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Quality, Not Quantity: Conference Speakers Discuss Content in Journalism

Conference attendees networked before opening session at ASJA’s Content Connections on Nov. 7.
Photo by Christa Smith

The eighth floor of Columbia College Chicago’s 1104 S. Wabash building was buzzing with the chatter from freelance writers last Thursday morning as they waited on the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Content Connections conference to begin.

“Content is truly our king, and we are it’s loyal servants,” said keynote speaker Ron Smith, assistant managing editor and news operator at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This theme was thread throughout the two days and Smith kicked off Thursday’s workshops with a keynote address on the importance of content and technology in this new age.

During a transition at the Journal Sentinel, Smith said his editor came in one day and told him, “We are not a newspaper, we are a news organization.”

“One of the things we’ve learned is we can take technology and use it to our advantage,” Smith said.

ASJA Executive Director Alexandra Owens said freelance writers have to be apart of the conversations happening  in the world of media, because they’re the ones who produce the content for these various news forums.

“As freelancers you are content providers,” Smith said. “It is not about quantity, it is about quality.”

Author and ASJA presenter Kelly James-Enger said freelancers have to prove they have done their homework. She said they have to know what their clients are going to need and be able to provide them with this service in order to be successful.

“I’m not a particularly great writer,” said James-Enger. “I AM a good service journalist.”

Another theme sprinkled throughout the workshops was understanding specific ways to market yourself and sell your ideas.

“A good writer knows which of their content does well on the web,” said panelist Joyce Rice. “Content with compelling images are 94 percent likely to get more views.”

“Ditch the one idea equals one story mentality,” James-Enger said. “Think about the ways you can take what you have now and keep going.”

“Learn how to take that narrative to a new level,” Smith said. “Keep learning.”

Attendees such as graduate student Sydney Lawson said they enjoyed the conference and felt it benefited them.

“The workshops were very informative,” Lawson said. “It was a good networking opportunity.”

“I got to meet a lot of writers that I wouldn’t normally meet,” said volunteer Scottie Kersta-Wilson. “And because of the volunteer work I did they’ve asked me to work the national conference for them.”

Though this was ASJA’s first Content Connections conference in Chicago, the organization has hosted an annual conference in New York City for the past 42 years. Owens said the reason ASJA had not ventured to other cities previously is because they have such a strong membership presence in New York, and the organization is largely ran by volunteers. Owens added that ASJA is hoping to launch similar events like this in cities across the nation.

“We have people here from North Carolina, Alabama and Pennsylvania,” Kersta-Wilson said.

However, Owens said, “It will probably repeat Chicago before taking it on the road.”

This event was geared toward both members and non-members of ASJA and Owens said the attendance was split half and half.

“We’re more than pleased with the turnout,” Owens said. “We’re hopeful it will be an annual event.”

Michael Snydel contributed to this article.

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