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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