I found my tribe in the 2016 Online News Association Student Newsroom

ONA Student Newsroom

Story by Polly Irungu


I’ve always enjoyed doing more than one thing. I didn’t just want to be that photographer girl, I wanted to be that photographer girl/social media enthusiast/blogger/you get the point.


At the same time, my mom would always tell me, “Polly, you can’t do everything. Just pick one thing and become an expert at it.”


While I do believe in mastering one skill at a time, I know there is no way that I can just still with one thing. I soon came to realize that there were hundreds of people like me at the Online News Association.


Maybe you’re one of us too. If, like me, you’re a regular in Allen Hall, you just might have an interest or two in digital media, print, journalism, advertising, media studies — and the list goes on.


If that’s you, then you are going to love the Online News Association (ONA) conference. At the very least, you should become a member.


Sadly, I only learned about ONA this year. Tracie Powell, founder of All Digitocracy, spoke in one of my classes last spring about the importance of joining ONA and similar organizations.


I wasted no time figuring out how to become a part of this organization. Within just a few weeks, I had applied to be a part of the 2016 ONA Student Newsroom that covers the annual conference.


A few months after that, I received an email from ONA’s deputy director, Irving Washington, announcing that I was one of 20 students from across the country to be selected for the 2016 student newsroom. I could hardly contain my excitement. Ask my mom.


In the weeks leading up to the conference, I got to virtually meet my colleagues, newsroom editors and mentors. Students began pre-conference assignments, and our editors gave us the keys to success for ONA.


Before I knew it, the conference was here, and I hopped on my two-hour flight to Denver.


Over 2,000 online news practitioners and enthusiasts gathered this year at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Denver, Colorado, to attend ONA16. Over the course of three days, students, reporters, editors, photographers, video producers, social media experts, coders and more immersed themselves in workshops taught by industry experts, checked out the tech and career fair, and mingled at networking events. I have to admit that, as exciting as it was to be surrounded by the digital media experts I admire, it was also nerve-racking.


And then I got to the student newsroom. My team was made up of 20 undergraduate and graduate students, each with their own multifaceted talent, from coding to producing multimedia packages. I was inspired by how dynamic our newsroom was in talent and diversity. It honestly felt like I was inside a classroom at Allen Hall.


As a member of the newsroom, my responsibilities included pitching stories to cover in Denver, photographing assignments, conducting interviews for stories, designing graphics, scheduling social media posts and live-tweeting.


Being a part of the social media team led by Sarah Tuley, a social media manager at Caller, was a really rewarding experience. I learned social media tips and practices from someone who is in a position I hope to be in one day. She pushed us to live-tweet and helped us produce clean graphics for social. Since I’ve been back at school, I’ve already been applied the insights I gained at ONA to my work.


“How to do the Digital Juggle” is a story I co-produced with a fellow student journalist in the newsroom. We talked to a variety of media professionals about managing work while attending conferences like ONA. The digital juggle is not easy, but these professional have a working formula and offered their tips. You can view all the work our newsroom produced at newsroom16.journalists.org.


ONA is a must-attend conference with great membership perks for all of your digital media lovers out there. Take a look at what went down this year at ona16.journalists.org.


Will you be joining me at ONA17?


Polly Irungu is a multimedia journalist and social media strategist who plans to graduate from the SOJC with a degree in journalism this fall. She is currently working as a digital content creator for the SOJC’s Communications team, a campus editor-at-large at The Huffington Post and a freelance production assistant for the PAC-12 Networks, and she’s also been published on CNN, KVAL and YesJulz. A National Association of Black Journalists fellow in 2015 and 2016, she participated in the NABJ and National Association of Hispanic Journalists student newsroom to provide coverage of their historic joint convention for NABJ Monitor and Latino Reporter. She also worked in the Online News Association’s student newsroom Sept. 15-17, 2016. Previously, she has worked for TrackTown USA, Def Jam Records, Dell and Adobe. She made the 2013 and 2014 Daily Emerald Ducks Who Will Change the World list, and in May 2015, she was named the Women4Africa International Young Achiever of the Year. You can view her work at pollyirungu.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @pollyirungu.