South Florida Society of Professional Journalists' Sunshine State awards draws attention to connection between new and traditional media
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06/09/11 Dawn Morgan Elliott
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Changing technology and a bad economy have led to newsroom layoffs, and sent waves of uncertainty throughout the journalism industry.

A direct result can be seen this month as the South Florida Society of Professional Journalists holds an awards contest honoring journalists, bloggers and those in between.

Robert Steele is Director of The Prindle Institute for Ethics and a distinguished professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

He also serves as the Nelson Poynter scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, a school for journalists.

"The purpose of journalism and the primary obligation is to pursue that truth and to report as fully and as accurately and as quickly as possible."

But in these days of quickly changing technology, the lines of journalism have blurred. Those winds of change have jumbled up everything, even journalism awards. South Florida Society of Professional Journalism president Michael Koretzky:

"In the past it’s been pretty simple, right? Best Investigative News Story. I don’t need to give a judge any extra instructions, pick the one that’s the most investigative. User Generated Content? Think they need a couple of more rules than whatever you think flies because we haven’t even defined the category yet."

The Society of Professional Journalists is a nationwide organization for journalists. Every year the South Florida Chapter honors the best reporting from around the state with The Sunshine State Awards.

But this year’s awards have the new South Florida chapter president perplexed. For example, take the Broward Bulldog. It’s a finalist for the Civil Law Reporting category.

But, Koretzky points out, the Bulldog is online only.

"The other finalists for that are the Associated Press and the South Florida Business Journal. The Broward Bulldog is a website. It’s run by a bunch of ex-reporters that took a buyout or got laid off from the Herald, and the Sentinel, and the Post, all the big newspapers here. Why didn’t they enter under blog? They’re entering under a regular category and they’re a finalist. It didn’t matter that they don’t have a print product, they did damn good journalism."

Pitting bloggers vs. journalists is a fight almost as old as the internet, but Poynter’s Robert Steele says it seems to hover over the vanishing business model of newspapers and shrinking newsrooms.

"Within the last five years in particular, the economic models of American journalism have shattered. And the technological changes have been exponential in both the ways that journalists gather and process the news, as well as the way that journalists disseminate news stories. At the same time you have lots of other individuals who are quasi-journalists or not really journalists but information providers putting forth lots of information in this digital arena."

Fifty-year-old Curtis Ross is the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune*. He was just a couple of years into his journalism career when he began working for the Tribune in 1987. Back then there were word processors with black screens and green blinking lights.

"Obviously the one thing that newspapers could never compete with TV with over the years is immediacy. And now that we’re more connected to the internet product, it does give us the chance for a little more immediacy."

Ross has seen a lot of coworkers and friends leave the newspaper industry because their jobs have disappeared. He says his writing and reporting has also been affected.

Ross writes a column called Liner Notes for the paper every Friday. He also posts shorter articles to a blog by the same name.

"Less and less of it seems to be going into print and more and more of it seems to be going online. And it’s a matter of finding an audience out there, which is the tough part for anybody. People who get the paper may or may not read what I write, but when I’m on the internet, I’m just one of millions of other people out there with a byline and a little corner of the internet to try to attract people to."

Catherine Durkin Robinson was a high school teacher whose students challenged her to turn her love for writing into action. So in 2005 she started a politically left-leaning blog called Out in Left Field.

"I’m writing about social issues sometimes. A lot of times I’m writing about myself."

Though no longer a teacher, Durkin Robinson still has a day job, and she aspires to write for a living. She supplements her income writing for outlets in Tampa and beyond.

"For the Trib, I write about getting older and all the wacky things that happen.For Creative Loafing and other outlets, I write about parenting."

Durkin Robinson’s columns in the weekly Creative Loafing have been nominated in the Humorous Commentary category.

"I’ve had a lot of people write to me and call me, and be very angry with me and say I’m a journalist, I’m supposed to be unbiased. And I have to explain to them, I’m not a journalist, I’m a writer."

So until categories find solid ground again, ethics professor Steele suggests that good work will stand for itself:

"I think one way to address this is to talk about journalism and define journalism rather than to get bogged down into fighting about who is a journalist."

The 17th Annual Sunshine State Awards will be held June 11 in Hollywood, FL.

*after this story was filed, Curtis Ross was let go by the Tampa Tribune.

South Florida Society of Professional Journalists

Poynter Institute

Broward Bulldog

Liner Notes

Out in Left Field

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