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Inside ONA's Student Newsroom and Innovation Lab

SOC journalism student recounts her experience covering and contributing to ONA's annual conference.

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Gabby Allen

Gabby Allen is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in justice studies. She recently worked at the Online News Association’s 2022 Student Newsroom & Innovation Lab and is currently the Investigative Reporting Workshop’s photography and graphic design intern. She shares her experience below. 

I applied to the Online News Association’s (ONA) Student Newsroom and Innovation Lab in Los Angeles rather impulsively. Nina Heller, the Editor-in-Chief at The Eagle, where I am a graphic designer, sends staff a weekly email that includes various opportunities, and in late May, I saw the link to the newsroom’s application, and I decided to apply. When I submitted my application in June, I fully believed I was sending it into the void, expecting to receive a rejection letter within a few weeks.

In mid-July, however, I noticed an email with a subject line reading “Important: ONA22 Student Newsroom.” The fact that message began with “Congratulations” instead of “We regret to inform you…” didn’t seem real at first glance. I read the email multiple times just to make sure it had been sent to the right person.

Before ONA’s official announcement on the 2022 Student Newsroom on its social platforms, our 20-student cohort submitted bios, headshots, and contact information for ONA’s website. We were tasked with pitching stories for the newsroom’s website, and paired with mentors to help guide us through the overwhelming experience.

I pitched a story about the occupational stress of journalism and how newsroom conversations around mental health have changed due to COVID-19. After my pitch was approved by my mentor and newsroom leaders, I began researching, reaching out to sources, and scheduling interviews. I wanted most of my work done before the conference – I knew it would be a busy four days, and I certainly was not wrong.

I was most nervous about who was in my cohort. Journalism can be a competitive and overwhelming industry and all of the other students seemed so accomplished. Once I met everyone in person, though, I realized I worried for nothing. We immediately welcomed collaboration and bonded over our experiences trying to develop our skills during the pandemic. We helped each other with our stories and networking and shared opportunities with one another. It was truly a wonderful environment.

During the conference itself, our newsroom was tasked with covering events, running our social media accounts, and networking with distinguished journalists in the fields. On a given day, I was in the newsroom by 8:30 a.m., live-tweeting during a panel discussion, creating graphics on Canva for our Instagram, working on my own story, and attending post-conference networking events. A fellow student and I decided to head our social media platforms, creating a cohesive color palette for graphics and the newsroom’s first TikTok account.

This experience was one I will never forget. I met journalists from publications I grew up reading with whom I now stay in contact, learned so many new skills, and have new clips under my belt. I recommend everyone apply to these opportunities, even if you don’t think you have much of a chance getting accepted – you may be surprised by your own abilities.

A selection of Allen's clips from ONA: