Top Menu Wins First innovator Awards – Chicago Tribune, MPR Take Top Honors

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 15, 2003—’s dynamic “Big Picture” series today won the first $10,000 Grand Prize in the Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism for cutting-edge storytelling that connected users to journalism with an array of new media tools.

Top honors also went to the Chicago Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, each awarded $2,500 as runners-up. The awards were presented at a morning symposium at the National Press Club.

Two community media efforts, at the San Francisco Chronicle and Maine’s, were rewarded with Honorable Mentions. Both engaged their audiences in new ways and celebrated local news using groundbreaking techniques.

“These winners are signaling the powerful emergence of an innovative, participatory journalism that seeks not only to inform the audience but also to learn from them,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, which sponsors the awards. View the winners and other notable entries at

“’s efforts set the high-water mark for fresh, interactive storytelling in American journalism” said Bryan Monroe, chair of the Batten Awards Board of Judges and assistant vice president/news at Knight Ridder. “They are setting the pace. Now the rest of us have to catch up.”

Here are descriptions of the winning entries:’s “The Big Picture” presented a series of vibrant guided tours on three subjects – Iraq, the 2002 elections, and the Oscars. The packages integrated video, audio, text, quizzes, interactive polls and games into playful, yet informative, packages intended to give the big-picture overview on the topics. “It’s got everything,” said the judges, who cited the project for lively content and high service to the community. “It pulled together many tools and let users make choices, confront the information and do something with that information.”

The Chicago Tribune’s “When Evil Struck America” was packaged as a CD-ROM time capsule distributed to more than 1 million subscribers on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. Interactive and easy to navigate, it boosted single-day street sales of the newspaper by 100,000.

Minnesota Public Radio’s “Budget Balancer” is a 19-page Web game that challenged users to fix the state’s $4.2 billion deficit and offered 62 options for either cutting programs or raising revenue. Special “Look Out!” windows popped up to warn users about possible consequences of their decisions. About 7,000 visitors submitted 11,000 budget plans; 43 percent were 30 or younger. A surprising number voted to raise taxes.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Two Cents” project is a “virtual man-on-the-street” effort that built a database of more than 1,450 “field correspondents,” residents who continue to contribute articles, opinion pieces and a standing op-ed column. was honored for its Web news sites that serve three Maine communities by delivering homespun news and information, advertising, interactive virtual tours and e-mails of scenic postcards.

Today’s symposium featured presentations from finalists and semi-finalists and keynote remarks by noted San Jose Mercury News columnist and blogger Dan Gillmor, author of the forthcoming book, “Making the News.”

The Batten Awards pay tribute to news organizations that use technology in innovative ways to engage people in important issues. It honors the late James K. Batten, former CEO of Knight Ridder and a pioneer in exploring ways journalism could better connect with audiences.

The awards are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and administered by J-Lab, a center at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.

Also participating in the judging, in addition to Monroe and Schaffer, were: Jody Brannon, executive producer-news,; Mark Hinojosa, associate managing editor, electronic news, the Chicago Tribune; Mike McCurry, partner, Public Strategies Washington, Inc.; Lee Rainie, executive director, Pew Internet & American Life Project; Chris Harvey, online bureau director & lecturer, and Tom Kunkel, dean, both of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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