What the judges of the Online Journalism Awards are looking for

By on June 11, 2014

Over the past 13 years, the Online Journalism Awards have honored excellence in digital journalism from organizations as disparate as Salon and Fine Woodworking magazine to the New York Times and the Tiziano Project. We’ve seen winners from the biggest newsrooms to the sole blogger and from all corners of the globe. Throughout the years and across all winners, though, two things remain constant: superior journalism and dedication to maximizing the power of digital platforms.

Each year, as judges prepare to comb through the 1,000 or more entries to pick the winners, we remind them that the awards are not simply about great journalism that is “on” digital platforms, but that is truly “of” those platforms. Likewise, to receive the judges’ nods, entries that embrace new developments in community engagement, multimedia and technical innovations must do so in the service of the journalism that is at the heart of our work.

Invariably during the judging process, the same questions come up. “What impact did this story have?” “How does this entry really take advantage of the web?” “Would this piece be any different if it appeared solely in print?”

And as I look through my notes from judges on past entries, I’m struck anew by their focus and the precision of their comments in seeking to answer those questions.

  • “A really interesting effort to make longform and investigative journalism work in an era of mobile devices.”
  • “They took a fairly complex story and used digital tools to make it understandable. This is better than it would have been just in print.”
  • “This wackadoo approach to something we all know is going to happen is worthwhile and of notice. This kind of work is tough to do, and they pulled it off extremely well. No other way to have done this story.”
  • “Here’s story that had massive impact, and the smart way it was presented online only multiplied its effect, giving it reach and resonance beyond what it could have gotten otherwise.”
  • As you prepare your entries, keep in mind that the more you can help judges better understand how your stories best embrace the fundamentals of great journalism — impact, relevance, newsworthiness — and do so by best leveraging the power of digital platforms, the better your chances of hearing your name called out on Sept. 27 in Chicago.


    By Joshua Hatch, ONA Treasurer and Chair, Online Journalism Awards

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Jennifer Mizgata

Jennifer Mizgata is Director of Programs at the Online News Association. She focuses on identifying talented digital journalists and innovative journalism projects and providing them with support.