Online Journalism Awards and The Audacity of Hope
When I first saw the list of the finalists for the 2008 Online Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Online News Association, my response was despair: Almost 100 finalists in 23 categories. My carpal tunnels began to swell shut just at the thought. This smelled to me of those contests where every entrant is declared a finalist in order to pack the awards dinner.
Well, questions of motivation aside, the list is full of spectacular stuff. I use the word “spectacular” to describe online journalism very rarely. But I clicked into the list with dread and came away surprised and delighted–and feeling something like hope–more often than not.
I won’t critique the list or pick my favorites, but offer just a few observations:
When a major news organization dedicates itself to telling a story with multiple media, it can create a thing of beauty and power. True to the claims of those who insist there is a future for capital J Journalism in the digital age, the projects often provide a deeper and richer and fuller journalistic experience than projects whose toolkit is limited to 26 letters. Just two examples: Reuters on 5 years in Iraq, Dallas Morning News on Unequal Justice, which investigates a scary pattern in Texas of murderers who are given probation.
Political commentary done digitally can be as incisive as the kind using words alone. Example: Beliefnet’s God-O-Meter, which does regular visual news reports on the spiritual tweakings and tinkerings of Barack Obama and John McCain:
At least some journalism students due to replace the legions of buyoutees in Ameica’s digital news operations are ready to take over. Witness South of Here, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Facultad de Comunicación at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago, Chile. These kids have chops their parents often don’t.
On Digital Jouralism Worst Practices
Of course, I can’t let this opportunity pass without at least a brief mention of persistent Worst Practices in Digital Journalism.They are also frequently evident among Online Journalism Award finalists.
Segregating “video” from other parts of a package, or even labeling it as video. Media of all types should be integrated into a whole package. Calling out “video” rings of an anachronistic brag: “Hey, lookit, we did some video, too!” I demand this practice be stopped immediately.
Layering a show-offey Flash entry page above the package. Flash pages waste time, bandwidth and user patience. They add no value. They impress nobody other than their own designers. Stop it, I tell you, stop it!
Placing the whole 3-part, 120-inch wordroll at the center of a digital package. Long blocks of text work okay on paper. They deliver a lousy experience online. Keeping those wayback-style reports at the center of digital packages tells me the newspaper folks are still in control of the website, fighting the future, defending the interests of their print reporters and slowing the new organization’s transition to a financially stable future. In fact, how about this: Instead of sticking “videos” in the sidebar of an article, how about putting “articles” in the sidebar of a visually-driven presentation. [“Hey, lookit, we wrote an article about this too!”] Editors who take offense at that suggested inversion, I submit, may want to consider that next buyout offer very seriously.
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