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Remarks by Jan Schaffer at the Knight-Batten Awards and Symposium

Remarks by J-Lab executive director Jan Schaffer at the Sept. 7, 2011 Knight-Batten Awards and Symposium for Innovations in Journalism, held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The symposium capped the ninth and final year of the awards program, funded by the Knight Foundation.

For nine years, J-Lab rewarded cutting-edge innovations through the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. Since 2003, J-Lab and its Advisory Board honored 56 winners and showcased 196 notable entries online. Again and again, our awards have been an impeccable and early scout for innovations that have later turned into Knight News Challenge winners or later Knight grantees. The awards showcased and validated new ideas for gathering news, delivering news, visualizing news, interacting with news and engaging digital audiences.

Tracking past award winners provides a roadmap not only for the disruptive chaos that swept up journalism during that decade but also the arc of re-invention – the innovations that continue to be built on year after year to make the journalism of the future. It was clear from these awards that journalism’s next act aspired to be:

  • More timely
  • More accessible
  • More participatory
  • More interactive
  • More transparent
  • More data-driven and
  • More fun

The Knight-Batten Awards were among the first to validate and honor:

  • News games
  • Searchable databases
  • Crowdsourcing and participatory media
  • Citizen media and entrepreneurial news startups
  • Nonprofit media
  • Collaborative journalism

The very first year (2003) of the awards recognized’s efforts to build many on-ramps for stories with non-linear storytelling involving slideshows, games and quizzes. That year the awards also honored the first state budget game, Minnesota Public Radio’s Budget Balancer.

In 2004, we honored early efforts at crowdsourcing, with USAToday giving readers the chance to pick their winners in West Virginia’s NewSong Festival for songwriters. KQED’s “You Decide” participatory exercise tool the Grand Prize.

In 2005, database journalism was the theme of the day. The Grand Prize winner was, a searchable database of local crimes. It later became EveryBlock. Public media was honored for participatory journalism with its early Public Insight Journalism efforts that have since been adopted around the country.

2006 was the year of the blog, with the still-robust Global Voices winning for curating and translating news from international news around the world.  The Washington Post also won for its easy-to-use Congressional Votes database.

That year we also began to see the emergence of prospective, rather than retrospective, journalism with a tropical-storm estimator interactive created by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. We issued our first social media awards to the Bakersfield Californian. And the theme of journalistic transparency emerged with webcast news meetings of the Spokane’s Spokesman-Review.

In 2007, The Knight-Batten Awards for the first time gave the top prizes to non-journalism winners – the Personal Democracy Forum for its initiative, and the Council on Foreign Relations for its Crisis Guides. It was an acknowledgement of how new players were entering the news and information space.  Awards also went to the virtual world of Second Life.  And our first citizen media award was issued to The Forum, the citizen-run hyperlocal site for Deerfield, N.H., now nine years old.

In 2008 truth was a theme with’s Wikiscanner winning for developing a way to track and truthsquad entries on Wikipedia. PolitiFact won for truthsquading public officials and candidates. Ushahidi showed us how mobile phone crowdsourcing could help with crisis information.

2009 was the year of innovations in mainstream media with the New York Times sweeping the awards with a portfolio of innovative entries to analyze debates in real time, annotate documents, and invite other forms of participation. The awards also recognized the significant rise of nonprofit journalism with honors going to the Center for Public Integrity.

In 2010, the Sunlight Foundation won for its Sunlight Live coverage of the health care summit with an innovative blending of data, liveblogging, streaming video and social media. And we saw the theme of collaboration emerge with ProPublica’s development of a distributed reporting corps of correspondents.

This year is the year of social media with Storify, the story builder that pulls elements from social networks, taking the grand prize. NPR’s Andy Carvin won for building his Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring.

There are many journalism awards programs. Some honor multimedia bells and whistles, many award good journalism efforts. The Knight-Batten Awards were unique in their focus on innovations that demonstrably engaged audiences. And, again and again, they proved to be remarkably prescient about innovations that would have real staying power.

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