Solid journalism in good health despite threats

Thriving projects awarded

19 June 2014

Concha Catalan @conchacatalan

Competition for the best quality and innovation in journalism was showcased at the GEN Summit. ‘Crises don't end once journalists leave,’ said BBC correspondent Natalia Antelava, from Codastory, that won Best Startup for News by popular vote. ‘Codastory will break them down on an understandable way.’ 

Datajournalism is on the up, with 520 candidates to the Data Journalism Awards from 64 countries, more than double than in the first edition two years ago, so maybe more media should consider setting up their own teams.

The #MigrantsFiles got the prize for Best story or group of stories on a single topic. To make it, journalists from six countries aggregated and structured data from open sources to uncover information about migrants that die trying to reach Europe, and the impact of the EU migration policies. To work on the data, they used detective.io, candidate in the Startups for news battle.

‘We’re here to protect all of us from the leadership of people who make stupid decisions: from our governments,’ said freelance investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Two other datajournalism prizes seemed to subscribe his statement.

Disclosing data for a better democracy

La Nación from Argentina devoted a team to generate a structured and searchable dataset of 1500 personal property affidavits of public officials and it was awarded Best datajournalism website. Their work included manually entering data and scanning PDFs that they transformed to open data formats and shared.

Homes for the Taking: Liens, loss and profiteers from The Washington Post won Best data-driven investigation, as ‘epitome of what this category sought to honor: enterprising investigative journalism stemming from in-depth analysis of data and extensive on-the-ground reporting, ‘said the jury. ‘The work had a significant impact and held officials accountable.’

Other prizes went to compelling datavisualizations by Kiln.it  and The New York Times while ProPublica and its Journalism in the Public Interest got the Juror’s Choice, for the huge impact of their stories and the breadth of its work, from ER wait times and dollars for doctors to censorship in China. The jury hightlighted that ProPublica’s data is open, allowing others to explore it for themselves.

Censorship and other not so obvious threats

Several threats hover over journalism, though: restricted freedom of information by outright censorship, secret surveillance or, as mentioned by Dan Gillmor in his talk ‘Who controls the media?’ questionable practices from online powerhouses such as google or amazon. Signatures were collected among participants to free Al Jazeera’s detained journalists, so it is good news one of them has just been released.

The other threat seems to be the challenge to balance cost and the thinning income from advertising, with the strong growth in smartphone news access and what the Reuters Digital News Report called ‘the new disruption’ in mainstream media: ‘pure players and agreggators’ like Yahoo, and social media.

But solid journalism keeps good health. ‘We think about technology in the service of journalism,’ said Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). She referred to Hackdash and Investigative Dashboard as useful tools. ‘That’s why organizations like GEN and ICFJ are so important,’ she concluded.

Keep an eye for Impact Journalism Day in September and don’t miss next year’s GEN Summit, back in Barcelona! 


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