ONA19 recap: Learning as much as I taught

ONA19 recap: Learning as much as I taught

For the second consecutive year, I programed a unique experience for myself at the Online News Association’s annual conference. Instead of attending the prearranged sessions, I spent my time on more personal learnings.

The twofold goal was to expand my skills as a newsroom leader and spend personal time with peers or superiors from a variety of organizations.

In this, I was successful.

By sleeping just four hours per night (I’m tired today), I was able to fill social time with meetings — I spoke with consultants, digital content experts, news directors, corporate managers and educators — but the vast majority of my time was spent refining key leadership and management skills.

I was privileged to attend the conference again as a mentor for the Online News Association’s Student Newsroom and Innovation Lab, and to take on two additional roles within that program. Beyond working with my assigned mentee, I was the social media editor for all 20 students and guided a squad of students and mentors on a shared project.

I must admit, this year in the newsroom started with another case of imposter syndrome. I worried that I hadn’t had the time to properly prepare myself to sit alongside experienced leaders and educators at the front of the room.

As I watched the other newsroom leaders edit students’ work on the first afternoon, that feeling deepened. I heard the other leaders obsessing over details of the authors’ original intent and feared I wasn’t mentally prepared to do the same.

But, as I listened, my instincts began to find the rhythm of the room.

I realized that by letting me overhear the conversations at the highest level of this program, these experienced educators were teaching me as much as they were teaching the students. Eventually, I was able to find my footing and that flow of the newsroom returned to my bones.

When I was rowing, we called that feeling “swing.”

In those moments, I found myself attuned to the fact that the feedback I was sharing with students became more concise and helpful with each attempt (at least I hope it was!). As a result, my feeling of being scatterbrained transformed into a sense of being at the center of it all.

When it all ended, my back hurt from being hunched over laptops (old man problems!) and my eyes were bloodshot with lack of sleep, but the experience could be counted as nothing less than a very educational success — for myself and, I hope, for the students.

They published more than 40 items on the website, and hundreds of more on social media, with tens of thousands of cumulative views.

The experience also left me looking toward the future with a renewed sense of wonder for all the opportunities, tests and experiences still to come.

Some examples of the innovative work, which I helped to oversee: