that we Xers are stuck in our lower paying, lower management jobs. It seems the Baby Boomers, especially those in professional positions, are working until they drop dead (35% don’t retire by age 65. The other 65% retire but most find other paying work). Silent Generation poster boy Warren Buffet is 81 and he’s still going into the office. At this rate, we Xers aren’t getting promoted until the year 2030.

Leave no man behind

Ah, but not all career trains are running on the same track, are they? In an October 2, 2014 article by Susan S. LaMotte at Time Magazine nicely demonstrated the sin of omission of women in talks about the GenX workforce: “…the average age of an S&P 1500 CEO is 50. And they’re already leading the majority of growing companies: 68% of Inc. 500 CEOs are Gen Xers.” Ms. LaMotte forgot to mention “male.” We women, the daughters of revolutionaries, have watched our careers be left to languish at the station. “Women today hold less than 20% of leadership positions in corporate America. Just 5% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women,” reported Palo Alto software CEO Sabrina Parsons in an October 20th article at Business Insider. Our careers have missed the train.

Like many GenX moms, I’m a casualty of the Mommy Wars. Not the Mommy Wars the media portrays as a moral fight between working and stay-at-home moms. Having been on both sides of that, I can tell you that battlefield is imaginary. The true Mommy War, the real one corporate America doesn’t want you to see, is the pervasive and consistent derailing of female careers using a devastating system of discriminatory laws, corporate hand-holding and senatorial cronyism. Unlike our counterparts in other Western nations, American moms are often permanently forced off the corporate rungs when we procreate or mother children. And as more women delay childbearing in order to engineer a stronger career line at work, increasing numbers of us need fertility help. For those of you uninitiated into the hidden health crisis of our time: fertility treatments are, amongst numerous other things, time-consuming. Many women who struggle with infertility have to severely change their jobs or quit them in order to keep up with treatments.

Apple, Facebook and other “progressive” companies who offer to freeze our eggs are simply sending women down a route of distraction. We need to push for better, more sane benefits, like flexible hours and a wider variety of daycare options, including bringing newborns and infants to work. FMLA benefits should be extended for both parents and men need to carry more of the burden of the missed time at work. It’s time we blew the whistle on the war against equal pay and working moms.

ladywithticketHobo-ing it

Like Zellweger, I’m trying to get back on board with my career after some time away. After a decade out on my own (and finally with the youngest kid in school full time), I can’t seem to hop back on the train. Even if I could manage to sneak a ride, I would have to leave everything and everyone else behind. Could I find an office nearby with flexible hours that allowed me to work from home after 3:30pm, or a salary, perhaps not at my previous job (sys admin) level but enough that I don’t despise myself for stepping off the ladder 10 years ago? Would my coworkers realize I haven’t been “sitting at home eating bonbons?” Doubtful. For the record, I’ve been active in early adopter circles, blogging, consulting, attending conferences –sometimes funded by fellowships–, taking continuing ed classes, learning new coding skills, building a decent brand online, speaking at tech conferences, getting articles published and holding leadership positions with fiduciary responsibilities in my community. I’m so much more employable than I was as a cocky techie 15 years ago. I’m older, better, wiser. But as a Mommy War casualty I’m being left for dead, like 38.5% of unemployed or workforce-absent women aged 25-55

We have to do what we can to get women to stay on that career track. Men seem to get at least 3 tickets to ride, but we only get one. Once we step off, we’re left back at the station. It’s time we shoved open those doors and took our seats.

In the meantime, any of you ladies care for tea? I’ll invite Ms. Zellweger.


Photo Credits: Screenshot of Ms. Zellweger obtained October 22, 2014.
Train and platform: Simon Yeo on Flickr
Woman with ticket: Tom Page on Flickr

The trouble with news…

The trouble with the news industry is it’s been disillusioned for at least a century.


Firstly let us say that survey data sucks. People always lie to themselves and then in turn lie to researchers.

Secondly let’s say that people lied about their level of current events knowledge. If you asked a person in the 1950s if they watched the news and read the newspaper, they wouldn’t have dared say, “You know, not really. I have the TV on in the background during dinner and I scan the headlines in the morning, but I wouldn’t say I truly absorb anything.” But that was the reality. Sure, they got the newspaper delivered to their door everyday but that was “just what you do” back then. If someone wanted to seem particularly astute, they’d subscribe to numerous print newspapers and magazines.

The order of the pages read was also a thing. My mother tells the story of my father chastising her for always reading the comics page first. It wasn’t something “intelligent” people did, apparently. I found some talk about this online in a forum. The posters were anonymously admitting they read the (print) newspaper from back to front, all giving their “reasons” for doing so: I’m a sports nut. I’m left-handed. It was as if they weren’t permitted to read the paper in any manner they pleased.

Thirdly let’s say that these conventions are gone. I don’t recall helping my kids with a “current events” assignment in school (we’d have to go BUY a newspaper if clipping one was required). I don’t hear chatter on the street or in the grocery line about the front page of the newspaper. People seem to be less aghast if someone admits to being in the dark about some news item or another. We all have so much information coming at us, it is understandable if one has missed the latest update on some world event or another. To think, they used to teach children in school how to “stay current” and “engage in informed conversation” on current events! It’s almost laughable.

So now that we have this plain fact –the news industry sees itself as far more important in everyday lives than in is – let us move on to the new role news is taking now. The picture, as I see it, is far, far better than what news has been previously and what the industry fears it is becoming.

old newspaper color ad for "post toasties" cereal

by danzil raines on Flickr


What happens – just judging by your own life – when you have too many choices? Let’s take the famous cereal aisle example. SOOOOO many brands. Say you’re new to the country, new to cereal, and your family wants to start eating it. What do you do?

There are plenty of ways to approach this problem, and most people use a combination of solutions. Here are some:

  • Ask others for recommendations
  • Systematically try one-by-one
  • Shop at stores that carry fewer brands
  • Don’t eat cereal (give up/abstain)
  • Join a “cereal-of-the-month” club so you can sample a few brands
  • Whittle down a list of acceptable ingredients, then search for cereals that comply

Nowadays, information is the cereal. Everyday we are an immigrant in the cereal aisle. Even without consciously realizing it, we form habits and practices that help us deal with the onslaught of choices. Most of us make routines. Me, I check email and Twitter first thing (that’s why you see most of my retweets in the morning hours. My stream shares news early). Later on in the day, I scan FB for headlines my friends shared. My husband checks the sports scores and articles while he eats his morning cereal (Frosted Flakes, if you’re wondering) and scans headlines at lunch. I’m sure you have your own way of finding news.

Here’s the rub: most of us are consuming WAAAAAAAAAAAY more news than we ever did (this increase in consumption also includes those types that got a daily newspaper delivered to their door). Yet, now we lie by saying we don’t spend that much time online, that we don’t partake in the news cycle. It’s become a bad thing to be obsessed with turns of events (because that means we spend too much time online, which is considered an anti-social habit).

So although we are consuming more information we are loath to admit to it.


The news industry would do themselves a favor if they ate a box of RealityChex. People don’t see news as a daily need, and they have shown they won’t pay much (if at all) to gather it. People are lying to themselves, of course, because news is becoming more and more part of their everyday flow. Nevertheless, they don’t believe news is a commodity they need to pay for. They may never see it as such, as there are many other avenues through which to get updates.

Like the beginnings of all product launches, perhaps a bit of user education is in order. New cereals include “how-tos” in commercials (e.g., shown with pouring milk or made with hot water). Perhaps news outlets should consider an education arm. “How to start your day well” or some crap like that. I’m sure the Positive Psychology types would kill for a chance to work with news outlets to develop a “well-being” department.

Ad dollars. Ah, the almighty ad dollars. The concept is this: News orgs had the market cornered on ad dollars. There was plenty of money in print ads. The Internet killed print. Where’d the money go? To YouTubers and bloggers? Perhaps. I don’t particularly know where it went but I do know this: Where there are eyes, there are ads. My guess is Facebook is getting the lion’s share of that chunk of cheese. News orgs should be charging Facebook for its users’ license to post links.

I know this sounds backwards: Facebook paying the Philadelphia Inquirer a license fee? WTF? Well, news, photos, writing, is all Intellectual Property, and license fees are paid for such things. Facebook relies on users’ eyes being present for ads. The sharing of news items is a BIG traffic draw for FB. (In fact, I spoke to a FB rep recently – off the record – and he said the Pew estimates of # of users and # of users who share/find news items via the social network service were astoundingly low. (Pew estimated 64% of the US population admits to using Facebook and of those 62%, 30% admit to gathering news there). LOW. News is driving Facebook participation. Participation would go down if links were blocked. The NYT saw this in action when they erected a paywall. What would FB be willing to pay in license/subscription fees to news outlets if the users weren’t permitted to share links? Also, another social network would come along soon enough that was willing to pay the fees.

Internet Service Providers could also be tasked with distribution of news. “Free Philadelphia Inquirer [online] subscription with any new Comcast account!” <- offers like this will get the news industry back into the public’s good graces. After all, newspapers were kept quite cheap back in the day, so if you hadn’t read the paper back then it was seen as completely unacceptable. Even a bum could scrape together the 3 pennies.


  1. Get off your high horse.
  2. Stop panicking. The news is in its best position ever.
  3. Make news ubiquitous and cheap for users first (using B2B sub models).
  4. Set up human-filtered news packages that are customizable for the users (make “news personality” profiles and hire curators to fill the day’s paper with headlines).
  5. Commit to caring for the whole person. News isn’t cereal; It isn’t just breakfast. It is information itself. Take up the task of filling a person’s information needs, on all emotional and mental levels.


When it floods, people seek dry land for safety. They don’t stop drinking water. We are in a flood of information. We need filters and ways of living. The ad and subscription money is out there. The news industry just hasn’t kept up with current events.









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The first day's keynote - Ferguson journalists recount their experiences

The first day’s keynote – Ferguson journalists recount their experiences

Every day I fill 2 pages of a blank paper book with spots and lines of ink. I’ve been a spotty diarist since I could write words but my daily habit started several years ago as a result of buying into the “morning pages” practice outlined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. So know that I am a user of dead trees when I say this: The sheer amount of blank paper notebooks and ink pens given as swag at the Online News Association in Chicago (#ONA14 – Sept. 25-27, 2014) is a sign of the apocalypse.

Facebook was there, handing out t-shirts and phone juice

Facebook was there, handing out t-shirts and phone juice

The vendors, many of whom were huge online content or Web measurement agencies, thought the best way to attract attendees to their tables was distribute notebooks. Only the Knight Foundation (a USB stick) and the Tribune Content Agency (portable phone charger) had any “online news” appropriate gadgets. Any tech conference worth its fee has its share of silly toys, and in a minimal show of effort there were yo-yos, frisbees and some teddy bears, but the ubiquitous swag was still the lowly pen and paper flip book.

two pictures, side by side, one depicts notebooks and pens, the other depicts a small USB stick and a phone charger battery

My tweet from the conference, showing the days’ pull. That savvy commenter is my teenage nephew.

We techies are known for our impatience when it comes to the world’s slow acceptance of reality. Ranting lends us a certain amount of catharsis. I’ll keep it short(ish): ONA14 seemed to be a refugee/re-entry camp where old school newsroomers become assimilated into a new world. I should’ve had a clue the crowd would be less-than-technically-savvy when I read the word “Online” in the group’s title. It’s the same pet peeve I have with the term “social media:” It’s news and it’s media. It’s time we said “paper news” and “private media” and use the non-designated terms of “news” and “media” to mean electronic, meant-to-be-shared communications.

"A bridge must be built from the newsroom to the server room"

Disclaimer: I know nothing (OK, very little) about newsrooms and the news industry. This is simply my impression so far.

Why rant about free stuff? The tone of any organization is in the swag given out by the vendors. In ONA14’s case, the sheer amount of blank paper notebooks and ink pens demonstrates the vendors’ expectations of the attendees: paper-loving journos and older crowd. The vendors were spot-on, it seems: My analysis of the attendees list showed less than 3% techies (“developer” or “engineer” listed as job title); Most attendees held some sort of administration or editing position. Here’s my point, though: Aren’t we trying to move the news industry closer to the current context? Wouldn’t a few more USB sticks or even the traditional, tongue-in-cheek propeller hats send a better message? We want to journalists and their bosses to “learn the language. Get comfortable with the environment. Embrace the techies as your new people.” I’m oversimplifying here but you get the idea.

Technologists come with varied interests, but one thing they all have in common is a deep respect for information and the machines and programs that process it. I may be reading this whole situation poorly, but it seems a bridge must be built from the newsroom to the server room. Datavisual demos, Snapchat sessions, Vine integrations all stepped the audiences closer to the revolution, but knowing how to use the front-end of social networks to distribute content is not the same as embracing technology into the news process. That would be like saying eating a Snickers gives us enough cooking skills to survive on a desert island. Not. the. same. Systems process, architecture, flow, all of these elements and more need to come together to make the news industry work the way it should. (I’ll try to write more about this later. I attended the one “design thinking” session at ONA14. Elementary intro, but it’s a start.)

All in all, the ONA14 conference is geared toward newbies. I’m a news newbie, but I’m tech oldie. The imaginary Sims jury in my head is still out on whether or not there’s a place for me in the news world.

One bright shining light at ONA14 was a vendor with a small, plain table tucked in the back corner. They had one poster and two guys with laptops, and they were giving out shirts printed with the phrase “Open Source Means Free Speech.” SourceFabric is an open-source initiative for the sharing, production and distribution of news. “We share technology, stories and experience to help address the challenges facing media.” In this age of corporate takeovers of news channels, nothing has ever been more true. Open source and an open Internet are the keys to freedom.

Pic of SourceFabric Motto. White block type on black background: "Open Source Means Free Speech."

If you’re one of my coder readers or a news person, please go poke around the Sourcefabric site and consider contributing. You can make a real difference in the fabric of our democracies and our republics with just a little bit of shared code. Please help.

So yes, you can tell a lot about an organization by the types of toys handed out by the vendors at their annual conference. I’ve gotten much better stuff (USB power strips, data storage devices, etc) at free Podcamps and Barcamps. Hopefully the ONA can stop courting the old schoolers and bring in more of the techies. Our freedom depends on it.

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