Innovation Abounds.

By Sandy K. Johnson

It’s time for some good news about journalism. Set aside for a moment the self-flagellation about coverage of the 2016 elections and relish what’s good about our profession. The finalists for the National Press Foundation’s two innovation in journalism awards set the standard for the best of American journalism.

These projects will renew your faith in journalism.

Tom Davidson, NPF board member and one of our judges, summed up our thoughts about the entries: “Overall, this was a brutal set of decisions to make, because the finalists were all brilliant examples of discerning storytelling. The methods weren’t ‘looky here!’ shiny objects – they were tools used to unearth and showcase hidden information, to suss out new insights and move beyond the limits of any one organization’s reporting. To my mind, we should celebrate (and learn from) all of these projects.”

To that end, here is a summary of the finalists for NPF’s two innovation awards. Click through the inspiring entrees and select the projects that you think were the award-winners. Or scroll to the bottom, where the winners are listed.

Innovation in Journalism Award finalists

Last Men Standing” is a searing portrayal of the aging survivors of San Francisco’s AIDS epidemic, supplemented with a feature-length documentary. The San Francisco Chronicle also spearheaded a statewide re-examination of homelessness, a fresh look at an old story presented as a humanitarian crisis. More than 70 news organizations participated; this is gripping reporting, storytelling and video.

The Washington Post’s investigation into police shootings literally changed the arc of an ongoing news story that has exploded since unrest in Ferguson, Mo. By methodically building a nationwide database of shootings, NPF judges said, the Post added facts to the ongoing emotionally charged narrative. “Some of the facts were counter-intuitive (for all the rightful anger about shootings of unarmed African-Americans, ‘the dead were overwhelmingly white men with guns, who had attacked to threatened people.’) On the other hand, the data showed disturbing facts: unarmed African Americans were killed at a rate seven times higher than unarmed whites. A quarter of those killed were mentally ill. More than 50 officers involved in shootings had killed before.” This reporting had impact: the FBI admitted the Post had compiled a more complete database than it had, and it is in the process of replicating the newspaper’s work.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists produced the Panama Papers, by collaborating with hundreds of news organizations across the globe. The reporting showed how offshore companies are used to facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.

The Wall Street Journal produced an ambitious exploration of global demographic trends: Where we will work, age and live in the next three decades. Using virtual reality video, the Journal took you inside a chicken farm in Thailand and showed you innovations in Japan to “embrace the golden years” of its senior citizens.

Vox’s Sarah Kliff dove into a massive underutilized federal database to discover a surprising trend: teenagers today smoke less, drink less, and have sex less than any recent generation. A fun interactive underscores the data: For example, if you were born in 1989, Kliff writes, “You were 16 years old in 2005 and we’re sorry to say, chances are relatively high that you and your friends were up to no good.”

NPR employed technology and visual design to re-invent fact-checking of the presidential debates. As the entry said: “Imagine having all of your favorite NPR policy reporters sitting right in your living room, watching the presidential debates alongside you?” Their effort was rewarded with record-breaking audiences across platforms.

Best Use of Technology in Journalism finalists

The Marshall Project used an open-source tool called Klaxon to produce its sobering project, “The Next to Die: Watching Death Row.”

Reporters found the tool so helpful in tracking criminal justice issues that it’s now freely available on Github for other journalists to adapt to their beats.

Bloomberg created an awesome carbon clock that is a real-time estimate of the global monthly atmospheric CO2 level. Fossil-fuel burning and deforestation – the main drivers of global warming – make up more than 75 percent of annual climate pollution, Bloomberg’s analysis found.

The Washington Post produced a multimedia presentation on the tide of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores, titled “The Waypoint.” The NPF judges said, “This was a well-crafted narrative that serves as testament to true human perseverance.” The use of technology lets readers be part, virtually, of the emotional journey of seeking asylum.

The Wall Street Journal took to heart the one-sidedness of the political conversation on social media. Journalists created an original tool that gave readers a side-by-side look at real conversations on Facebook from both sides of the political spectrum.

The winners:

Innovation in Journalism Award: The Washington Post’s police shootings project. Honorable mention: ICIJ’s Panama Papers

Best Use of Technology in Journalism: The Washington Post’s refugee project. Honorable mention: The Wall Street Journal social media tool.

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