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Knight Lab Receives Digital Journalism Award

Lab honored for innovative tools that help journalists produce immersive interactive stories

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University Knight Lab recently received a $5,500 Gannett Foundation Technical Innovation in the Service of Digital Journalism Award for its widely used Publishers’ Toolbox products.

Awarded by the Online News Association, the honor recognizes the innovative ways that the five easy-to-deploy storytelling tools in the Publishers’ Toolbox are contributing to today’s highly interactive world of news.

“We develop tools that help storytellers make good narrative choices -- to tell stories with clarity and focus -- without necessarily having to learn how to write code or to be a Web developer,” said Miranda Mulligan, executive director of Knight Lab.

Knight Lab is a collaboration between the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

Faculty members of both schools work closely with students, through exploration and experimentation in the lab, to develop new storytelling technology that has been used by journalists throughout the world. 

Tyler Fisher ‘14, now a news apps developer at National Public Radio (NPR), for example, created SoundCite, one of the five tools in Publishers’ Toolbox, when he was a junior working in the Knight Lab. 

SoundCite is a simple-to-use tool that lets users add inline audio to a story for a more immersive experience. For example, a reader of a music review can both read and listen to a music clip at the same time.

Read more below about the digital tools in Publishers' Toolbox:


A widely popular tool, TimelineJS allows publishers to quickly and easily create interactive, media-rich timelines using a Google Spreadsheet.

“Over the last two and a half years, hundreds of thousands of news organizations around the world have used TimelineJS to tell the world’s most intriguing and important stories,” Mulligan said.

Examples include the Whitey Bulger trial and the Denver Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story on the Aurora theater shooting.


Also deployed by news organizations around the world, SoundCiteJS makes it easy for Web publishers and writers to use audio as a powerful device to contextualize their stories. Music reviews were the inspiration for its creation, but SoundCiteJS also can be used to give readers quick access to a speech or ambient sound. 

SoundCite is Mulligan’s favorite tool in the Publishers’ Toolbox, she said, because it represents the next generation of immersive storytelling and consumption experiences.

“By asking a reader to simultaneously read and listen, it requires more active engagement with the text seamlessly,” she added.


Developed by student fellow Alex Duner, a sophomore at Medill, JuxtaposeJS helps journalists tell stories by comparing two frames, including photos and GIFs. It is ideal for highlighting then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.). Learn more about the making of this tool.


With StoryMapJS, journalists can craft intriguing narratives in which location is a key component of the story. It allows the user to show important locations -- such as a key stop on the president’s campaign trail -- and tell the story of what happened there with rich media from, for example, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter and Wikipedia. TimelineJS and StoryMapJS work the same. Also, this tool let’s you draw a map on top of a gigapixel image to explain details in a large photograph or a piece of artwork.


TwXplorer makes a Twitter search more useful by helping users find and explore chatter about topics that interest them. It shows users the most frequent terms, links and hashtags used in tweets, and they can quickly see the focus and nature of specific discussions on Twitter.

In the last two years, Knight Lab has worked to develop a robust student fellowship program. Now in its third cohort, Knight Lab’s student fellows represent a number of different schools and programs on campus and include undergraduate, graduate and doctoral candidates.

 NPR's Fisher came to Medill wanting to be a music writer and pursued that course of study for his first two years.

“It was this experience that led me to the ideas behind SoundCite, but I could never have acted on those ideas without the support and training from Knight Lab,\" he said.

Fisher attributes his experience at Knight Lab as the likely reason he got the job as a news apps developer at NPR. 

“It is a direct extension of the work I did at Knight Lab,” he said. “Medill should be a leader in Web-native journalism, and it is, thanks to the work of Knight Lab. ”

The 2014 Online Journalism Awards (OJAs), honoring excellence in digital journalism around the world, were announced Sept. 27 at the Online News Association’s annual conference in Chicago.

Ten of the Online Journalism Awards come with a total of $52,500 in prize money, courtesy of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Gannett Foundation and the University of Florida. These awards honor data journalism, visual digital storytelling, investigative journalism, public service, technical innovation and general excellence.

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