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From the IRE Office: Awards, website change with the times

This is a season of evolution at IRE

We have rebuilt our IRE Awards categories to better reflect the ways in which news is gathered and presented. And we have launched a new website that is easier to navigate, makes it easier for you to take advantage of our resources and gives you more control over your membership. 

Why did we revamp the IRE Awards? Simple: our industry is changing and we needed to change with it. Periodically over the past three decades, the awards categories have been altered and the entry guidelines revised, as circulation and viewership trends changed and as the work of our members evolved. I can make a pretty good argument that never before has the news business changed so much in such a short period of time, as technology has 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. For example, online organizations were restricted to one category, regardless of the type of work they did or the size of the organization.

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.

After much debate, 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:

  • Print/Online text (written word) 
  • Broadcast/Video 
  • Radio/Audio 
  • Multi-platform 

And there are three size categories: small, medium and large. (For a definition of each category, see our web-site at 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 the members of the contest committee and especially 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 changed was necessary and dedicated countless hours to see it through.

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

While we were updating the contest, we completely revamped the IRE website. All the resources you count on are still available, from tipsheets and the vast story library to our unmatched data collection. Our goal was to streamline the site and make our deep reservoir of resources easier to find and use. For example, tipsheets are now linked from the home page, and a new feature lets you call up the most recent additions, so you can quickly see what’s new.

And we’ve added new services, including “story packs,” which compile the best of our resources on specific topics, helping you quickly find the best tipsheets, stories, databases and IRE Journal articles on some key topics. We’ve started with several; if there’s a topic you’d like us to add, please email Resource Center Director Lauren Grandestaff at

Our home page blog now offers all the new content we post on the site, from Extra! Extra! entries to member news, job postings and training tips. And you can still find all of those, and more, in individual blogs throughout the site.

You can also now manage your membership online, updating your specialty areas, employer, address, etc. And every member can comment on postings throughout the site. We’re hoping you’ll help us start conversations on investigative reporting.

Special thanks to IRE members Chase Davis and Matt Waite, who tackled this project through their company, Hot Type Consulting, and donated many more hours than our contract called for, and to the fine design team at Upstatement, who helped us come up with a new look and more importantly, a new way to organize and present all of the resources IRE has to offer.

Please give the new site a test run and let me know what you think. 

And stay tuned for more developments on many fronts, including exciting new projects for DocumentCloud. And be assured that as IRE works to keep pace with your changing needs, we remain focused on the goal we’ve always had — to help you do better work and make a fundamental difference in your communities and beyond.

Mark Horvit is executive director of IRE and the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

This column appears in the Fall 2011 edition of The IRE Journal (Volume 34, Number 4)

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