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Sunlight Foundation Wins $10,000 Innovations Award; Six Collaboration Pioneers Awarded $1,000 Each

Washington, D.C.Sunlight Live, the Sunlight Foundation‘s innovative blending of data, streaming video, liveblogging and social networking today was awarded the $10,000 Grand Prize in the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.

Six projects that pioneered unique collaborations to advance digital engagement each received $1,000 Special Distinction Awards. Honored at a morning symposium at the Newseum were projects from ProPublica, Longshot Magazine (formerly 48 HR Magazine), St. Petersburg Times, Ushahidi, Publish2 and public radio’s The Takeaway.

“This year’s winners set a new bar for teaming up with readers, other journalists and other organizations,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the awards. “We’re beyond the ‘wow’ phase of how citizens can impact journalism and we’re now into the ‘how’ phase.”

New York Times media columnist David Carr sketched out his vision for the future of news in his keynote address.  Sunlight Foundation executive director Ellen Miller charted an ambitious future for transparency around government data.

In awarding the top prize to Sunlight Live, the judges noted that it attracted nearly 43,000 viewers, 9,800 livebloggers, and more than 1,300 tweets. The judges also honored the project because it highlights the ethos that suffuses the Sunlight Foundation’s entire body of work.

“They showed how to add journalistic punch to a carefully orchestrated government event, adding context and insight to the proceedings. And they don’t stop at merely shedding light on the behind-the-scenes proceedings of government – they go a step beyond to make it fun and engaging, creating a social experience around the event,” said NPR’s Matt Thompson, one of the judges.

The Special Distinction winners included:

ProPublica’s Distributed Reporting: This investigative news site is systematizing the process of crowdsourcing, conducting experiments, polishing their process, and tasking citizens with serious assignments. Its more than 5,000 Reporting Network members have conducted spot checks on federal stimulus spending, unraveled loan modification stories, and tracked the oversight of state nursing boards, among other efforts. “This is a major step forward with how we understand crowdsourcing,” the judges said.
48 HR Magazine: In an era where most magazines go through a lavish multi-month production cycle, the 48 HR team made a spectacular 60-page magazine and online site in a weekend in May with little more than Twitter, coffee, grit and more than 1,500 submissions solicited over two weeks. The execution demonstrated the potential of citizen-generated news at high speed. “As important as the product was the work flow that they created,” the judges said.

The Obameter: St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact pioneered a new form of accountability journalism by rating the progress of 500 of President Barack Obama’s campaign promises. Citizens and journalists can easily sort and search the progress reports in a distinctive database. Readers are invited to suggest updates and ratings. “They made a game out of substance in a good way,” the judges said. “It’s tracking a story that is unfolding into the future, which is not something we do very often.”

Ushahidi Haiti:  Less than two hours after Haiti’s January earthquake, Ushahidi marshaled Skype, Twitter, Facebook, radio and short codes to crowdsource real-time needs. With 1,000 online volunteers translating text messages from Creole, and other volunteers mapping crisis spots, the effort had an unprecedented impact on disaster relief efforts. “They have set the bar for future mapping mashups,” the judges said.

Publish2 News Exchange: Introduced in May, this platform allows news organizations to interact directly with one another to create custom newswires and set terms for collaborating and sharing content. It moves the newswire from a traditional “hub-and-spoke” model where everything is distributed through a central place to a network of information sharing. “This is an ambitious concept that could be genuinely disruptive of existing distribution networks,” the judges said.

Sourcing Through Texting (The Takeaway, WNYC and Public Radio International): A team from The Takeaway radio show joined journalists from WDET Detroit in a successful experiment that prompted residents to text tips about particular stories from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. Residents texted information about trucks barreling down their side streets; in another experiment, residents sent keywords describing their neighborhood. The result: people became engaged and more informed. The experiment has continued in Miami’s Little Haiti.  “The experiment opened doors for engaging non-listeners in ways they liked,” the judges said.

This year’s winners were selected from 100 entries. You can view the winners as well as more than 30 notable entries at, A rebroadcast of the event also will be made available at

The Knight-Batten Awards honor creative uses of new technologies to engage citizens in public issues and showcase compelling models for the future of news. They are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and administered by J-Lab, a center of American University’s School of Communication.

“The goal of innovation is positive change. The goal of the Knight-Batten Awards in innovation is to make the future of journalism better,” said Jose Zamora, Knight Foundation’s journalism program associate.

About Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit

About J-Lab
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network ( and, the New Voices community media grant program (, the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism (, and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (

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