ONA24 Suggestion Box Guide

Suggestion Box Guide

The 2024 Online News Association Conference is Sept. 18-21 in Atlanta. This guide is for those interested in the ONA24 Suggestion Box session submission process, open March 21 through April 12, which will be used to field and assess pitches to present at ONA24.

Please note: ONA24 is an entirely in-person event. All sessions will be conducted and attended in person and all speakers must be in-person to present.

If you’re ready:
Submit your idea

For further questions not covered here, contact support@journalists.org.




Selection Process



What happens after I pitch?

ONA has convened a volunteer Program Committee comprising professionals from across online news to review every pitch received. From those pitches, the team will recommend topics, sessions and speakers to ONA staff and will assist in building a full conference program.

Who serves on the selection committee, and how can I join?

The volunteer Program Committee is a group of journalists, news leaders and related professionals who review submissions and design programming for the annual conference of the Online News Association. The bulk of their work takes place annually in the spring in advance of the autumn annual conference. Expressions of interest in serving in supporting programming at ONA24 are closed. Please reach out to ONA Learning Director Kelsey Proud, kelsey@journalists.org, for more information on this process. You can also learn more about the Selection Process below.

Will I be notified about my pitch’s status?

ONA will notify all submitters, whether they are selected or not, by mid-July.

Who can submit a proposal to the ONA24 Suggestion Box?

Anyone! ONA encourages executives and managers, journalists and reporters, designers and developers, consultants and vendors, students and academics, and even news consumers and other journalism enthusiasts to submit their great programming ideas.

I have a great ONA24 topic idea but … it’s all about my company. Can I still submit?

ONA does not accept Suggestion Box proposals promoting a single product, tool or service, but there are plenty of ways to let people know about your awesome work. Visit our sponsorship page to learn about opportunities for your organization to connect with the ONA24 community.

What makes for a good proposal?

The more specific, the better. A specific proposal demands a lot more planning and thought given to what the audience will get out of the session. In general, ONA organizers are more interested in information-rich pitches, with thoughtful speaker ideas and presentation options, rather than more generic or basic concepts. See our Tips section for more.

How important is diversity in consideration?

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 programming for people working in multiple news focus areas and work roles, attracting ONA conference newcomers and making sure sessions are not dominated by a single organization. Sessions which are not sufficiently and thoughtfully representative will not be programmed.

But wait. I work for a company with multiple properties. Can I submit a pitch with a colleague from a sister organization?

Absolutely! We prefer presenters from multiple organizations as it can provide a range of perspectives. If you can meet that goal from within your parent company, that’s great, especially if you are also able to mix people working in multiple mediums and/or regions.

Is it better to submit a panel or another type of session?

While there will be some panel discussions at ONA24, the focus will be on providing attendees with more engaging, practical, collaborative and interactive session types. These types of learning environments should often feel more like a well-run meeting or gathering—the more thought given to keeping your audience involved and participating, the better.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t space for impactful masterclasses and panels, just that those types of lean-back experiences will be thoughtfully deployed and include the dynamic speakers necessary to deliver on such big ideas.

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. So, the more direct and descriptive you can make it, the better. Attendees will search the conference schedule for topics and keywords relevant to them, and you may not reach them if your pitched title isn’t easy to find in a quick search. Please also note, your pitched title may be changed during the preparation process.

Do I need to have all speakers confirmed when I submit my session idea?

No. In fact, ONA appreciates the opportunity to ensure there is sufficient diversity and expertise represented in every session. Your prospective speakers must, however, know that you’ve pitched them to participate ahead of submitting to the Suggestion Box. ONA staff will work with every accepted pitch to get the right mix of speakers for each session.

How does the selection process work?

Once the Suggestion Box closes on April 12, the ONA24 Program Committee will review each submission and recommend to ONA staff the sessions they believe should make up the core of the conference’s educational programming. Together, they will then sometimes add additional topics or speakers on an invite-only basis to ensure diversity and representation, cover breaking news topics or meet other pressing conference needs.

If my idea is selected, what happens next?

ONA will work closely with you to fine-tune the focus of your session as well as to select additional speakers if needed. As a general rule, the more preparation put in, the better the session turns out. Pre-event preparation means communicating with other speakers weeks ahead of time to clarify the focus of the session and discuss how to keep the audience engaged. It also means meeting requested process deadlines from ONA organizers so that we can help your session be as successful as possible, with as little stress as possible.

Why does my proposal have to be so detailed? Can’t I just submit a session idea without thinking about speakers or format?

Programming a conference like ONA24 takes a massive amount of time. The Suggestion Box is intended to give people who have fully thought out their ideas a way to submit them.

If my idea is selected, what does ONA pay for?

Invited presenters receive complimentary ONA24 registration. ONA is not able to provide travel, lodging or other financial compensation for speakers.


We are looking for sessions to support best practices or innovative ideas in five main topic areas:

  • Leadership + Strategy + Culture
  • AI + Emerging Technologies
  • Practical Insights + Tools
  • Revenue + Sustainability
  • Audience Development


We are interested in sessions presenting in the following four formats, with emphasis given to those offering practical insights:

  • Skill-building – Interactive sessions offering participants practical skills to apply to their home newsrooms or organizations via collaborative, in-the-room learning (3 facilitators max)
  • Best Practices + Case Studies – Presentations sharing case studies and experience-based insights on successes and failures, best practices and other pragmatic knowledge (2 presenters max)
  • Panels – Larger conversations featuring several topical experts on complex topics or challenges (4-5 presenters max, including any moderator)
  • Masterclasses – Solo talks and fireside chats on topics of interest delivered by experts and leaders in the online news space and beyond (2 presenters max)

Selection Process

How we select sessions for the ONA annual conference

The ONA24 Suggestion Box, open March 21 – April 12, is your opportunity to pitch session ideas and presenters. Here is what happens to the hundreds of ideas we receive!

Step 1: Read every idea and nominate the best

April 2024

Ideas come to us from the Suggestion Box, the ONA24 Program Committee, ONA Board members and staff. The Program Committee, a diverse, volunteer group of professionals and technologists, reviews each and every of the several hundred ideas received every year.

The group is looking for the best and most innovative ideas and presenters to help move digital journalism forward. They review the proposals based on specific criteria that add up to a great fit for the ONA conference and come up with a “short list” of sessions. These recommendations generally account for a large majority of our final conference programming.

Step 2: Create a draft program

May 2024

Once the Program Committee completes its review, ONA staff go through the recommended sessions and speakers and begin programming ideas. We give the pitches a deeper look for quality and speaker diversity and sometimes combine sessions on similar issues or ask submitters to add another presenter to their roster.

At the end of this process, the conference schedule is mostly complete. We’ll leave a few slots for breaking news, emerging issues and any gaps identified by staff.

Step 3: Confirm speakers and post initial conference schedule

June 2024

We confirm speaker availability and post as much scheduling information as we can to the conference website. While we may still add a few more sessions, we are no longer looking for submissions on speakers or topics. We do add sessions around breaking topical news as deemed critical by ONA staff.

Ready to send us your suggestion?

Submit your idea

Step 4: Final Conference Schedule

July 2024

The final schedule is available by mid-July. We may still have a surprise or two, such as confirming a great keynote speaker or addressing an urgent breaking news issue. By this time, we’re more or less finished and looking forward to conversations with all of you at ONA24 in Atlanta!

If you are interested in serving on the Volunteer Committee in the future or otherwise curious about this process, please reach out to Learning Director Kelsey Proud, kelsey@journalists.org, for more details.


Thinking of pitching a session to ONA24? Remember to be:

  • Specific. Your session title should accurately describe its topic
  • Mindful. What audience are you trying to reach? What will they get out of it?
  • Refreshing. Reach for new speakers and concepts relevant to news and technology in 2024 and beyond
  • Realistic. ONA provides speakers with free conference registration, but cannot cover travel, hotel or meal expenses
  • Inclusive. ONA strives to support all types of diversity
  • Enterprising. Go beyond demos and spiels to help others learn something practical they can use right away.
  • Event-Environment-Minded. ONA24 will be conducted entirely in-person. How will you make sure everyone is engaged and fulfilled in the physical space by what you present?

10 factors that make for a great session pitch

1. Your idea is inspiring, instructional or both.

We think most good pitches fall into one of two categories:

  • They are inspirational or aspirational, represent emerging trends in journalism, surface a provocative idea or describe what journalism could be if we reached a milestone; OR
  • They propose sessions to share expertise with clear, specific aims for what attendees might learn.

2. Your idea is solutions-oriented.

There are many intractable problems in any field, journalism included. We look for people proposing solutions to these problems, even if they are imperfect. Simply saying, “disinformation is corrupting democracy” isn’t enough. Instead, we’d be more likely to accept an idea like, “How to confront networked harassment campaigns” or “Let’s discuss the capabilities of solutions journalism.”

3. Your pitch is specific.

We often get vague pitches. For example, “New ways to address managing social media traffic.” It sounds like it might be fresh and solutions-oriented … but how? Can you share examples? Is there research you’ll draw from? Have you been testing something and feel the results are replicable? A vague proposal makes us worry you’ll wing it on the day of the conference, whereas specifics suggest you’ve thought this through and will prepare.

4. Your chief aim is to share knowledge with the community, not brag about a product or project.

Newsrooms create hundreds of cool digital projects every year. We already have a mechanism for rewarding the best ones with the Online Journalism Awards. The conference itself is focused on learning and networking with peers. What did you learn in creating your tool that others might be able to replicate? Better yet, what didn’t work at all? Can you spare others this pain point?

If you are interested in promoting a single product, tool or service, visit our sponsorship page to learn about opportunities for your organization to connect with the ONA24 community.

5. You provide resources for reference and sharing.

People attend conference sessions with a specific purpose: to get inspired by a new idea or learn a new skill. You can drive your point home by offering resources to attendees. Resources might include a list of articles related to your topic; a worksheet for attendees to complete; a breakdown of “Top 10 Tips” from your presentation; a research or white paper and more. These types of resources offer high value for the community and as such make for a strong proposal. It’s why we ask about resources specifically in the Suggestion Box submission form, too.

6. You and any co-presenters represent diversity and inclusivity.

Diverse perspectives encourage nuanced, innovative ideas. We ask the Program Committee to consider many factors related to ensuring our conference is inclusive of a variety of voices. Chief among these are race, gender and professional experience of presenters. But this list also includes geographic diversity, fresh faces v. past presenters, size of newsroom or team, and other considerations. Describe how your proposal will contribute to the overall diversity of the conference. And, if your proposal highlights work or ideas relating specifically to one community or another, it is important you include someone representing that point of view among your presenters or speakers.

7. You keep the audience in mind.

Nobody wants to sit through a conference session with someone droning on about their accolades or reciting a list of talking points. You will have an interested audience before you. Don’t treat them as passive listeners; engage with them! Host a session that’s Q&A only; ask the room to contribute to a collaborative document to solve a problem; create a worksheet for people to complete in small groups. You’ll have some of the best and brightest in journalism right in front of you—pool that talent and get some creative ideas into the room!

8. You include peers from other organizations.

ONA is about community and collaboration. Submissions that have multiple speakers from the same organization are often perceived as sales pitches by both ONA and conference attendees, and are usually categorically denied. Submissions including presenters from multiple organizations have a significantly higher likelihood of being accepted. Solo speakers, of course, are exempt from this requirement. Note: If you have presenters from two organizations within the same parent company/collective, such as public media organizations or TEGNA stations, this is fine. Just remember, we do look for diversity in terms of region and medium that you work in.

9. Your session contributes something new.

We hear the same topics proposed year after year. It makes it difficult to distinguish between some submissions. There are certainly ongoing challenges in journalism, but what makes your idea a fresh approach? A new technical tool? New research? A potential new revenue stream? A different framework for thinking about an issue?

10. Your proposed presenters are experienced speakers or trainers.

We are continually revising our requirements for presenters to ensure session quality. If you have a great idea but are not a strong presenter or have limited training experience, consider inviting a colleague with this strength to join you (keeping the diversity requirements in mind, of course!).

Happy submitting! The deadline for Suggestion Box submissions is Friday, April 12, 2024.

Submit your idea