The Inaugural James K. Batten Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism


"...I think it's good that our people realize it's not enough to just lay out the wickedness of the world ...but that they're also asking, How can I help my community? How can I help it do a better job?"

James K. Batten
Chairman, Knight-Ridder Inc.

Well before 1989, one journalist began talking about how newspapers needed to change, to begin once again reconnecting to readers. Readers who are too busy or too isolated to care much about their communities. Readers who don't find their newspapers compelling enough to make time for them.

Jim Batten talked about how journalism could be a vital building block in revitalizing citizenship - while still maintaining its ability to tell hard truths.

"I think we need to cultivate a journalistic ethic that celebrates the magic of writers and editors and photographers and artists who are blessed with the gift of connecting - not just wafting self-indulgent messages out of the newsroom door," Batten said in a seminal speech on April 3, 1989, at the University of California, Riverside. In his remarks, he outlined much of the philosophy of what has come to be known as civic journalism.

" ... We need to challenge editorial-page editors and political editors and writers to invest new ways to make the public's important business rivetingly interesting - and much more difficult to ignore," he said.

Batten's vision helped to move forward the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, which was founded in September 1993 to foster citizenship and civic engagement by working with news organizations. He committed to work with the Pew Center in starting up civic journalism projects at 15 Knight-Ridder newspapers.

Now, several of those projects are well underway, eliciting the kinds of energetic responses from their communities that Batten envisioned. To acknowledge Batten's vision and his journalistic ideals, The Pew Charitable Trusts established an annual James K. Batten Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism.

The Trusts, in 1995, directed $25,000 a year to an awards program to recognize the most successful civic journalism initiatives. The awards program is accompanied by a symposium to educate journalists and spotlight some of the best civic journalism efforts in the country.

The first award honored Batten himself at a September 13, 1995 symposium and dinner in Washington, D.C. Jim died of a brain tumor in June of 1995. His wife, Jean, accepted the award and said it would be directed to the Foundation for the Batten Medal, which was established by Knight-Ridder editors to recognize the Knight-Ridder journalist whose work exemplifies Batten's values of journalistic integrity, excellence and concern for the community.

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