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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Online Journalism Awards 2012:
Topical Reporting, Small

Dear judges:

I am happy to submit the Nieman Journalism Lab’s entry into the Topical Reporting, Small category of the 2012 Online Journalism Awards. I’m proud of the work we do every day to chronicle how our shared passion is adapting to and being changed by the Internet.

Unlike other publications that cover journalism, we keep a strict focus on innovation. But our beat is broad: It covers everything new about how news is reported, produced, distributed, discovered, and paid for. My small staff of three hungry reporters, in a small basement room on the edge of campus, do our best to keep our hundreds of thousands of readers informed about what’s changing and why.

Picking three pieces to sum up our work is impossible; over the past year, we’ve published nearly 1,000 stories totaling over 1 million words, ranging from breaking news to academic analysis, from debates over business models to new tools for Twitter. We believe our Internet-ready pace is critical to keeping up with a subject changing as quickly as journalism. If you’re not already a reader of our site, you can probably get as good an idea of our work skipping randomly through our archives as by reading our entries. (Here’s November 2011, or May 2012.) But rules are rules, so below are links to three of our longer and better pieces.

I haven’t even mentioned Fuego, the heat-seeking Twitter bot we’ve built from scratch, which is easily the best way to track what’s going on in the future of news. (We love writing code; all programming and design for our site is done among the four of us.) Or Encyclo, our linked-data reference on the 200-plus most important players in journalism’s ongoing evolution. Or our events, or our 90,000 Twitter followers, or our international coverage, or…well, there’s a lot of good stuff on, and I hope you get a chance to check it out. Thanks for your attention.


Joshua Benton
Director, Nieman Journalism Lab

Our three pieces

June 13, 2012: Lessons from the Motor City: What New Orleans might expect when the printing presses slow. In 2009, The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News cut back to three days of home delivery a week. Three years later, their struggles continue.

[Just a week ago, Adrienne LaFrance spent several days in Detroit asking a simple question: What kind of an impact does it have on a city when its daily newspaper isn’t quite as daily any more? With the Times-Picayune dropping publication days, we wanted to look at its closest analog and found a city where residents have adapted to life with less print.]

March 21, 2012: I can’t stop reading this analysis of Gawker’s editorial strategy. We crunch the numbers from Gawker’s pageview-chasing experiment. Oh, and what time does the Super Bowl start?

[Far from the woes of the newspaper industry, Andrew Phelps’ piece takes a data-driven look at ur-blog Gawker, which is trying to answer a question lots of outlets face: How do you balance the endless need to drive traffic with viral-ready, SEO-baited content with the desire to do longer, more worthwhile work? Gawker came up with a remarkable system that, after our story, generated a lot of attention at even traditional news organizations. Warning: It’s a piece about Gawker, so there’s some language.]

Oct. 27, 2011: PART 1: The path of disruption: Did Newspaper Next succeed in transforming newspapers? The 2006 report was supposed to be a wake-up call to an industry in turmoil. But its legacy is less than clear. PART 2: Moms, coupons and search: What happened in the Newspaper Next demonstration projects. As part of the 2006 report on transforming newspapers, seven media outlets took part in a program to test Newspaper Next’s methods. Only a few of the projects live on today.

[This two-parter by Justin Ellis took a look back at what might have been the newspaper industry’s last best chance to avoid what’s become its fate over the past few years: an industry effort to apply cutting-edge business thinking to some very traditional businesses. Justin looks at why it didn’t take hold and what belated lessons there might still be to take from it.]