“I’d like to thank Dick for ruining my attention span, malnourishing my children, and making every copy editor I have worked with for the past four years curse the mention of my name,” joked Emily Bell, on stage with Dick Costolo at the Hyatt Regency hotel in San Francisco on Friday afternoon.
It was the second day of the Online News Association Conference and Awards (ONA 2012), and Bell, Director of the Tao Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, was engaging in a cheerful but piercing luncheon interview with the Twitter CEO about the social network’s influence on journalism (video below). The following evening, the conference culminated with the ONA Awards, during which jagged, transparent statuettes were presented to the winners of digital journalism prizes in more than 30 categories.
The Online News Association and its academic partner, the University of Miami School of Communication, launched the ONA Awards in 2000 to celebrate excellence in digital journalism. They are the only such awards in the United States, and with help from the Gannett Foundation and the Knight Foundation, a total of $33,000 is given out in cash prizes to accompany eight of the statues. Selected by a panel of 35 judges, this year’s victors were a varied set, from major media outlets to nonprofits and tech startups, all linked by the creative strides they have taken toward using digital tools to improve news storytelling.
In the General Excellence in Online Journalism categories, all four prizes went to well-known innovators, which ONA recognized “for thorough reporting and engaging design.” In the "large site" category, the winner was NYTimes.com, whose interactive graphics and data visualizations (recently, surrounding this summer’s Olympics and the U.S. presidential elections) have been particularly envelope-pushing, and which picked up two additional awards. Nonprofit muckraker ProPublica was crowned in the "medium site" category, and the "small site" winner was PBS Frontline, the broadcaster’s public affairs website.
The non-English laureate for a small/medium-sized site was France’s Rue89, whose unique approach to audience engagement – it seeks to “invent a media which marries professional journalism with Internet culture” – has earned it a loyal and vocal community of users, as well as a notable position in France's digital landscape, in the span of only five years. These winners were selected from a competitive list of finalists:
- Large sites: CNN Digital, The Seattle Times, WSJ.com
- Medium sites: California Watch, Slate Magazine, WNYC
- Small sites: St. Louis Beacon, The Texas Tribune, Homicide Watch D.C.
- Non-English sites: 20minutos.es Spain, and Il Tirreno Italy
Last year, the laureates in these brackets were the BBC, The Globe and Mail, voicesofsandiego.org and Lanacion.com, respectively.
Several of these finalists and past victors did not go home empty-handed, but figured among honourees in different categories. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, for example, was awarded the features prize for its in-depth multimedia series “Breaking Caste,” about a school offering girls from India’s “untouchable” caste a chance, told using the girls' own drawings, words and photographs, as well as professional photos and videos.
Meanwhile New York’s flagship public radio network WNYC won two prizes: one for its topical reporting on the stopping and frisking by New York City police officers of black and Latino teens (including a data journalism component), and another for its breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irene (which included interactive maps). On a lighter note, Slate Magazine was honoured for its witty coverage of the television series Mad Men in the online commentary category — a prize awarded to Arianna Huffington last year.
The popular but financially troubled website Homicide Watch D.C. may have lost out in the general excellence category, but it was pronounced the winner of the 2012 Knight Award for Public Service. Husband-and-wife team Chris and Laura Amico (who reportedly ran the site from their kitchen for two years) received a standing ovation as they accepted the award for their innovative site, which uses original reporting, court data and social media to track every murder in the D.C. area from crime to conviction. In another sunny development for the hyperlocal startup, Digital First Media announced today that it was entering a partnership with the site whereby its Trenton, New Jersey title would become the first to license out Homicide Watch's software.
This year’s winner of the Gannett Foundation Award for Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism was Storify, a digital storytelling tool that was widely wielded during the ONA Conference. Attendees such as Juan Andres Muños from CNN made Storifies to document the proceedings, and Bell used it to crowdsource questions to ask Dick Costolo in their keynote conversation:
As "journalism" and "digital journalism" become increasingly synonymous, will the ONA awards, still modest at 12, match the Pulitzers' prestige? Let us know what you think in the comments.