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Conference boosts confidence in career choice

29 September 2011 By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, Arts & Life Editor No Comments

Last Wednesday, I flew to Boston, Mass., to attend the Online News Association’s annual conference. ONA maintains the rising support in digital journalism and the professionals who specialize in the field.

The conference comprised daily hour-long sessions about the journalism industry, ranging from topics like how to use Facebook as a journalist or Search Engine Optimization (what articles appear first on a search result page).

Normally, the conference would cost me a testicle and a half, but I applied for a Google-sponsored scholarship that would comp the cost of my airfare, hotel bills and conference fees. In return, I stopped using Bing.

But no, really, all I did was write for the student newsroom, which covered all the sessions at the conference. It was an unequal trade in my opinion. Oh, Google, you’ll fly me out for free to one of the most gorgeous, active cities in the country where I can network with top names in the industry, but you’re MAKING me write stories about them? I HAVE to talk to them all personally? Bummer.

In all seriousness, ONA was the most intensive event I’ve ever experienced since entering the journalism world. I, along with my 19 cohorts, woke up at 8 a.m. to budget content for the day and scatter throughout the conference. I don’t know who made the selection for the newsroom, but they chose some of the most creative young minds I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. All of us complemented each other perfectly – all of our skills sets meshed well and compensated for our weaknesses, which resulted in gorgeous and unique packages.

I was originally intimidated because ONA tends to focus on the multimedia aspects of journalism – not print or feature writing, which is my (slowly dying) specialty. Would I not be an asset to our newsroom? I worked with students who interned internationally for major publications like the Boston Globe, Washington Post and CNN – and I have yet to secure an internship. I work for a student-run newspaper. Cool. The Towerlight > CNN.

But in the end, I found the students were students – same as me – they went out on the weekends, they behaved like wild animals in the presence of free food, and most importantly, they became friends. The same applied to the professional journalists I met. I went in to the conference with a desire to network, throw myself out there, and hopefully impress a few larger names. But I made friends with them, which is more important. I chatted about journalism, sure. Let’s be honest, I geeked out all weekend.

But it was more important to impress upon these people that you’re human. No one wants to work with an over-obsessed robot. I talked with two high-standing political reporters about their beer preferences. I talked with Social Media Manager for Huffington Post Mandy Jenkins about sushi. My advice to you is simply this: It’s important to have a career in what you love.

The conference, more than anything, only strengthened the knowledge that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. But also, you can’t take yourself seriously all the time. Take breaks. Know that when you drive back to the office, your newsroom cubicle will still be there waiting for you. And your brilliant project or plan can still come to fruition – you don’t have to give up your life.

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