How Are Legacy News Organizations Boosting Digital Innovation?

Sure, foundations like Knight and Reynolds are committing millions to boost innovation across the field of journalism, but what are traditional, old-school journalism outlets doing? For one answer, we turn to the National Press Foundation, which has created two new journalism awards with the goal of recognizing the contributions of technology and innovation in news reporting.

But before we look at the awards, let's first examine the NPF itself, whose primary mission is to "to increase journalists' knowledge of complex issues in order to improve public understanding." For nearly forty years, the foundation has provided professional development opportunities to thousands of "editors, producers and reporters, helping them to better understand and explain the impact of public policy on readers and viewers."

In other words, the NPF isn't a technology lab or incubator of cutting-edge digital tools. Historically and practically speaking, its core competencies have related to education and professional development, with an eye on beefing up the substance of the news—as opposed to focusing on how it's delivered. 

These days, though, questions of content and delivery are deeply entwined. And with many news outlets fighting for their lives, everyone's looking at ways to maximize the synergies between these areas to boost audiences and revenues. As well, there's a lot of fretting about the trend to dumb things down amid the rise of the "charticle," the "listicle," and other efforts to pander to the majority of Americans who now seem to suffer from attention-deficit disorder. 

Which brings us to NPF's awards. First off, the Innovation in Journalism Award celebrates "news organizations that are transforming journalism while maintaining the integrity and standards that make journalism an essential part of a free society." Key to this transformation is the good old-fashion art of storytelling, proving yet again that everything old is new again.

The NPF cited some examples of innovating outlets who are merging the worlds of journalism with storytelling and digital technologies. One is the New York Times' multimedia coverage of the Tunnel Creek avalanche in Washington State; another is the public radio true-crime podcast Serial.

Both of these examples share common traits. First, they're firmly planted in the world of objective (yet riveting) news reporting. And secondly, their delivery channels—namely, a podcast and a multimedia presentation that probably looks really good on a smart phone—are a far cry from a pinstripe-suited anchor reading off a teleprompter on network TV (not that there's anything wrong with that).  

The Best Use of Technology in Journalism Award, meanwhile, "recognizes individuals or organizations that use groundbreaking tools and technology to change the news media landscape as we know it." The competition is open to anyone at a news organization, including reporters, editors, front- and back-end developers, social media producers, data scientists, reporters, editors or others involved in producing cutting-edge digital journalism.

"These new awards continue our mission for the next 40 years by helping shape successful journalists and news organizations," said NPF Board Chairman Heather Dahl. "By injecting innovation and digital technologies into traditional news values, we help journalism thrive."

Winners will be honored at the NPF's Annual Awards Dinner on Feb. 11, 2016. Winners will present a "Master Class" to participants, thereby sharing their findings with other newsrooms.

Of course, the NPF isn't the only "legacy" news organization entering the innovation fray. Check out recent efforts by 21st Century Fox to support activities inside the Scripps Howard School’s new Center for Innovation in Digital Media here.