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ONA 2022 Board Election Speech

I am running for the 2023-24 Online News Association Board of Directors, and gave a four minute speech at the ONA conference in Los Angeles in support of my candidacy.

You can listen to my speech using the audio player, or read the written version, below.

You can also find more information about the election process (and, crucially, cast your vote) on this page.

I think a lot about what it even means to be working in “online news” in 2022, when practically everything we do is online. And what it means to me is that journalists increasingly have to engage with problems that lie outside our natural area of expertise. That’s why I’m running for the board of ONA - because I believe that ONA has an important role to play in helping us navigate these cross-disciplinary challenges.

But let me give you a couple of concrete examples from my own career of these challenges.

Six years ago I was working at the Financial Times in London and we had stats that showed people spend, on average, less than a minute on an article page. So the challenge, which might be familiar to some of you out there, is what can we do to keep people’s attention for longer?”

Several years later I moved up in the FT and was involved in digital transformation. And the problem that we faced was “How do you change the organizational culture of a 130 year old institution?”

Today I work at the Wall Street Journal as new formats editor where I oversee the newsletters, rankings and audience voices teams, and a daily challenge for us is how we might mobilize and work with different teams and different departments to deliver complex work efficiently and effectively?

Now, I didn’t go to journalism school. But from when I got my first cub reporter at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong in 2004, through through to being a foreign correspondent in Taiwan - where I was president of the taiwan foreign correspondents’ club, an editor and so on, none of the on the job training I received prepared me in any way to tackle these problems.

So I went looking for myself and I found answers. Outside of journalism. In other disciplines.

How do we create an experience that can keep people’s attention for longer? I went to interactive fiction meet-ups, I read game design books etc and we created the Uber Game, a newsgame about being a full-time Uber driver trying to make a living in San Francisco, which has been played by more than half a million people and still had an average engaged time of 20 minutes.

How do you change organizational culture? I went - cold, without knowing a single person there - to an ethnography conference because there’s an entire field dedicated to studying organizational culture and mapping the tools and frameworks for changing it.

How do we deliver complicated projects? I became an honorary fellow chartered Association for Project Management because at the end of the day launching that series is not as complicated as trying to build a hospital or a bridge.

The point is that we can draw from expertise in other fields instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel ourselves. Recently it has become popular to draw from software and product development. That’s great, but I think we can apply this much more broadly.

~~ I’ve personally and career-wise benefited a lot from these interdisciplinary explorations, but not everyone has the privilege and opportunity to do that on their own. Journalism as a profession would be much better served if we do this collectively and intentionally, and I’m running for the board because I believe that ONA can and should be a vector for making this happen.

And thanks to Ariel Zirulnick and Andrew Losowsky, I don’t even have to imagine what that might look like - I was AT Perspectives LA this morning listening to local civic leaders talk about how they work with and foster their communities.

So I’m excited to see what might it look like if we can do more of these, for more journalists, all across the country? I hope you are as well.

Thank you.

So I’m excited to see what might it look like if we can do more of these, for more journalists, all across the country? I hope you are as well.

Thank you.