What type of online journalism is worthy of an award? How should judges for the Online News Association assess the “best” of online journalism? These are the questions a group of blogging carnivalists are pondering this month.
Lisa William’s articulate epiphany about her experience in judging awards for ONA last year: “I realized as I was doing it that what “good” meant was changing” is also a way of saying “I realized that journalism itself and our expectations of it are changing...”
The diversity of opinion in responding to Lisa’s question illustrates as clearly as anything I’ve seen the explosion of what we now consider “journalism.” Deep investigative reporting, carefully crafted prose, expert editing and beautiful professional images now compete with crowdsourced breaking news, iPhone video, Twitter conversations, community partnerships and interactive databases for recognition as quality journalism.
We can’t separate tools and journalism in any meaningful way. It’s the product of the two that produces meaningful ideas and communicates in ways that matter to people in the here and now.
Recognizing “Big-J” journalism online was an important first step within ONA. But now we have many versions of journalism that are meeting needs in individual communities in ways that are imaginative, unconventional and engaging. (And we still have a lot of tone-deaf journalism, churned out through rote formulaic processes that fail to move the needle in any direction at all.)
Does the Online News Association represent all of journalism today? Is offline journalism such a specialized niche that it should have its own journalism awards and everything else be presumed to be online?
My students can’t afford multiple professional memberships. When they ask about SPJ, RTNDA, SND etc., I often recommend ONA. It’s the organization that embraces the future of journalism. It’s no longer an enclave of frustrated print journalists who have moved online. It is all of us doing the work of many journalisms.
Some of the responses about how to judge ONA nominations are as much about the categories of awards as the qualities by which they should be judged. Do the categories of small, medium and large sites still matter? Perhaps the categories should be new, growing and long term organizations. Or perhaps those types of categories should disappear entirely.
Perhaps innovative business models should be an entire section of the awards ceremony. Perhaps educators should get together and craft ONA awards for most effective partnerships. Social media managers could brainstorm ways to assess qualities of engagement and use those to recognize success.
Many people probably think ONA already has too many categories. Perhaps categories of technology (online video/multimedia) are too narrow, or better served by more informal subgroups with ONA. Or maybe distinguishing between blogging, topical and professional categories could be re-thought.
ONA is doing a good job of incorporating the shiny new tools of journalism to the structure and organization of ONA, but it could focus even more specifically on redesigning the awards ceremony to reflect the diversity of what journalism is becoming.
Understanding these changes are part of ONA’s promise and mandate. This isn’t just another niche journalism organization handing out awards in the same format as every other professional organization. It’s a place to reflect on how one of the most significant transformations in human communication affect the craft, art and profession we love.
Awards signal a form of consensus about what constitutes quality achievement. It’s not surprising that at a time of rapid change this consensus falls apart. The fun of today’s conversation is how to focus the uncertainty in ways that help us see the bigger questions.