"The next category is Community Collaboration," says the emcee as we slowly sink down in our seats at the Online Journalism Awards. We're resigned to defeat against our formidable competition, which includes both CNN and Andy Carvin for his social media-infused orchestration of NPR's coverage of the Arab Spring. No way are we going to win this category.
"And the winner is ... The Tiziano Project!"
Cue music scratching to a stop. Wait. What?
I'm still processing. How did our tiny organization complete a project in Iraqi Kurdistan, with an all-volunteer team, that actually beat both CNN and NPR?
The Tiziano Project | 360º Kurdistan has been a testament to what a small organization with a good idea and a talented, dedicated team can accomplish.
We have received a Gracie for our coverage of women's issues, a Knight News Challenge grant to further develop the platform, and two Webby Award honors (we lost to National Geographic for "Best Use of Photography," a feat that I still consider a win).
But in addition to these highly regarded journalism-centric recognitions, we have now received both the Community Collaboration Award from the Online News Association and SXSW Interactive's Award for Activism.
Activism is defined as the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change -- not something that is generally associated with traditional journalism.
Where we fit in
So it brings me to question just where The Tiziano Project, whose mission is to empower local communities through journalism, fits in in the new media journalism landscape.
Does collaboration between journalists and those who have long been reported on from a distance introduce a level of activism at the core of this new paradigm?
To answer that, I think we have to consider the broader state of journalism. Reporting has for a long time had an activism component, or at least been driven by the desire to not just express, but actively promote, certain ideas -- often the ideas of those with means. Just look at Fox News.
And as the 24-hour news cycle continues its digression to a 24-second information stream, traditional media will be forced to proceed down the path of higher levels of sensationalism. The result will be that the humanistic focus of reporting will continue to suffer, as the qualifier for publication turns more and more towards driving traffic and increasing sales.
At a crossroads
So we are at an interesting crossroads in journalism at many levels.
News consumers are finding their information through non-traditional means, forcing many mainstream media organizations to over-sensationalize reporting as a means of driving traffic. This sensationalization of the news causes local stories, the ones that do not involve death tolls of economic impact (or the other 99 percent to tie it into the Occupy Wall Street headlines), to go underreported, if reported at all.
That is where The Tiziano Project comes in.
To answer the question that I posed earlier about where we fit into the new media journalism landscape, I think that the easiest and most accurate answer (albeit admittedly a bit narcissistic) is to say that we are at the bleeding edge of what the future of journalism could be.
The future of journalism is collaboration -- collaboration as a means of presenting all sides of a story and providing every individual, whether in a conflict zone or on Wall Street, with the ability to present their voice to the world.
In the most connected era of human history, it is a return to the humanization of the events surrounding us. Iraq is no longer a war thousands of miles away, but the story of a girl who is learning how to drive or the fastest go-kart racer in the country, who has no arms.
It's not that we are merging activism with journalism; in many ways, that was done long ago. What we are doing is spreading the opportunity for communities to share in the global conversation about their own societies and to help shape perceptions about the world in which they live.
If you want to help us achieve this goal, you can support The Tiziano Project here: http://www.tizianoproject.org/get-involved