Top Menu Wins $10,000 Knight-Batten Innovations Award

COLLEGE PARK,, a data-rich, nonpartisan group blog that covers real-time, online activity of the 2008 presidential candidates – and chronicles online content from voters who will elect them, is this year’s $10,000 Grand Prize winner in the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.

The site invites every-day people to help break campaign news and it tracks voter-generated videos on YouTube, candidate “friends” on MySpace and Facebook, blog mentions on Technorati, voter demands for appearances on Eventful, and voter-generated photos on Flickr.

“The site not only reports on, but encourages, citizens to participate more directly in the political process,” the panel of judges said. “It’s an amazing source of information from a non-traditional news outlet.” The site is published by the Personal Democracy Forum.

Winning a $2,000 First Prize is another non-traditional news organization, the Council on Foreign Relations.’s rich media “Crisis Guides” present compelling, in-depth news about the world’s most pressing crisis zones. “This is an institution stepping up and honoring the best of journalism. It’s filling an absolutely articulated need,” the judges said.

Four other innovative efforts each won $1,000 awards. And, for the first time, the judges cited four more creative ideas with Honorable Mentions.

“This year’s winners gave the judges another way to think about innovations in journalism,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the awards.

“Innovation isn’t just about the new technologies reporters are using. It’s also about expanding the idea of what good journalism really is,” said Lee Rainie, a judge and director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

“We see a journalism emerging that is less about a narrative with a dramatic arc and more about an ongoing process of learning and building news,” Schaffer said.

“This has clearly been a big year for nontraditional, nonprofit news providers,” said Eric Newton, Knight Foundation’s journalism program vice president. “Every year, it seems, new waves of innovation hit the shore. Keeping up with that is becoming important not only to entrepreneurs but the industry at large.”

The awards were presented at a morning symposium at the National Press Club. Highlighting the event was a keynote address by Susan Clark-Johnson, President of the Newspaper Division of Gannett Co.

The Knight-Batten Awards spotlight the creative use of new information ideas and technologies to involve citizens in public issues. They are administered by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
You can view the winners as well as more than three dozen other notable entries at

Winning $1,000 Awards are:

Wild Card Award: Reuters Second Life Virtual News Bureau. This virtual news bureau in the online 3D world known as Second Life applies Reuters’ journalistic techniques to social networking, e-commerce and user-generated content for more than 7 million users. “It’s a place for the audience that newspapers don’t have to gather,” the judges said.

Citizen Media Award: The Forum, Deerfield, N.H. This online newspaper, created only two years ago by volunteers for a town that had no media, is now the major source of news for four rural communities. It has more than 200 bylined contributors and averages 37 original articles per week. “It’s a testament to their vision and grit that their community now thanks them for reporting the news,” the judges said.

Special Distinction Award: Varsity MyTeam High School Sports.’s highly participative high school sports zone offers every school a customized sports page and ways for users to upload statistics, photos and postings. “It’s a model for others that shows the newspaper’s commitment to serving its community,” the judges said.

Special Distinction Award: onBeing. The’s compelling video portrait series captures unexpected, intimate stories of ordinary citizens. “It’s different. It makes you cry. It’s a model for the future of news,” the judges said.

Because of this year’s diversity and breadth of creative ideas, the judges for the first time cited four projects for Honorable Mention:

  • The News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla. For its crowdsourcing and Team Watchdog initiatives that enlist readers and a team of 20 super-user experts in helping to investigate stories. “This is a classic case that will go down in journalism history of how to bring investigative journalism to the public,” the judges said.
  • This wiki allows citizens, scientists, activists, industry leaders, teachers and students to contribute and cross-link content about the culture, recreation, commerce and the environment of the Great Lakes region. “The result is one interconnected encyclopedia of public knowledge about the region,” the judges said.
  • Zero. This open-source experiment by and Wired News sought to harness the collective expertise of members of the public under the guidance of professional journalists. “It pushed outside the box in terms of service to the field,” the judges said.
  • Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada-Reno. For the collected work of students in reinventing journalism so that it accommodates public deliberation, shared values, solutions, interactive exercises and action pledges. “This is a school that is preparing students for a future anchored in the belief that journalism and democracy are deeply related,” the judges said. See Lake Tahoe Explorations, Nevada Matters and Our Tahoe.

Two of these projects have received past funding under the Knight-funded New Voices program, which J-Lab also administers. The Forum received a start-up grant in May 2005; received a start-up grant in May 2006.

The winners were selected from 133 entries submitted by print, television and online news organizations and education and non-profit institutions.

The Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism honor the late James K. Batten, former CEO of Knight Ridder newspapers and a pioneer in exploring ways journalism could better connect with audiences.

The Knight-Batten Advisory Board is led by Bryan Monroe, Vice President and Editorial Director, Ebony and Jet magazines. It included Gary Kebbel, Knight Foundation journalism program officer; Jody Brannon, Senior Editor,; Jim Brady, Executive Editor,; Lee Rainie, Executive Director, Pew Internet & American Life Project; Rosental C. Alves, Director, Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; Bill Buzenberg, Director of the Center for Public Integrity; Nick Charles, former Editor in Chief, AOL Black Voices; Mark Hinojosa, Associate Managing Editor-Electronic News, The Chicago Tribune; Chris Harvey, Online Bureau Director & Lecturer, Philip Merrill College of Journalism; Tom Kunkel, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism; and Jan Schaffer, J-Lab Executive Director.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invests in journalism excellence worldwide and in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $300 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change. For more,

J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use new media technologies to create fresh ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network ( and the New Voices community media grant program (

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