The Carnival of Journalism is a blogging community where a topic is up for discussion each month. After last month’s posts, Lisa Williams raised a question in an internal email thread (recounted here) that spun into this month’s topic.
Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?
Every aspect of how we produce, create, tell and distribute stories is changing. An organization like the Online News Association – or really any journalism organization – should push the innovation and creativity necessary to address those changes. It should also aim to “spread it around”. By that I mean, encourage people to try new things, give them resources to learn new skills, and highlight best practices to strive for.
Here are three qualities awards for
online (really all) journalism should highlight.
1. Does the project or story use the appropriate medium for each part?
With the rush for multimedia, it can be tempting to produce a video … just because. The same is true for animated graphics or audio slideshows. At the same time, opportunities can be missed if journalists think only within the medium they’re used to.
It’s important is to ask: How can this specific piece of the story best be told? How will the be most impactful, easiest to understand, inviting for interaction?
Outstanding journalism should use the medium best suitable to tell each part of a story, the medium that best captures an experience and informs a user.
Kat Downs, innovations editor and interactive designer/developer at The Washington Post, describes this thought perfectly when she writes about the multimedia project “Coming home a different person,”
“We knew that watching a man rub the missing half of his skull, which was blown out by a rocket-propelled grenade, would connect viewers to him in a deeply emotional way.”
The project used interactive graphics, audio, video, photos and text to tell the story of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, explain how bomb blasts can cause invisible damage to one’s brain, and explore the question, as Downs asks, “What part of your brain is your personality? What’s left when half of it gets blown away?” The project was nominated for a Pulitzer Price.
Different media formats have different strenghts: Videos let those impacted speak directly, images present powerful glimpses at emotions, interactive graphics help explain complex developments. Journalism prizes should reward newsrooms that discover new ways to tell stories, but use each medium appropriately.
2. How groundbreaking is the project?
This award should honor innovations that have an impact in many different, maybe small ways. It could honor efforts to expand or build an audience around a topic, such as NPR’s Project Argo with its localized, topic-based blog network. These are ideas that expand our idea of storytelling and are used every day in newsrooms.
The award could also honor journalists or news organizations that show how new mediums can be used for journalism. Andy Carvin comes to mind: With his Twitter feed, he shows how social media can be used for what’s essentially beat reporting, while opening the process of newsgathering to the audience. These ideas can be implemented in many ways across different newsrooms.
ONA took a step in that direction last year when they honored NPR for developing its API, which will allow NPR to build future innovations on top of it.
3. Is the project entrepreneurial?
The collapse of the news business model is one of the biggest changes sweeping the news industry. That requires journalists and news organizations to think more entrepreneurial, to find new ways to reach audiences and make money off of their products.
I hear the purists screaming: How can you call journalism a product? I’m as passionate about journalism as anyone you’ll find. I strongly believe in giving a voice to the voiceless, in telling stories of impact and importance to people. I also think it’s painfully obvious that we won’t be able to tell those stories anymore unless we find new ways to pay for the work it takes to create them.
Journalists’ aversion against the business side of journalism has hurt us – we need smart journalists passionate about their work to have a hand in figuring out how we will make money off news in the future. (This was one of the aspects that elicited the most passionate discussion on the JCARN listserv). We’re missing an opportunity to take advantage of the changes in our industry.
Therefore, I think journalism awards should honor innovative forms to reach audiences and frontier work on finding new revenue streams.
Entrepreneurialism, building new ways to reach audiences, groundbreaking, sustainable innovation and making appropriate use of each medium — those are my ideas for what journalism awards should encourage. I believe that honoring outstanding work in these areas will help our industry adapt to the changing media landscape.
Of course, that doesn’t discount excellent reporting, compelling stories and creative storytelling. These qualities will always be the building blocks of journalism. I didn’t mention them specifically because they go without saying, don’t they?
What do you think? Would these points filter out prize-worthy journalism? What other qualities would you add?
Update: Host Lisa Williams has written a summary of all posts in this #JCARN round. From pushing innovation to focusing on the fundamentals again to rewarding those who think outside the box, it’s all there.