COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland today launched a new journalism center designed to help news organizations use innovative computer technologies to develop new ways for people to engage in critical public policy issues.
J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism will provide seed money to news organizations that propose interactive news ideas and team them with computer scientists to help build software and easy-to-navigate news experiences. The institute also will spotlight the best cutting-edge news innovations through the Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
“J-Lab will help address a critical need in today’s journalism,” said Thomas Kunkel, dean of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “We desperately need to develop new ideas on how to excite and engage news consumers about serious issues, or risk losing them to the frivolity of sensationalism, sound bites and infotainment.”
The new institute is a spin-off of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, which completes its work next year. Over the past decade, the center has supported hundreds of civic news experiments that invited public interaction through town hall meetings, focus groups and other methods new to journalism organizations.
“Civic journalism taught us that a lot of people accept information when they own some of it,” said J-Lab Executive Director Jan Schaffer. “And they own it—not when it’s spoon fed—but when they help gather it, discuss it, examine trade-offs and envision solutions.”
“Now is the time to capitalize on new technology that can help make people smarter about public issues and advance civic participation in the digital arena,” said Schaffer, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Philadelphia Inquirer before directing the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.
J-Lab also will give $15,000 awards each year to journalists who build the best interactive news models that foster public participation. The Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism honors the late James K. Batten, former chairman and CEO of Knight Ridder, who championed the idea that journalism can both build citizenship and tell hard truths.
A $230,000 Knight Foundation grant will fund an annual awards competition and educational symposium in 2003 and 2004.
“Batten’s vision helped launch the Pew Center, which partnered, from the start, with Knight Ridder Newspapers to create civic news templates,” said Hodding Carter III, Knight Foundation president and CEO. “The Batten Awards honor both Jim and his spirit of innovation in service to the community.”
The Knight Foundation has made grants to a series of projects nationwide that hope to further the goals of journalism in the public interest. They include a web site that will help northern California news consumers rate coverage; an interactive television show that will help Chicago-area residents understand how news organizations work; a public-designed digital merger of public radio and public television stations in Cleveland; and a pilot project in Boulder, Colo., aimed at finding out how much local election coverage public television can provide.
“Civic journalism, public journalism, community journalism, good journalism,” said Eric Newton, Knight Foundation director of journalism initiatives. “We’ve found many different ways to describe the idea, perhaps best put by Arthur Miller, that a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.”
J-Lab also represents the latest journalism initiative at Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism designed to support and improve the news business. The College operates American Journalism Review, the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program for international journalists and the Journalism Fellowships in Child and Family Policy. It also serves as headquarters to the National Association of Black Journalists and the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors.
“We feel our role as journalism educators extends far beyond the classroom,” Kunkel said. Initiatives such as J-Lab, the Knight Center, AJR and the others are critical to the betterment of the news industry.”
Information on J-Lab calls for proposals and Batten entries will soon be available at http://www.j-lab.org. Regular J-Lab updates will be sent electronically to the J-Flash mailing list. Subscribers to J-Flash under the Pew Center will automatically receive the J-Lab updates. Others can join the list by clicking the icon below.