The Midway

ONA21 Midway Programming and Start-Up Alley

The ONA Midway is a futures lab for journalism, bringing together the best thinking in the media technology, tools and workforce spaces. In our second year hosting the ONA annual conference online, the Midway is expanding opportunities for participants to showcase their brands.

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Midway Programming

ONA21 sponsors can pitch ideas for 20-minute sessions. These sessions are not advertorial, but are designed to highlight your expertise around topics of importance to our community. Here are three great examples of short Midway sessions from ONA20 that illustrate this goal:

There are five openings for Midway Programming at ONA21. The deadline for Midway applications has passed.

Midway Demos

Another option for sharing best practices is to create a short (7 minutes or less) demo to feature on your ONA21 Midway profile page. We will work with interested groups. Each group with a demo video will be highlighted as part of the ONA21 official schedule.

Start-Up Alley

Your start-up exists because you wanted to disrupt the existing ecosystem. That’s why ONA is interested in introducing you to our global community of digital journalists. We are looking for innovative tools that can help elevate the online media space.

ONA offers deeply discounted opportunities to a limited number of start-ups that demonstrate unique innovation. ONA defines start-ups as ventures that have been operating for two years or less. Start-ups are allowed to participate in the Start-Up Alley a maximum of two times. The deadline for Start-Up Alley applications has passed.


FAQ About Midway Programming

What is the Midway?
In 2020, ONA took the tech space at our annual conference — formerly branded as the Midway — and applied it to all companies interested in showcasing their tools, products and more to ONA’s audience; effectively combining our exhibit hall and the Midway space. The Midway features the Start-Up Alley, as well as a dedicated series of sessions and demos for all supporters of the conference. When the annual ONA conference returns to in-person, the Exhibit Hall will be called the Midway.

Can I ask for advice before pitching?
Please email Hanaa Rifaey, who manages the Midway Programming, at with any questions. She will schedule quick conversation about your ideas.

What format should I use for my session?
We are keeping the options for the type of programming open to allow for as much creativity and innovation as possible within the limits of the 20-minute length. If you have an idea that is interesting and unique and we think it’s a good fit, we can work together to find the format that showcases it in the best way possible.

How long would I have for my session?
Twenty minutes total. Last year’s Midway programming tested a vast range of session lengths, and we found that 20 minutes was the sweet spot for engaging content.

How will my session be a part of the overall program?
ONA21 will take place from Tuesday, June 22, through Friday, June 25, with 4-5 hours of scheduled programming and networking events on each of those days. Midway programming will take place in the Coffee Break block each day, which is a dedicated time for partner promotion.

Can I pre-record my session? Will all sessions be live?
Pre-recording a session cuts out day-of stressors, and if selected, we will discuss. Whether sessions are live or pre-recorded, nearly all programming will be archived so that attendees will be able to watch on their own schedule.

I am used to immediate audience interaction. How does that work with this format?
The most common form of audience interaction during sessions will come through the chat window juxtaposed with the video player. Those that pre-recorded the sessions will be encouraged to join in on the chat during your session. Live speakers will receive the questions from the audience from their producer. Our chat managers will also be sure to remind the audience that they can connect more with you through the ONA21 exhibitor platform.

I get nervous about speaking in front of an audience/I don’t like talking on webinars. What should I do?
One of the options for sessions — and one that we encourage — is recording it in advance. This way we have a more flexible schedule to prepare, can do multiple takes and edit in advance. As a speaker, you would then be a part of a live chat to answer questions and offer additional commentary in real time during the conference schedule.

There is another group (or groups) in the Midway that complements what we’re doing. Could we partner up?
Yes! If you don’t already have a relationship with that group, please let Hanaa know if it would be helpful to have an introduction.

Is it possible that, if selected, I will be asked to partner with another Midway group to create a session?
It is possible if it will make for better programming.

Can I have people from outside of my group participate in my session?
Please include this in your pitch for us to consider. If there are multiple groups involved, only the paying sponsors will get benefits or promotion as part of the conference package.

My group is participating in the Midway. Does this mean that we are guaranteed a speaking spot in a Midway session?
With the rebranding of the Midway to now also include what was previously known as the ONA Exhibit Hall, it is not logistically possible to accommodate all of the participating groups.

I have a great ONA21 topic idea but … it’s all about my company. Can I still submit?
Midway programming is not a place for sales pitches — but there is space for that in your virtual booth’s video, description and, of course, online meetings. We are interested in the big ideas, which may include some background information about your company, but groups are expected to share their knowledge and expertise without it feeling like a commercial. ONA attendees will walk out (or in this case, move on!) of sessions where they feel like they are being pitched

What makes for a good proposal?
The more specific your idea is, the better. We’re more interested in your idea and the kind of information you want to share rather than how you would share that idea. Check out the ONA19 and ONA20 schedules to get a sense of the various types of sponsored programming, including Midway sessions.

How important is diversity in considerations?
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 balancing active versus passive session concepts, programming for people working multiple news focus areas and work roles, attracting ONA conference newcomers and making sure sessions are not dominated by a single organization.

What makes for a good title?
Cute titles are fun, but keep in mind that your title will be fighting for attention with dozens of others. Be direct and descriptive.

If my idea is selected, what happens next?
ONA will work with you to develop your session. The more preparation you put in, the better the session will turn out. We estimate a minimum of six hours of prep will be needed. We will work together to flesh out your concept, develop the format, and execute the session itself.

Is there any reason for which you might cancel my session?
ONA reserves the right to cancel your session if you do not communicate in a timely fashion, adhere to our diversity principles, submit information on a pre-discussed schedule or do not take part in the pre-event development process.



Midway Session Proposal Tips

As you think through your programming concept, please consider the following:

Audience: Who is your target audience? How is your concept relevant to that audience? How will you keep them engaged? What would you like them to walk away with once the session is over?

Concept: People attend ONA conference sessions with a specific purpose: to get inspired by a new idea or learn a new skill. As you flesh out your idea, consider the following:

    • Can you be solutions-oriented? What may those solutions be?
    • Can you be specific? Think about why and how you think your topic is useful for ONA attendees, and why an attendee would take time to watch/participate live or watch the recording.

Your team and time: Who will you be involving in this programming? Are you reflecting the diversity of the ONA community? Can you commit to about 6 hours of preparation time through late June? Are you open to collaboration and constructive feedback?

Day 1 — Tuesday, June 22