The Difference a Year Makes

A birds-eye view of the Chicago River meeting Lake Michigan from #ONA14.

A birds-eye view of the Chicago River meeting Lake Michigan from #ONA14.

Last year, my first foray into the Online News Association meeting was a head spinning experience—so much technology to learn, so many new tools to try.

It was overwhelming. But I walked a way with something even more important than a better understanding of digital strategy and improved technical skills. I walked away with the confidence to just dive in and try new things.

My breakthrough came after an ONA 2013 session led by Lisa Williams, a self-described fairy godmother for investigative journalists at the Investigative News Network. Williams explained that journalists are perfectionists and many find it difficult to try new technology because they fear their product will be less than perfect. But technologists have different mindset. Breaking things or hacking their way through a task is a celebrated part of their culture and a really powerful way to learn.

I left that meeting vowing to hack more and worry less about perfection. I took an HTML and CSS course and many other training courses. I started doing audio interviews for my publication. I made an interactive timeline using Knight Lab’s TimelineJS. I built 2 of my own websites on WordPress. I started a new business and a new Web-based project.

In the process, I met a lot of talented and generous people. I got to know and brainstorm with my amazing web development team at JAMA. We tried new things and pushed each other forward. Some of our experiments failed, and life went on. I was introduced to Chicago’s civic tech community and some of the amazing ways they are trying to use tech for social good. They’ve inspired me to try to do my part. I also discovered Girl Develop It Chicago, a group that offers affordable in-person coding training in a supportive environment.

This year, the ONA 2014 meeting in Chicago was a homecoming in more ways than one (more about that in a future post). I wasn’t afraid of what I didn’t know, I was fired up and ready to learn what’s next in online media.

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