ONA attendees reflect push for diversity

By Lucas Waldron and Alex Duner

Excited crowds of digital gurus are snaking through the Hyatt Regency, clutching beige tote bags, contemplating the evolving world of online news and wondering if their medium-sized conference T-shirt is going to shrink to an unwearable size the moment it meets the dryer. The attendees of the Online News Association’s annual conference — 2,014 of them in total — hail from more than 40 different countries and nearly every state.

Irving Washington, deputy director of ONA, said the conference has seen a strong increase in diversity in recent years.

“Even in 2010, you didn’t see a lot of people of color,” said Washington, explaining that ONA leadership previously responded to criticism about racial diversity by asking, “How can we do better?” This year 35 percent of attendees are people of color.

Looking ahead, Washington is focused on expanding ONA’s international presence. “We want to push the needle to be a real global organization,” he said, noting the need for international collaboration as the world grows more and more connected.

As in 2015, the most international attendees traveled from Canada this year. Though Norway was the second largest country represented last year, it was surpassed this year by Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy — which all have more than 10 attendees wandering through conference rooms with the rest of us here in Denver.

International Attendance at ONA by Country

More people traveled to ONA from New York City than any other city, followed by Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

Attendance at ONA by U.S. City

Though some ONA strongholds like CNN and Google remained in the top five companies represented at the conference, other companies fluctuated. USA Today Network skyrocketed to the top with 71 attendees. Twitter Inc. dropped from seventh most represented to 20th.

Attendance at ONA by Most Represented Companies

For the second year, ONA offered attendees the option to select “non-binary” as their gender identity on their registration information. Four individuals self-identified as non-binary, while 88 declined to specify their gender.
ONA Attendees by Gender Identity

In addition to gender and geography diversity, ONA attendees also have a varying amount of conference experience. Both 2015 and 2016 recorded 899 first-time attendees. Over 300 people are attending ONA this year for only their second time and a whopping 72 people are in Denver for their eighth ONA conference.