Note: All ONA Local events are currently happening virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic for the health and safety of our community. We’ve rounded up a list of resources to help you design engaging virtual events, for groups that choose to host them.
Here are some event models from other ONA Local groups. Some have full templates including supplies and volunteers you’ll need, and others are ideas from other groups. Feel free to build on these to suit your community’s particular needs and interests.
Recap the latest ONA conference
Bring home the biggest lessons from ONA’s annual conference and share with your local community. (Template available.)
Bring in local innovators for curated 5-minute presentations on a specific prompt, with networking time after. Leave time for networking at the end, so community members have a chance to connect with the presenters. (Template available.)
Under The Hood project presentations
Presentations on cool work that your community is doing are always popular. ONA LA’s Connie Ho likes to aim for a few panelists, so you’ll still have enough if someone needs to cancel last-minute. She recommends reaching out to one or two presenters you know well who you think would be willing to present, as well as a few who you cold-pitch, who may have good brand recognition or social following but are outside your personal networks. “A good question to ask yourself is, ‘Who would be able to fill up a room?’” she says. (She even shared some example emails she’s used to invite speakers to present, for you to use as inspiration!)
Workshop it out
Hands-on workshops that get people using digital tools are popular with ONA groups. Topics include social media platforms, mobile video and photography, and podcasts and audio storytelling. Focus on a subject that’s of interest to your audience and get to know the expertise level of the group members — for example, if your community members already use social video tools regularly, a more intermediate or advanced skills workshop will likely be of more interest than a 101-style event. Diogo Queiroz de Andrade, who leads ONA Portugal, recommends being specific when planning workshop topics and being direct with members about what they can expect to learn. “The Tools for Digital Journalism [workshop] was a small failure, to be honest, probably because we avoided being too specific about what we’d cover,” he says.
Take the day
For day-long events, Fridays or weekends tend to work well. Cassiano Gobbet and ONA Brasil hosted a full-day event with four panels. He recommends using a university for space, as they tend to have well-equipped spaces and a built-in audience of academics and students. One big consideration for a larger event is spreading the word: He asked panelists to share the event in their networks, but next time, he plans to put a volunteer in charge of marketing. Consider livestreaming the event to reach people who can’t make it in person.
Table Talks or Coffee Talks
Get members of your community together to talk about a big issue facing our industry that benefits from a lot of different perspectives. This model is built off of ONA’s popular Table Talks sessions at our conference, and is designed to encouraging community participation and look for solutions. For an event that encourages conversation, Tracey Lindeman of ONA Montréal recommends finding a casual and relatively quiet place to host (like a coffee shop) so people can hear each other well and feel more at home in the discussion, and setting up the chairs in a circle or around a table. (Template available)
Spark networking connections
Journalism networking events don’t always have to be at the bar. Try getting creative with your networking events to be less centered around alcohol: trivia, game nights, bowling or ice cream socials are all fun ways to engage that don’t require everyone to be of drinking age or interested in drinks. (Template available.)
Spotlight local Online Journalism Award submissions
Encourage your community to submit their best work to ONA’s annual journalism awards. Then, invite people who submit their work to present about the projects they submitted at a meetup. (They’ll guarantee themselves an automatic cheering section from your group’s contingency at the awards banquet if they win!)
Hone your ONA conference pitches
Did you or someone in your group pitch to present at ONA’s annual conference? Or do you have an idea for next year’s conference? Hone your talk with your Local group. It’s a great way to get practice and feedback and to learn what questions people have.
Host a book club
Invite your community to read a book related to journalism and host a discussion event. You could even do this virtually on the ONA Local Slack group: set up a channel for your group or a #reading channel and discuss books monthly or bi-monthly.
Town Hall/Ask Me Anything
Host a subject matter expert to lead a Q&A on a topic of interest. (Template available.)
Connect students and recruiters
ONA Austin hosted a freelancing pitch night for students to connect with area professionals. Editors shared what they were looking for in pitches, and students were able to talk through some pitch ideas they had and get feedback. They also encouraged follow-up post-event by sharing information among the participants, asking publications to fill out a Google form listing freelance, internships and job opportunities, along with contact information, and asking students to fill out a form about their interests and linking to their resumes. Then, they shared each list with the opposite group. Here’s the event posting (click View Details in the upper right of the page to expand the listing).
These events are focused on group participation in the discussion, usually with a moderator or interviewer and one or two presenters. Attendees are encouraged to participate in the conversation along the way. It can be a good format for an important topic that’s getting a lot of attention in the industry. ONA SF recently used this for an event on trust. They capped the event at 60 people and had about 35 attend, to keep the discussion more intimate. They suggest having the speakers keep their opening remarks to 5 minutes or less to allow for plenty of time for conversation, and to have a strong moderator who can start off some Q&A.
Make it a game
Rather than hosting a lecture on best practices for social video stories, ONA South Florida took it outside with a Snap-stagram Scavenger Hunt. They got the group tickets to a new museum that was getting a lot of buzz around town and challenged participants to complete skill-based challenges in Instagram Stories or Snapchat. Events in uncharted territory sometimes come with surprises, which is OK — find out what they would change next time around in this blog post by leader Samantha Ragland.
For an ONA Montreal meetup on self-care for journalists, the group invited a yoga/fitness instructor to do a 15-minute relaxation/pain-relief/stretching sequence, a journalist/editor who made a self-care video game, a nutritionist and a psychology PhD who talked about coping with traumatic news events. For an icebreaker, they went around and introduced everyone in the room, not just the speakers. They found an Airbnb type of rental and negotiated getting it for free, so the group could be in a private/non-bar space. “Giving people permission to get comfortable in the space really helped loosen the conversation up,” says leader Tracey Lindeman.
Bridge connections with your community
ONA San Diego held a meetup about building better connections between journalists and the communities they serve — and they opened up the event to community members. “We had more people from the community than journalists,” said leader Lindsay Hood. “They had a lot of questions about how we decide what to cover and how we represent their community. The community members asked us to come back and do more events to teach them about media and how to promote their community in a better light.” Pro tip: Lindsay ran a Facebook sponsored post targeting both journalists and community activists, and worked with the local business district, who sent invites to community leaders.
For even more program ideas, search the archives of other ONA Local groups’ events.