Five things I learned at ONA’09

October 3, 2009 | By | Category: General News, Student Newsroom

By Lauren Gentile

When I arrived at the 2009 ONA conference in San Francisco, I was bombarded with an information explosion. After attending conference sessions, collaborating with mentors, and sifting through numerous new tools for journalists and communicators, here are five important and interesting things I learned during my time here.

How did Twitter get its name?

The name Twitter, made famous by the site where you can express a thought, share a link or break news in 140 characters or less, has found its way into the vocabulary of people worldwide. Millions of people send out “tweets” ever day—but just how did these new words make their way into everyday conversation?  Evan Williams, CEO Twitter, said in his opening keynote address that we “twitch” when our phone vibrates in our pocket, and birds make a chirping noise when they communicate. Twitter sounded better than Twitch and the brand evolved from there. Williams also joked, “It sounds better than ‘status updates.’”

The Future of Television

We all love to interact on our computers—click links, scroll through photos and buy merchandise. Soon we will have similar capabilities on our television screens. Amy Webb, founder of, said that some companies have already made strides to enable television audiences to click on a certain area of the screen—maybe a vase on a table in the latest episode of Desperate Housewives or Tony Romo’s football jersey—you will then be directed to their Web site or your Amazon account to purchase the product. Twitter and Facebook feeds can also be displayed on the side of your television screen.

How to find your way out of a paper bag–or Town Hall.

We have all relied on Google Maps or MapQuest to get us where we need to be. The next problem is getting to your final destination, for example, the office where your interview is inside a ten-story building.  Fear no more. Thanks to an evolving app called Micello, you will soon be able to navigate your way around office buildings, airports, college campuses and shopping malls using your mobile phone.

Digital Wallet

Starbucks has launched a new iPhone App that allows you to pay for your latte with your phone.  The new mobile Starbucks card displays a barcode on your iPhone that the Barista scans when you get to the counter. The app also allows for you to check your balance, add money using another credit card and view purchase history. Amy Webb says apps like this may be the new face of credit cards worldwide.

The power of photojournalists

When professional photojournalist Najlah Feanny set out to complete her master’s degree thesis project at Parsons School of Design in New York City, she never thought she would touch the lives of hundreds of foster kids nationwide. Originally Feanny wanted to create a portrait gallery of six teenagers waiting to be adopted. She wanted to use the Internet to put real faces to the national problem of teenage adoption. Feanny started her “Heart Gallery of New Jersey” photo project in 2005 by reaching out to the Division of Youth and Family Services in search of six names.  She received more than 300.  Unable to cut the list to six names, Feanny then recruited other photojournalists to help photograph each child. Her efforts yielded heart-warming results: 135 foster kids from the original 350 were adopted. Since then, Feanny has expanded the project to, a site dedicated to helping foster kids and homeless teenagers find homes. This project includes a nationwide day of service in which photojournalists and editors donate their time to produce stories about children aging out of the foster care system who face homelessness.

Lessons learned

As a student  immersed in new media and technology on a daily basis, I never thought that I would learn so much about Web technology and innovations in the news business at ONA09. I think it’s fair to say that I was a little overconfident upon my arrival. As I’m scheduled to return to the East Coast tomorrow morning, I find myself reflecting back on everything I learned during my time here. Not only did I discover new apps, Web sites and tools for journalists on the Web, I discovered what it really means to be a successful journalist. After hearing about Feanny’s story, I realized that journalism isn’t just about telling a captivating story or delivering news to the public. The Internet, together with journalism, gives us the opportunity to change lives and make a difference.

Lauren Gentile is a sophomore at American University in Washington, D.C. She is part of the ONA09 student newsroom.

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