Student Voices

Mary Bernard ’20 Attends the Online News Association Convention

Ona Convention PhotoGallivan student Mary Bernard (Class of '20), Prof. Victoria St. Martin and American Studies alum Tessa Bangs (Class of '18), now of The Los Angeles Times, at the Online News Association Convention in September.

When I was preparing for the Online News Association Conference in New Orleans, I kept hearing the same piece of advice — at conferences, the time spent outside of sessions is often just as useful as the time in them.

Looking at the extensive, exciting list of sessions available at ONA, I found that hard to believe. I also found building my ideal schedule close to impossible. I couldn’t be two places at once, but I didn’t know how to choose between a practical session on monetizing newsletters and a panel on innovation in the newsroom. And I ran into that same issue with every time slot I tried to fill.

Thanks to the generosity of the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, the Anthropology department and the Glynn Family Honors Program, ONA became the first conference I’ve had the pleasure to attend. It couldn’t have been more well-suited to my interests, which became obvious as every panel and speech felt like one I couldn’t miss.

As a senior majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Journalism, going into a career in news has always my goal, and I always thought that would look like traditional reporting. Over the summer, however, I discovered a new passion: audience engagement and social media.

I first did an internship in social media at the Brookings Institution in D.C. This past summer, I was able to put my learning to work at the Los Angeles Times. Just days into the internship, I knew it was the perfect role for me. Audience engagement places me right where I want to be in the newsroom — informed about every section of the paper and focused on delivering it to readers and listeners in the best way possible.

At the Online News Association convention in New Orleans, “every panel and speech felt like one I couldn’t miss.”

At ONA, it was incredible to see so many like-minded and similarly interested people come together, sharing ideas, failures and successes. To my surprise, the advice I received did ring true. Connecting in person with the people whom I admire in news and on social media helped me to generate just as many ideas as the sessions did. By the end of the week, my notebook was full of plans, Twitter handles and new questions to take with me back to Notre Dame.

As much as my to-do list grew at ONA, I was also left with a lot to ponder. At the conference, the changing dynamics of journalism was more evident than ever. I was surrounded by change-makers who were working to usher in new norms for publishing online, but many conversations didn’t have simple answers.

Strategies for dealing with disinformation and deep fakes abounded, but work is clearly ongoing in this realm. Newsroom leadership discussed revenue building with a majority-online audience, but there was no clear consensus. 

What remained obvious to me, however, was how important ONA to create a space for these conversations. As far as I could tell, there was no competitive animosity between anyone, just the shared goal of serving the audience in the best way possible. And that, more than anything, filled me with pride as I hope to enter this field after graduation, and renewed my hope that, with such communal partnership among organizations, we will be able to respond to whatever the future of news and media brings. 

Mary Bernard is the social media editor at The Observer.