Bad Chicken, Good Awards

society of professional journalistsI have to say that the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists served bad chicken at its recent awards dinner. But the award winners were great, and they offered fresh evidence that, nonprofit media are growing in influence as commercial news organizations continue to flounder. It reflects what I call the Little Media-Big Media phenomenon.

Of course, some of the mainstays of Bay Area journalism claimed top awards. The San Francisco Chronicle and KCBS radio were honored for spot coverage of the PG&E gas pipeline explosion in 2010, and the Chronicle’s Jaxon Van Derbeken was named “Journalist of the Year” for his dogged investigation into the causes of the disaster that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno.

But take note: Nonprofit news organizations and their contributors captured fully half of the 40 awards. Some went to longtime members of the Bay Area journalism family: KQED Public Media claimed five awards for explanatory journalism and feature storytelling in radio and in television; the Center for Investigative Reporting, the oldest nonprofit investigative unit in the nation, claimed two awards, both for the foundation-supported California Watch project; and Mother Jones magazine, also a longtime muckraker, picked up three awards.

I was pleased to see laurels for some newer or less well-known players. Two of my favorites: The little-neighborhood-newspaper-that-could, Central City Extra, which has been reporting on the SRO and homeless community in San Francisco’s downtown districts for more than a decade, was named winner of the community journalism award. And a homegrown Web-only start-up, Oakland Local, was honored for its multimedia coverage of arts and culture. Both of these are examples of the power of Little Media–news outlets that may not be large, but play close to the home and heart. I think they will grow in popularity and influence because they are so connected to their communities. It also explains why ethnic media remain strong. (For more on this topic, see my recent essay in the National Civic Review Journal, “A Growing Time for Little Media.” Download PDF.)

In the era of Craigslist and Amazon, for-profit journalism has become such a dicey proposition that the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle plan to turn 901 Mission into housing, shops and offices. Therefore, I’m jazzed to see nonprofits turn out great journalism—despite the odds stacked against them—and get some well-deserved peer recognition.

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