In an effort to prove their excellence in journalism, amateurs and professionals alike met in Washington D.C. to showcase their best work at the 2017 Online Journalism Awards. Poised with only their finest stories, 119 finalists eventually succumbed to the judges decisions.
It's only fitting to start with the finalists in the General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium Newsroom category. The winner, Le Temps, submitted an impressively massive collection of work challenging the traditional ideas of longform, visual, interactive content and much more, and it's unique stories made it a clear first pick. One finalist, Propublica, also collected large amounts of data to construct truly riveting projects such as ELECTIONLAND and DOCUMENTING HATE, and deserved to be in the top three. The other finalist, San Antonio Express-News, made its mark by going in-depth on local, national, and global topics, gaining a huge following over the course of 18 months, and while it was not the most unique form of storytelling, it earned it's place at the 2017 Online Journalism Awards.
In the next category, the Knight Award for Public Service, the winner shined a light on an unbelievable topic that surely shocked audiences in its investigative project Doctors & Sex Abuse, which was very deserving of first place. Fire and Death in Canada's First Nations is another finalist in this category. Using 360 degree video to tell a chilling story of death and injustice that led to real change, journalists at the Toronto Star surely earned their place. Another equally shocking piece of work named Death Behind Bars by the Reno Gazette-Journal showed great precision in presentation on its website and provided answers to many questions surrounding the issue. This definitely deserved recognition. The remaining finalist in this category, Toxic Armories, clearly succeeded in creating interactive, multimedia stories on an unfamiliar topic, and while it did not seem to be as engaging as the other finalists, it showed promise and earned the finalist spot.
The student categories were also quite impressive. Turning Tides: The Story of the Salton Sea, the winner in the Pro-Am Student Award category, used 360 video, drones, and other advanced equipment to tell the urgent story of what could be California's "largest environmental and public health disaster." Surviving the City, the only other finalist in this category, was created by students from around the world, also using 360 video, drones, and various audio and video techniques to describe the realities and consequences of growing cities. I feel the results, however, should be reversed, and Surviving the City should have received first place based purely on a combination of subject matter, interactivity, and presentation.
The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award category showcased equally interesting work. In the large newsroom subcategory, the winner, Cuba's New Wave does a fantastic job using interactive technology to tell multiple stories regarding Cuba's youth. The only other finalist in the large newsroom category, Death Denied, is a compelling project on a man who has waited 40 years to be executed for murders he maintains he did not commit. Death Denied's presentation, however, is not as interactive and complex as Cuba's New Wave, and I agree with the judges decisions. In the small newsroom category, winner City of Smoke shows the realities of air pollution in Mongolia, using techniques such as 3D renderings, 360 degree video, along with the audio/visual aspects. The finalist in this category, A Town Divided, documents the division of a small rural town in Arizona over a new mining project, using appropriate video, graphics, and text. City of Smoke's more compelling presentation and subject matter, however, leave it as the most deserving for first place.
Another category with winners and finalists worth talking about is the Excellence and Innovation In Visual Digital Storytelling, Medium Newsroom. Titletown, TX, the winner, made strides in digital storytelling by documenting high school football in Texas in a unique, episodic, documentary-style format. The other finalist, Bloomtown, Flood Town, documents the issues behind Houston’s consistent flooding with impactful writing and compelling photos and graphics. While both stories are impressive, the judges made the right choice in giving Titletown, TX the top spot.
In the Planned News/Events, Medium Newsroom category, both the winner and runner-up focused on last year’s political races in Election 2016, WBUR and Election 2016, OPR. Election 2016, WBUR utilized multiplatform reporting techniques including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Snapchat, in addition to their radio updates and intensive maps and graphics on their website. Election 2016, OPR included also interactive maps, graphics, and video updates across multiple social media platforms. While both provided in-depth information on their respective state elections as well as national elections, the judges were correct in choosing Election 2016 WBUR as the winner.
The Al Neuharth Innovation In Investigative Journalism Award, Small Newsroom category exhibited truly impressive investigative work. The winner, Dinners, Junkets and Jobs, depicted corruption among state commissioners and insurance agencies using mainly text, photos and graphics. Finalist Code of Silence, used engaging video titles along with text, photos, and graphics to describe corruption among the Chicago police department. And finalist, Jay Peak's Path to Fraud, used a timeline along with more than 250 individual stories to explain their ongoing investigation into EB-5 visa fraud. In terms of presentation and content, however, I feel the judges made a mistake not choosing Code of Silence as the winner.
The most creative group of finalists, in my opinion, was in the Sports, Medium Newsroom category. The winner, Berlin Marathon 2016 – How Fast Your City Runs, uniquely tracked and time lapsed all 35,827 runners during the 2016 Berlin Marathon in the form of an app and comparison tool. The other finalist in this category, The Gravity-Defying Physics of Simone Biles, broke down the physics behind the Olympian's feats of gymnastics, incorporating video, mathematics, and graphics. I can only imagine that this category was difficult to judge, but I agree with the judges' decisions.
The mastery in all these works of journalism is absolutely inspiring. Reviewing these finalists has allowed me to see all that’s possible in storytelling while making me wonder what I could be capable of today and in the future. More than anything, it has me dreaming of creating quality pieces of work that could one day win at the Online Journalism Awards.