It's easy to get discouraged about the state of journalism, with rampant cutbacks at traditional news organizations, the elusiveness of a business model for a vibrant future and the obsession with such topics as a fringe minister threatening to burn a Koran.
But it's important not to lose sight of all the exciting innovation that is also part of the landscape.
A good place to focus on the positive was the 2010 Knight-Batten Symposium at the Newseum Tuesday, held to honor the work of the winners of the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. The contest is honchoed by J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism.
Thanks to the power of the Internet, a new entrepreneurial spirit sprung from the travails of legacy media and a commitment to transparency and accountability, impressive new ventures are coming to the fore.
Take PolitiFact's Obameter, which tracks whether President Barack Obama has kept the hundreds and hundreds of promises he made while running for office. PolitiFact, a St. Petersburg Times venture, uses old-school shoe-leather reporting to see how the president has followed up, then reaches a verdict and displays it in a graphically engaging way. No "he said, she said" allowed.
Or Sunlight Live, which tapped the capabilities of the Internet to essentially fact-check in real time the health care summit last February.
One of the most impressive among a first-class crop of winners was Ushahidi Haiti, which used crowdsourcing to pinpoint the locations of people who needed help after the massive earthquake in Haiti in January. The initiative solicited text messages, e-mails, tweets — you name it — from people on the scene. The mapping that resulted was invaluable for rescue workers.
Another winner, Longshot Magazine, took a back to the future approach. It used digital tools (thank you, Twitter) to assemble a print — yes, print — magazine in 48 hours. (It was originally called 48 HR until CBS' lawyers, citing trademark concerns about the network's "48 Hours" program, started throwing their weight around.)
The event's keynote speaker was David Carr, the New York Times' excellent media and culture writer. Carr rightly is concerned about the long-term economic challenges journalism faces. But he's clearly energized by all of the cool possibilities that were simply unimaginable in the much-lamented glory days.