Under the roof at the Bali Hai’s newly remodeled patio, journalists of all walks from across San Diego gathered to honor the best work of the past year at the San Diego SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism Awards on the evening of June 25.
Before the night’s awards were handed out, guests enjoyed a Polynesian buffet dinner and had the opportunity to listen to guest speaker Jim Brady, media consultant and former executive editor of washingtonpost.com.
Brady spoke from his experience in helping launch The Washington Post’s news site and gave some wise insight to the future of journalism. First and foremost, he said, “washingtonpost.com can’t be content to just be on the Web, but be of the Web.”
Too often, he said, newspapers treat their Web sites as a second thought when they should be using it as an opportunity and a place to experiment. The Washington Post, for example, trained newsroom staff on how to shoot video so that regular reporters, not just trained videographers, could add video to their stories. The videos, Brady said, could be yet another way to tell a story, something that journalists do best.
Brady said one of his favorite uses of video by washingtonpost.com was when the paper shot video of a top professional musician dressed as a regular Joe, playing a $3 million violin on a street corner, capturing the reactions of passersby. The Post columnist who wrote about the experiment – which was intended to find out whether people noticed beauty in their midst – included embedded links to the video throughout his column.
Brady said he wanted to make the site the “ATM of information” through use of databases. He said washingtonpost.com provides online access to databases of everything from votes cast by legislators to home sales and crime reports, and he said most newspapers could do the same with the information they routinely gather.
“There is an amazing amount of data that newspapers gather,” Brady said. “Database journalism is not that hard to produce if you find a good technical person.”
In what might have been an unpopular statement with some awards guests, Brady said he wasn’t so sure about the future of newspapers in their current form.
“The journalism we produce is essential to democracy, but I’m very worried about the state of newspapers,” Brady said. “Newspapers provide a very valuable general interest
product, but the Web is a niche media.”
He added that he doesn’t believe young people are anti-newspaper, but are pro-Web – accustomed to finding information tailored to their interests quickly online whenever they want.
“Newspapers have to stop reliving the past,” Brady said. “We have to take more risks. We have to experiment with more forms of journalism. If we’re not going to take chances now, when are we going to do it?”
The future of journalism was represented by the first group of award winners – student newspaper staff and adviser of the Fallbrook High School’s Tomahawk, who were awarded the Tom Adler High School Journalism Award. SPJ partnered with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties to present the new annual award, which has been established to honor a high school newspaper that has shown, through its publication, a dedication to the cause of civil liberties.
ACLU legal director David Blair-Loy presented the award, which honors the Tomahawk staff and adviser for their challenge to the school principal’s censorship of two articles deemed too controversial for publication. When the adviser questioned the censorship, the school canceled the newspaper’s for-credit status and removed the faculty adviser. The ACLU represents the staff and adviser in a suit against the school district and principal, seeking reinstatement of the journalism class and adviser.
Following presentation of the Tom Adler High School Journalism Award, emcees Ken Kramer, former NBC 7/39 reporter, and Jane Clifford, former family editor for the Union-Tribune, took over for the presentation of the remainder of the awards. The emcees peppered witty remarks throughout the rest of the evening as they handed out awards for college media, newspaper design, magazines, online, radio, television, and news reporting, both daily and non-daily.
SPJ is pleased with the great response it has received from the night’s guests and looks forward to next year’s banquet. SPJ also wants to give a special thanks to Joe Guerin and Hank Crook, who served as awards contest coordinators, and to Lori Weisberg, the banquet coordinator.