OJAs now honor storytelling with data and visualization

By on May 28, 2014

What makes the Online Journalism Awards unique — besides being the only comprehensive honors for digital journalism — is that, like our industry, they’re constantly evolving.

Each year, the committee tasked with bringing the OJAs to journalists around the world revisits the awards categories to see if 1) they still hold up, and 2) they’re missing any truly innovative developments. That’s been the drill since ONA’s founders launched the awards in 2000 with the full understanding that technology would not only upend reporting, storytelling and distribution, but strengthen the role and power of the community.

This year is no different. Under the direction of Chair Josh Hatch, the OJAs have undergone the annual fine-tuning that has made them the standard bearer for our industry. The awards open with 33 categories, and 10 now come with a total of $52,500 in prize money, honoring data journalism, visual digital storytelling, investigative journalism, technical innovation in the service of journalism, public service and general excellence.

Three new or modified categories are worth noting as perfect examples of the need to keep pace with the creative work journalists are undertaking:

We’ve introduced the University of Florida Award in Investigative Data Journalism, made possible by the estate of Lorraine Dingman, which honors work that best features and presents data journalism on digital and mobile platforms. The award will focus on the effectiveness of the data to tell a story, how well the data are presented to users, the journalistic impact and relevance of the data and the design and functionality of the data presentation. Judges will also take into account the difficulty in acquiring the data. There are two size categories, each with a $7,500 prize. And UF and ONA are experimenting with an idea that we hope will become a template to share winning work: Winners will be asked to travel to the university (expenses paid) to lead full-day workshops.

Also new this year is the Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling Award. Creative organizations increasingly are mixing video, photography, graphics, illustrations and web technologies to create entirely new and compelling visual stories. This category is designed to honor work from small, medium and large news outlets that takes visual storytelling to a new level. Judges will consider the selection of media and the quality and impact of the visuals. Special attention also will be given to stories that are truly of digital and mobile platforms.

The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, supported by the Gannett Foundation, will honor work that uncovers major news based on independent investigations and presents that work online through clear, impactful and digitally savvy means. This category honors a single story or a series that uncovers major news based on investigations that advance and serve the public interest. Clear presentation through user interface and interactivity, creative use of the medium and platforms (including mobile), use of social tools and evidence of the impact of the publication will be considered. Three examples are required, and can include articles, blog posts, videos, graphics, podcasts, etc. The category is split into three size categories, each with a $4,000 prize.

Meanwhile, as you might have noticed, all categories have been tweaked to recognize the impact of mobile on our industry. Yet another revolutionary change that — who knows — may impact awards categories even further in 2015.

Jane McDonnell is Executive Director of the Online News Association.

Jane McDonnell

Jane McDonnell

As executive director, Jane oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, working closely with the Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.