The Walkleys are introducing an award for innovation in journalism. Here’s why.

Innovation is a vital part of our mission at the Walkleys. We talk about it a lot — including through our training, our Storyology programming, our hack days and our incubator program.

As we reviewed the Walkley Awards recently, it seemed obvious that we should consider innovation in storytelling. Journalism is changing so fast. And encouraging experimentation in this change is such a big part of what we do at the Walkleys. The awards need to reflect that. At the same time, we must also recognise the value of journalistic practices and traditions that are as vitally needed today as ever — like great storytelling, accuracy, and robust ethics.

It’s a balance.

In 2013, the last time we reviewed the Walkleys, a lot of the new stuff was in how journalists were mixing media. It was the year of Snowfall, to give you an idea. Thus we introduced a multimedia category starting in 2013.

But by last year — see how fast everything’s moving? — it had become a catch-all for some very different projects. Last year’s finalists included both the Guardian’s investigative visualisation of reports from detention centres, and SBS’s interactive story of reviving an Aboriginal language.

Over the past several months, we’ve conducted a review of both our Young Journalist awards as well as the Walkleys. What we heard from journalists across Australia, young and old, broadcast or online, new media or legacy, reinforced what we have learned from programming Storyology and running our innovation program. Multimedia is now woven throughout journalism. We heard this a lot through the review:

“Digital is just everything now. It doesn’t need its own category…The platform is redundant.”

— Executive at a public broadcaster.

“Multimedia should be baked into the all-media categories.”

— Fairfax Media editorial executive

“In breaking news or longform, the journalists who are thinking of creative ideas whether on their feet or tactically … (are) showing some enterprise and creativity and thinking on behalf of the reader/viewer. That’s what keeps journalism relevant, new, surprising. That could be the direction you take in an interview, or dreaming up a new series. As a unifying thread, enterprise and being willing to take some risks is a good thing to recognise.”

— Senior business journalist

The Walkley Awards are wide open to everything digital, across categories. We don’t want the people making medium-pushing work to feel like there’s only one category for them.

At the same time, we want to recognise outstanding experiments with a new Innovation category. Here’s how we’ve defined it:

This category recognises journalism that pushes the craft forward in innovative and creative ways, while also honouring the skills in getting and telling a great story. Entrants are encouraged to enter journalism which explores new techniques for news-gathering and distribution, new formats for consumption, new modes of audience interaction, experiments, technology or new products. “Innovation” could also involve clever use of more “traditional” news-gathering and storytelling techniques (e.g. successfully using FOI or data journalism in a new, creative way). Entrants can link to a single project and are encouraged to explain how their project is innovative in their entry statement.

We are approaching this category with the view that it should be as broad as possible. It is distinct from other award categories in that the entry is not necessarily a story (or body of work of up to three stories). We see it as an award that can be won for anything: from a new app, to a newspaper campaign done in a different way, to a different radio format.

What kinds of entries are we looking for?

Well, innovation is one of those things you know when you see it. For that reason, it’s hard to say what it might look like in a few months’ time. But here are some examples from our experience with our innovation program and hackathon and around the world, as well as a few made-up hypotheticals.

Newsgathering techniques. At our recent Editors Lab, the Storyful team created a tool to identify high-value Twitter accounts in a geographical region. At the previous one, the West Australian team made an internal newsroom map that layered newsroom resources (like where photographers were) with the locations of crimes reported in real time.

Formats. A way to tell complex, multi-part stories on mobile — or Alexa or Google Home. News Corp’s Editors Lab team’s project layering interactive stories into Google Earth.

Audience engagement experiments. A series published only via email. Or postcards. A new way to drive tips on investigations. A way to solve the first contact problem for whistleblowers, like ABC team’s winning 2017 Editors Lab hack. A way to get engagement from podcast listeners, like Radiolab’s Cicada Tracker.

Products. A Facebook Messenger app that helps people be less apathetic about the news, like the Sydney Morning Herald’s recent Editors Lab hack. A data-and-reporting-driven app that helps consumers buy smarter.

Data journalism. An innovative use of social science methods for journalism (like the Phillip Meyer Awards in the US). A project using data visualisation — not just as a shiny pretty thing, but in a way that deepens engagement or understanding.

Finally, here are a few subjective signs that your project walks like an innovation kind of duck.

  • You prep how you’ll sell your editor/EP on it because you worry he or she will think it’s too newfangled.
  • You have to bring in someone in with a new skillset — whether artist, technologist or chef.
  • You’re honestly unsure how it will be received, even if you normally have a pretty good sense of such things.
  • You have trouble finding templates for how to do what you’re doing, and you have the weird feeling that you’re just making things up as you go.
  • You have to use new metrics to measure the project’s success.

Our hope is that with this new award, we incentivise and encourage journalistic risk-taking, by celebrating the innovators on the same level as those using more traditional methods to produce great journalism.

Good luck to the innovators. We can’t wait to see what you enter.


See what else has changed in the Walkley Awards this year (link to other post).

Go to the main Walkley Awards page ADD LINK

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