Free Training When (and Where) It's Needed Most

By: Joe Rominiecki

The Online News Association hits the road to train journalists in the newest tools of the trade.

What's the great idea? Take free professional training on the road.

Who's doing it? The Online News Association

What's involved? Three to four times per year, ONA hosts a local "ONACamp" event to teach journalists the newest tools of the trade. The five-staff association partners with local hosts—such as media outlets, universities, or other professional associations—to provide free training to 80 to 150 journalists at a time. Each event is facilitated by expert digital journalists, and ONA surveys attendees in advance on their needs to customize the training.

"We saw a lot of journalists being fired and laid off and newspapers closing, and that was affecting the digital side of journalism, which is what we're interested in. The first thing we thought we could help with was training," says Jane McDonnell, executive director of ONA. "We wanted to make journalists more hireable."

ONA Camp has been supported by a series of grants from the Gannett Foundation totaling $125,000 since 2009, which defray the costs of meeting-space rental, food and beverage, and travel and lodging for the volunteer facilitators. "It was very important to us that it be free because obviously there wasn't a lot of money to be had among a lot of the folks we were looking at training," says McDonnell.

What are people saying? McDonnell says the program has become a signature event for ONA. "Outside of our annual conference, it's probably what we're best known for and also one of the more helpful things we do," she says.

In an industry enormously disrupted by technological change, ONA only wishes it could do more, McDonnell says. "People just come up and hug you, and they're so happy to have that help. It's rare that you get anything for free these days, so people really appreciate it."

—Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor to Associations Now.