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Capturing One of Online Journalism's Most Prestigious Honors

Knight News Lab project uses technology to enhance election news coverage

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October 8, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Knight News Innovation Lab -- a collaboration of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science -- recently was awarded one of online journalism’s most prestigious honors.

The award from the Online News Association -- the world’s largest group of online journalists -- was for Congressional Primaries 2012, a suite of technological tools that helped Illinois news organizations broaden their political coverage after redistricting left many state residents unfamiliar with the primary candidates in their districts.

The project -- adopted by more than a dozen newspapers, broadcast outlets and community sites -- created comprehensive profiles of candidates running in the state’s 18 congressional primaries by automatically tracking publicly available information including campaign finance information and social media activity on Twitter and Facebook.

“There are too many candidates in too many elections for the shrinking pool of professional journalists to cover every race,” said Jeremy Gilbert, the Medill assistant professor who led the design phase of the project. “We needed to develop digital, scalable tools to automatically cover these races.”

Gilbert co-teaches an unusual media “innovations” class that brings Northwestern journalism and engineering students together to design and build innovative tools that will enhance news creation, consumption and distribution.

The Congressional Primaries project team included Medill graduate Katie Park; McCormick and Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music graduate Cary Lee; McCormick doctoral students Shawn O’Banion and Patrick McNally; and Knight News Innovation Lab developers Jenny Wilson and Scott Bradley. Former Knight lab executive director Michael Silver headed the project.