We have rebuilt our IRE Awards categories to better reflect changes in our industry that have had great impact on the ways in which news is gathered and presented.

Over the past few years, technology has continually offered new ways to gather and present investigative work, while economic cutbacks have squeezed resources and helped encourage reporting partnerships that crossed platforms and media types. Contest judges and IRE members were finding it increasingly difficult to put many contest entries into our existing categories.

More than a year ago, the IRE Board charged the contest committee with the task of examining whether our contest should change to reflect the times. As part of that effort, we surveyed membership. You told us what elements of the contest were important to you – including entry categories that acknowledge that different organizations have different resources. Many of you also let us know that you found it frustrating to force your work into our existing categories, which weren’t designed to encompass projects in which newspapers shot video, broadcasters built multimedia websites, radio stations partnered with print organizations and online news organizations teamed up with existing media.

We’ve come up with a model that we believe not only addresses the way media operate today, but which is flexible enough to handle further evolution.

The basic concept is simple: Instead of basing categories on media type – newspaper, TV broadcaster, etc. – we are grouping entries by the nature of the work itself.

There are four categories:

  • Print/online text (written word)
  • Broadcast/video
  • Radio/audio
  • Multiplatform

And there are three size categories: small, medium and large. (For a definition of each category, see our contest page.) A large newspaper, national online-only organization or network broadcaster can enter the large “print/online text” category if the focus of the project is a written story; a Top 20 market broadcaster or midsize-circulation newspaper can enter the medium “broadcast/video” category for a video or documentary they’ve made.

Special thanks go to former board member Cheryl Phillips and current board member Lea Thompson, who enthusiastically took on this challenge and wrangled it through various stages. They passionately believed change was necessary and dedicated countless hours to see it through. Lea and Cheryl took input from membership and worked with our Contest Committee  to address all the key issues.

We believe this new model will allow us to better match projects in categories. And it’s vitally important to remember that one thing hasn’t changed: the contest’s focus on content. Judges will still focus on the reporting and the results.

As with any new model, we may need to tweak some things as we move forward. Please check out the new rules and let me know what you think at [email protected].

Mark Horvit became IRE’s executive director in January 2008.
A longtime IRE member, Horvit most recently served as projects editor at the Fort Worth Star- Telegram.