Sunlight Live’s Real-Time Participation Wins $10,000 Knight-Batten Innovation Award

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sunlight Live, the Sunlight Foundation’s innovative blending of data, streaming video, liveblogging and social networking – first used at February’s bipartisan health-care summit – is this year’s $10,000 Grand Prize winner in the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.

Sunlight Live attracted nearly 43,000 viewers, 9,800 livebloggers, and more than 1,300 tweets. The judges not only honored the project for its individual merits, but also because it highlights “the ethos that suffuses the Sunlight Foundation’s entire body of work,” said NPR’s Matt Thompson, one of this year’s judges.

“They showed how to add journalistic punch to a carefully orchestrated government event, adding context and insight to the proceedings. And they don’t stop at merely shedding light on the behind-the-scenes proceedings of government – they go a step beyond to make it fun and engaging, creating a social experience around the event.”

Six other projects that coalesced collaborations to foster unique levels of digital engagement were honored with $1,000 Special Distinction Awards. “We’re beyond the ‘wow’ phase of realizing that citizens can impact journalism and we’re now into the ‘how’ phase,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the awards. “Welcome to the next chapter for online journalism.”

Honored this year are:

ProPublica’s Distributed Reporting: This investigative news site is systematizing the process of crowdsourcing, conducting experiments, polishing their process, and tasking citizens with serious assignments. Its more than 5,000 Reporting Network members have conducted spot checks on federal stimulus spending, unraveled loan modification stories, and tracked the oversight of state nursing boards, among other efforts. “This is a major step forward with how we understand crowdsourcing,” the judges said.

48 HR Magazine: In an era where most magazines go through a lavish multi-month production cycle, the 48 HR team made a spectacular 60-page magazine and online site in a weekend in May with little more than Twitter, coffee, grit and more than 1,500 submissions solicited over two weeks. The execution demonstrated the potential of citizen-generated news at high speed. “As important as the product was the work flow that they created,” the judges said.

The Obameter: St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact pioneered a new form of accountability journalism by rating the progress of 500 of President Barack Obama’s campaign promises. Citizens and journalists can easily sort and search the progress reports in a distinctive database. Readers are invited to suggest updates and ratings. “They made a game out of substance in a good way,” the judges said. “It’s tracking a story that is unfolding into the future, which is not something we do very often.”

Ushahidi HaitiLess than two hours after Haiti’s January earthquake, Ushahidi marshaled Skype, Twitter, Facebook, radio and short codes to crowdsource real-time needs. With 1,000 online volunteers translating text messages from Creole, and other volunteers mapping crisis spots, the effort had an unprecedented impact on disaster relief efforts. “They have set the bar for future mapping mashups,” the judges said.

Publish2 News Exchange: Introduced in May, this platform allows news organizations to interact directly with one another to create custom newswires and set terms for collaborating and sharing content. It moves the newswire from a traditional “hub-and-spoke” model where everything is distributed through a central place to a network of information sharing.

“This is an ambitious concept that could be genuinely disruptive of existing distribution networks,” the judges said.

Sourcing Through Texting (The Takeaway, WNYC and Public Radio International): A team from The Takeaway radio show joined journalists from WDET Detroit in a successful experiment that prompted residents to text tips about particular stories from Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. Residents texted information about trucks barreling down their side streets; in another experiment, residents sent keywords describing their neighborhood. The result: people became engaged and more informed. The experiment has continued in Miami’s Little Haiti.  “The experiment opened doors for engaging non-listeners in ways they liked,” the judges said.

This year’s winners were selected from 100 entries. You can view the winners as well as more than 30 notable entries at, The winners will be honored at a morning symposium Sept. 14 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  The event is free but you must register here.

The Knight-Batten Awards honor creative uses of new technologies to engage citizens in public issues and showcase compelling models for the future of news. They are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and administered by J-Lab, a center of American University‘s School of Communication.

 “The goal of innovation is positive change. The goal of the Knight-Batten Awards in innovation is to make the future of journalism better,” said Jose Zamora, Knight Foundation’s journalism program associate. “This round of winners brings that positive impact to journalism with new ways of collaborating and engaging citizens in the news-making process and by promoting transparency and accountability with accessible governmental data. These projects reflect why we support the Knight-Batten Awards.”

“The top projects beautifully capture today’s digital landscape,” said American University’s Amy Eisman, another judge. “We were impressed with an underlying enthusiasm; we could sense pockets of participants saying ‘let’s just try it’ — and then diving in.”

Advisory Board chairperson Jody Brannon observed, “It’s clear the news profession has a lot of smart people pushing in many ways — new interfaces, experiments with secondary devices, stretching the social sphere.”

Selecting the winners was an advisory board that included the Knight Foundation’s Jose Zamora; Jody Brannon, National Director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative; Jim Brady, General Manager,; Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director, Center for Public Integrity; Amy Eisman, Director of Writing Programs and the Graduate Weekend Interactive Journalism Program, American University School of Communication; Gary Kebbel, Dean and Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, College of Journalism and Mass Communications; Matt Thompson, Editorial Product Manager, NPR; Jose Antonio Vargas, Senior Contributing Editor, The Huffington Post; Amy Webb, CEO and Principal Consultant, webbmedia LLC; Kinsey Wilson, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Digital Media, NPR; and J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer.

About Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit

About J-Lab
J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network ( and, the New Voices community media grant program ( and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (

Jan Schaffer
Andrew Pergam