The Internet IS the newsroom: Why ONA’s focus on tech is a good one

Note: This is response to this month’s Carnival of Journalism prompt, which asks what the criteria should be for this years Online Journalism Awards (OJA).

In math to most students’ annoyance, writing down the correct answer is only good for partial credit, how you got there is really what matters. That principle should be true when it comes to judging criteria for the OJA.

The OJAs should focus on journalism that expands the boundaries of journalism and does so online, the final frontier.

The Pulitzer Prize rewards amazing journalism. Knight-Batten, News Challenge and other events award and grant funds for amazing technological advances in the field of journalism. OJA should award people doing brilliant journalism with the most amazing technology.

Twitter doesn’t win for creating it’s product which helps journalists so much. Nor does Twitter win for creating Twitter for newsrooms. Those are great things, but they are just tech that enables good journalism. At the same time The Los Angeles Times wouldn’t win for the same story that the they won their pulitzer, simply because they used some new tech along the way.

Both technology and journalism have to be at work here. In this way I am defining journalism as informing citizenry in order to affect change.

I think Carrie Brown-Smith and Lisa Williams both already did an excellent job answering this post and their sentiments closely match my own so I try and add another concept; the Internet is the newsroom.

The connections, research and filtering potential of the Internet provides an even more rich experience for an enterprising reporter. I’ve always found that the reporters I most respected were barely in the newsroom at all. If the Internet is your newsroom then you can simultaneously be in the newsroom and the field at the same time. It is this capability that will enable some really impressive journalism.

Steve Fox points out two people that are at the forefront of this idea, Andy Carvin and Nick Kristoff, specifically their coverage of the Arab Spring. I agree, but what I also see is two people just starting to see the potential that lies ahead.

Recently, on the way to the Knight Civic Media Conference I had the pleasure of passing through Chicago’s infamous O’Hare airport. As is common for that airport we encountered horrific weather and had our flight cancelled. Looking at the massive line of people trying to rebook with United, a line that was in the many hundreds, Ben Ilfeld and I decided to grab food and a beer.

We enjoyed the crazy weather, the tornado warnings, mediocre sushi, and some pretty excellent beer and did so quite peacefully. Soon afterwards we plopped down next to the giant line for United customer service, which had grown even longer, and opened our laptops. We tethered them to our phones and in five minutes we had booked ourselves on the 6am flight to Boston on Southwest. We also booked ourself a super cheap motel. We did this in about 5 minutes. While waiting on the cab line to our motel we heard of all the horror stories of the United passengers who had been through the line. Most of them got rebooked, but rebooked 1-2 days later, the earliest United could re-route them. For us that would have meant missing nearly the entire conference.

I see the same thing with journalism now. Innovative technology used at the right time in the right way can enable fantastic things. For us, we got to Boston to see some amazing people win Challenge grants, for journalism it is making the world a better place.

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