The Online Journalism Awards rounded out ONA23, the Online News Association’s yearly conference that brings together journalists from across the country and world. The award ceremony was hosted Saturday night at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown and streamed live online.
Philadelphia native and previous OJA winner Gene Demby, host and founding member of NPR’s award winning “Code Switch” podcast, hosted this year’s banquet and ceremony.
Mandy Jenkins, who died in February 2023 after four years of cancer treatment, was posthumously honored with this year’s Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award. Jenkins was recognized for her legacy with and years-long dedication to ONA. She was fondly remembered “as the type of person who moved in the world without pretense and made each person feel valued and seen.”
Jim Brady, friend of Jenkins and vice president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, presented the award to her husband, Ben Fisher. Fisher then announced a Mandy Jenkins Memorial Scholarship to aid students at her alma mater, Kent State University.
Six of the 23 categories of awards were announced live tonight: General Excellence in Online Journalism, Knight Award for Public Service, Gather Award in Community-Centered Journalism, The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism, Topical Reporting: Climate Change and Topical Reporting: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity. The others were announced online prior to the conference.
Four special awards were brought back to the live ceremony this year — the Impact Award, James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting, ONA Community Award and Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award.
Topical Reporting: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity
Undark’s “Long Division: The Persistence of Race Science,” took home the award for the small newsroom category for its “visually striking, engaging, interesting critique systemic issues.” In the medium newsroom category, the winner was Southern California Public Radio for the “K-Pop Dreaming” podcast. For large newsroom, the winner was Insider, Inc. for “Deaths in the Family.” This was the first year for the Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity honors.
Gather Award in Community-Centered Journalism
The University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center sponsored this award for the fifth consecutive year. Andrew DeVigal, director of the center, presented the award.
Borderless Magazine took home the award for Overall Excellence for Micro/Small newsrooms for “How Borderless used field canvassers to reach Spanish speakers.” The work was praised by the judges for its “on the ground practicality.” In the Medium/Large newsrooms category, ProPublica, Oregon Public Broadcasting and NBC News won for “ProPublica Portfolio: Collecting the Receipts Communities Can Use” in the Medium/Large newsroom category.
“We set out with this project to do what many haven’t been able to do, which is work with indigenous communities to identify problems, investigate them and ensure that that information is useful,” said Dan Petty.
Topical Reporting: Climate Change
This award honors excellent online journalism coverage of the impacts of climate change.
“It is one of the most important issues facing our planet today,” Imaeyen Ibanga, ONA board member, who presented the award, said.
NPR won for “Climate, migration and the far-right: How the ripples of climate change are radiating outward.” NPR was praised for how they “took a complex issue and broke it down through the people directly impacted.” NPR was unable to attend in-person to accept the award.
Knight Award for Public Service
“The award recognizes journalism that performs a public service for a defined and specific community through compelling coverage of a vital issue or events” said Diane Lu, who presented the award on behalf of the Knight-Lenfest News Transformation Fund.
Argentina’s La Nacion took home the award for “Where are they? What happened to the 5000 missing women that the State does not know how to look for?” Judges praised the piece for its emotional impact.
James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting
Finbarr O’Reilly received this year’s James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting, which “honors a digital journalist who produces excellent reporting under the most challenging conditions, covering war, corruption, crime, culture and politics in countries around the world,” according to the ONA website. He was selected for his skill as a photojournalist and visual storyteller, his leadership in handling the difficulties of covering conflict and his mentorship, advocacy and training efforts.
O’Reilly spoke on the danger that journalists currently face, especially local journalists who are arrested or even executed by their own governments.
“Collectively, as a community of storytellers, we hold the power to make some difference,” O’Reilly said.
Diane Foley, founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, presented the award. The foundation was founded in honor of James Foley, who was executed in the course of his work.
ONA Community Award
Siri Carpenter was the recipient of this year’s ONA Community Award. Carpenter is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Open Notebook, a nonprofit organization focused on helping journalists improve their coverage of science, health, technology and the environment. Science journalism is “a notoriously complex area that’s challenging to make connections with the audience,” said Ibanga, who presented the award.
“Building community is core to our values at The Open Notebook,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter emphasized the importance of and growing need for this work, because “science is part of every story.”
“All journalists need science journalism skills, especially because the challenges we face in covering science are becoming more complex,” she said.
This year’s Impact Award went to Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes, co-founders and co-executive directors of Resolve Philly, a nonprofit organization that fosters innovation and collaboration in journalism. Together, they have facilitated the launch of multiple award-winning initiatives, consulted with dozens of news organizations and catalyzed over $10 million toward Resolve Philly’s mission, according to ONA. The award came in close proximity to Haynes stepping down as co-executive director.
Ashley Alvarado, Vice President of Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives for Southern California Public Radio, presented the award, which recognizes “trailblazers whose work in digital journalism and dedication to innovation exhibits substantial impact on the industry.”
“We want to acknowledge and celebrate those out there who are doing things that raise eyebrows,” Haynes said.
The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism
This award was presented by Harrison Hove, Interim Director of the Innovation News Center at The University of Florida. OJA23 was the award’s 10th anniversary. Each winner received $7500 in prize money.
ProPublica took home the award for the small/medium newsroom category for “Roots of an Outbreak.” The judges described the piece as “an ambitious and illuminating project with elegant design and interactivity easily explaining a complex problem.”
In the large newsroom category, The Washington Post won for “Black Out,” a four-part series which explored the experience of Black NFL coaches in comparison with their peers. The project was a “collaboration across the Post newsroom to tell stories in new and innovative ways,” said Courtney Kan, Senior Projects Editor at the Washington Post.
General Excellence in Online Journalism
The final award of the night recognized “the best of the best” who produce high quality work, show strong journalistic standards and effectively serve their audiences.
Winners received $5000 each. The award was presented by Rich Jaroslovsky, Vice President for Content and Chief Journalist at SmartNews Inc.
“As one of the founding members [of ONA], it’s incredibly exciting to see the enthusiasm, the passion of the new generations of journalists who are taking our mission in the future,” Jaroslovsky said.
The Pudding, who were unable to accept the award in person, won the award for micro newsrooms. The judges noted the site’s use of “creativity and technology to address deep topics but to do so in a fun and remarkably accessible way”
For the small newsroom category, Honolulu Civil Beat took home the award. Judges noted the organization’s “ability to find ways to reach, listen to and engage [their] audience effectively.” Multiple members were unable to attend due to the recent Maui wildfires.
The Marshall Project won for the medium newsroom category. Their work was described as a “true public service” with “audio and visuals that elevate stories and provide important context about complicated subjects.”
Last but not least, the award for large newsroom went to The Washington Post for their “world-class storytelling” and “state-of-the-art journalism that challenges beliefs and whose influence will be felt for years to come.”
The awards came with a total $57,000 prize money from The University of Florida College of Journalism and Mass Communications, 3M, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Journalism Center, McKinsey Publishing, SmartNews and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Some awards were broken up into categories based on newsroom size: 15 or fewer employees (micro), 16-50 employees (small), 51-250 employees (medium) and more than 250 employees (large).
ONA was founded in 1999 and the OJAs were launched in May 2000, prior to the first ONA conference in December of that year. This year’s awards honored 194 finalists across 23 categories, determined by 245 screeners. Multiple ONA board members spoke and presented at the ceremony, as well as a representative from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, who sponsored the banquet.