Yes, We Has Meat at Online News Association Conference

Todd Thomas creates a graphic of Amy Webb's key trends to watch -- ending with ethics.
Todd Thomas tracks Amy Webb’s key trends to watch — ending with ethics.

By Joe Grimm

Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten caused something of a stir with his portrayal of the recent Online News Association conference. He wrote, ” . . . near as I can tell, the main message given to the conferees was that, journalistically, to attract reader eyeballs, you want to publish more pictures of bacon taped to cats.”

He was referring to the keynote by Ben Huh of “I Can Has Cheezburger?” fame.

I don’t have a problem with Weingarten causing a stir. That is his brand. But my impression of the conference – I actually went to it – was different than his.

I listened to Huh, who gave one of the conference’s several keynotes, and I also listened to ONA headliner Amy Webb, who gave her session on the top tech trends to watch.

Both had sweet endings.

Huh concluded by asking us to get serious and think about getting away from some of the old ways of doing journalism and begin doing it with the tools of today.

Huh asked, “If journalism was invented today … what would that look like?” His challenge:
• Why do we still rely so heavily on Civil War-era artifacts such as the inverted pyramid?
• What about our loss of the ability to go back on websites, as we can do with newspapers, to see what they looked like in the past?
• How can we do good journalism if we spend more time worrying about getting our story on a home page than we do creating the story in the first place?
• When will journalism effectively use filtering and crowd sourcing

Not quite bacon-on-cats stuff. The meaty part of Huh’s keynote starts at the 40-minute mark.

And this is where Huh has written about the Moby Dick Project. He also wrote a response to Weingarten.

In her session, Webb hurtled at trademark Webb speed, tossing prizes, barbs and compliments as she sailed through nine trends journalists should pay attention to. Then she pulled us up short on her 10th and final trend to watch: ethics.

Her point: It’s important for journalists and newsrooms to talk about allegations of ethics violations at big tech/journalism companies.

She mentioned these:
TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s creation of a $20 million venture capital fund to finance the kinds of companies the site covered
• Financial arrangements between Tumblr and designers at the New York Fashion Show, to which Tumblr dispatched 25 bloggers
• CBS accidentally and prematurely tweeting the death of Steve Jobs – a mistake that was promptly retweeted 11,000 times.

Yes, we can has bacon on cats at ONA. But there was real meat, too.

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at since 1996. Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.


1 Comment

  1. Great blog, Joe! Thanks for sharing these insights. The evolution of news continues and I’m glad you are still a part of it.

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