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Editor's weekly: Beacon nominated for general excellence by Online News Association

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 30, 2010 - We were thrilled to learn Tuesday that the Beacon is a finalist in the Online News Association awards for general excellence.

Our fellow nominees in the "micro" size category are two widely respected organizations that have been around a lot longer than we -- the Center for Investigative Reporting for its California Watch project and Gotham Gazette, a New York site that focuses on public policy issues. (The Gotham Gazette won in this category last year.)

The Online News Association is the world's largest organization for online journalists, including everyone from mainstream giants to one-person operations. This breadth makes the recognition particularly gratifying. As its name implies, the general excellence category judges websites as a whole, not just one project or story, and the Beacon staff as a whole shares the honor.

This is the second year in a row we've been named a finalist. Though the Beacon didn't win last year, we were pleased to be among the top three and are thankful to be included again. Winners will be announced in October. 

The award news arrived just after I had returned from a rare opportunity to meet with a different group of online news innovators. The Block By Block conference in Chicago brought together a few dozen founders of smaller news organizations that have sprung up in recent years, usually originating as labors of love.

These hyperlocal sites meet the needs of a town, neighborhood or other small geographic unit. Often, the staff is limited to one or two, with additional content contributed by freelancers or volunteers.

The intrepid souls who run these sites seemed simultaneously satisfied with and stressed by their work. The satisfaction comes from serving the places where they live -- often places that mainstream media overlook or cover ineptly. The stress comes from the unrelenting pressure to provide content and create a workable business model at the same time.

We feel those pressures, too -- as do much larger organizations than the Beacon. But with 18 staff members and growing, the Beacon includes a variety of talents needed to tackle the challenges.

We're big enough to benefit from diversity of thought, yet small enough to innovate nimbly. We're big enough to share the workload yet small enough to feel that personal sense of commitment to the St. Louis region that hyperlocal sites feel for their communities. We know this combination has kept us energized and improved our work, and we're pleased that the ONA judges have chosen to recognize that work again this year.

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