Midway Programming

Attendees come to ONA conferences because they want to access new ideas, meet new people and discover new technology and tools. To achieve those goals with ONA20 Everywhere, we need to rethink our conference structure to create an experience that is  engaging and creates tangible results for all attendees — including our sponsors and supporters.

The Midway is a futures lab for tomorrow’s journalism, bringing together the best thinking in the media technology, tools and workforce space. As we transition the Midway online, the focus on interactive sharing and testing will go further than ever.

What does this mean for Midway participants and programming? We know your organization wants to focus on developing new relationships and strengthening existing ones. Let’s work together to present your work, ideas and expertise in a way that doesn’t feel like another in-person demo or one-way webinar. 

Who Can Pitch: Anyone who has committed to participating in ONA20 Everywhere as a sponsor or Midway participant, including the Start-up Alley (limited to groups under 2 years old).

Focus on big ideas. What are the big questions the digital journalism world is asking that you can answer? What kinds of research, data, best practices or new thinking can you share? What can you teach attendees?

Rethink the presentation. Rethinking how and what you want to focus on in under 5 minutes may be far more impactful in a virtual space than a 45-minute presentation. If you are selected for a Midway speaking spot, we will work with you to find the right format and length. Here are some format concepts to get you started.

Embrace a flexible schedule. All ONA20 Everywhere programming will be recorded and archived, allowing attendees to be part of the event on their own time.

Be inclusive. All conference sessions, including Midway programming, must uphold and further the educational, professional development and diversity goals of ONA20 Everywhere, regardless of whether they are selected via the Suggestion Box or organized by ONA, sponsors or Midway participants.

To help you prepare your submission to the ONA20 Everywhere Midway Programming Suggestion Box, please check out the following:

Ready to apply for Midway programming at ONA20 Everywhere? Let’s do it!

More questions? Please email Hanaa Rifaey, who manages Midway programming, at midway@journalists.org


Can I ask for advice before pitching?

Please email Hanaa Rifaey, who manages the Midway Programming, at midway@journalists.org with any questions. She is happy to have a quick conversation about your ideas, but she will not edit your pitch.

Are you asking me to pitch a demo, a webinar or what?

We are purposefully keeping the options for the type of programming open to allow for as much creativity and innovation as possible. If you have an idea that is interesting and unique and we think it’s a good fit, we can work together to find the format that showcases it in the best way possible.

Can you give me some examples or ideas to help me understand what you mean?

  • “Television Shopping Network” style demo: a host helps share a demo/interview someone about the concept
  • Immersive presentation: what can you do with AR/VR, video and more?
  • Town Hall AMA: A moderated active conversation about a big topic involving multiple experts
  • Scripted/”Unscripted” Drama: can you share information in a compelling scene or series of scenes?
  • Gameshow: can you involve the audience in a competition to showcase your idea?
  • Masterclass: what can you teach attendees? Should your session be RSVP-requested?

How long do I have for my session?

We are focused more on how much time is necessary to present your idea. We will work together to figure it out.

How will my session be a part of the overall program?

ONA20 Everywhere will take place Tuesdays through Fridays, from  Oct. 1-16, with 4-5 hours of scheduled programming and networking events on each of those days. Midway sessions will be a part of the programming blocks. Nearly everything will be recorded and archived so that people will be able to watch what they may have missed. All sponsors, including Midway participants, will have an individual page sharing all of their information including the recordings of any of the sessions in which they have participated.

I am used to immediate audience interaction. How does that work with this format? 

We are exploring different options for audience interaction, and the options will vary depending on the type of session.

I get nervous about speaking in front of an audience/I don’t like talking on webinars. What should I do?

One of the options for sessions — and one that we encourage — is recording it in advance. This way we have a more flexible schedule to prepare, can do multiple takes and edit in advance. As a speaker, you would then be a part of a live chat to answer questions and offer additional commentary in real time during the conference schedule.

There is another group (or groups) in the Midway that compliments what we’re doing. Could we partner up?

Yes! If you don’t already have a relationship with that group, please let Hanaa know if it would be helpful to have an introduction.

Is it possible that, if selected, I will be asked to partner with another Midway group to create a session?

It is possible if it will make for better programming.

Can I have people from outside of my group participate in my program?

Please include this in your pitch for us to consider. If there are multiple groups involved, only the paying sponsors will get benefits or promotion as part of the conference package.

My group is participating in the Midway. Does this mean that we are guaranteed a speaking spot in a Midway session?

With the rebranding of the Midway to now also include what was previously known as the ONA Exhibit Hall, it is not logistically possible to accommodate all of the participating groups.

I have a great ONA20 topic idea but … it’s all about my company. Can I still submit?

Midway programming is not a place for sales pitches — but there is space for that in your virtual booth’s video, description and, of course, online meetings. We are interested in the big ideas, which may include background information about your company, but groups are expected to share their knowledge and expertise without a programming  session without it feeling like a commercial. We know from eight years of experience that ONA attendees will walk out (or in this case, move on!) of sessions where they feel like they are being pitched, and we want to make sure the experience is good for everyone involved.

What makes for a good proposal?

The more specific your idea is, the better. We’re more interested in your idea and the kind of information you want to share rather than how you would share that idea.

How important is diversity in considerations?

ONA is strongly committed to being as inclusive as possible in speaker selection and topic programming. This means supporting diversity in speaker demographics, including sex and gender, ethnicity and race, ability and disability, region and geography and professional background and experience, among other metrics. It also means balancing active versus passive session concepts, programming for people working multiple news focus areas and work roles, attracting ONA conference newcomers and making sure sessions are not dominated by a single organization.

What makes for a good title?

Cute titles are really fun! But keep in mind that your title will be fighting for attention with hundreds of others. Be direct and descriptive.

If my idea is selected, what happens next?

ONA will work closely with you to develop every aspect of your session. The more preparation you put in, the better the session will turn out. We estimate a minimum of eight hours of prep will be needed between July and early October. We will work together to flesh out your concept, develop the format, and execute the session itself.

Is there any reason for which you might cancel my session?

We are being as transparent as we can be about what we know and don’t know about creating a brand new global virtual event. All of this is an experiment, and, as with all experiments, some of it will succeed and some of it may not. But we will all learn from every part of this process — and continue to share it with all attendees so everyone can apply data to their own, future events. ONA reserves the right to cancel your session if you do not communicate in a timely fashion, commit to a format or do not take part in the pre-event development process.

Midway Session Proposal Tips

As you think through your programming concept, please consider the following:

  • Audience: Who is your target audience? How is your concept relevant to that audience? How will you keep them engaged? What would you like them to walk away with once the session is over?
  • Concept: People attend ONA conference sessions with a specific purpose: to get inspired by a new idea or learn a new skill. As you flesh out your idea, consider the following:
    • Can you be solutions-oriented? What may those solutions be?
    • Can you be specific? Think about why and how you think your topic is useful for ONA attendees, and why an attendee would take time to watch/participate live or watch the recording.
  • Your team and time: Who will you be involving in this programming? Are you reflecting the diversity of the ONA community?  Can you commit to about 8 hours of preparation time before October? Are you open to collaboration and constructive feedback?