July 23, 2003

Batten Down the Innovation

As much as I want to, I don't find most of the newspaper projects considered for this year's Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism all that innovational.

The awards, given out by the J-Lab, part of the Institute for Interactive Journalism, are intended to honor news organizations that "used technology in innovative ways to involve people in the news."

I just don't see projects like compiling all your big story coverage on a CD (Chicago Tribune - 9/11) or a Web site (Providence Journal - The Station dance club fire) as innovations, even with the inclusion of a weblog (as Projo.com did), nor is adding more photographs and some video to the Web version of a print feature series.

Some of the work is beautiful. The Orange County Register's electronic edition of its series about a Buddhist monk is wonderfully designed, but does it fulfill the J-Lab's stated mission of using "new technologies to help people actively engage in critical public issues."? I don't think so. Despite all the electronics extras, what we have here are clip jobs. Nifty digital clips, to be sure, but clip jobs all the same.

Two of the Batten nominees go further toward meeting that criterion, though. One works well; the other less so.

The San Francisco Chronicle succeeds using the lowest of high tech - email - to connect with a database of nearly 1,500 readers who chime in on news and sports stories espousing a variety of views (even, oh my God, in San Francisco, an occasional conservative belief). The paper has d-based the Man on the Street and called it Two Cents.

I also like the Kent State University and L.A. Times' Digital Newsbook, which reproduced in elegant typography a Times series on the journey of a Honduran boy to the U.S. in search of his mother. Unfortunately, the PDF is apparently such a memory pig - it's embedded with loads of video - that once I got the splash screen open on my machine I could never get to another page. Maybe you'll have better luck.

Nonetheless, the Newsbook represents one version of the news future (one that, like all technology, will compress and speed up over time) and Two Cents another.

The Newsbook performs a platform transformation (with agnostic content) that mimics one of newspapers' greatest assets - portability. Download the Newsbook, maybe on your tablet PC, and read it anywhere. Someday, surely.

Two Cents enables the Chronicle to move beyond the traditional newspaper one-to-many broadcast model and fulfill the role of conduit for many-to-many conversation - readers talking to readers. It should move Two Cents to the Web and crank up the interactivity even further.

 Batten Awards 2003 Selected Entries

Posted by Tim Porter at July 23, 2003 03:01 PM