Georgia News Lab wins Challenge Fund Grand Prize

Online News Association (ONA) announced Georgia News Lab (GNL) as the recipient of the $65,000 Challenge Fund Grand Prize for Innovation in Journalism Education at their annual conference, according to a press release on Sept. 24.

GNL is an investigative journalism joint program comprised of students from Georgia State, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and The University of Georgia, along with media outlets Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV.

Director of GNL David Armstrong said on behalf of the lab that they are proud to receive this award, and grateful to ONA and supporters of the Challenge Fund Program, according to the press release.

“We look to this award for support, and affirmation, with the hope others will preserve the investigative component in their communities,” he said.

The lab’s winning entry was an investigative series that led to a state ethics commission investigation into a program that squandered millions of dollars from federal HIV grants, according to the ONA website.

The Challenge Fund was created to encourage partnership within universities and professional media outlets, and is funded by several organizations, including the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and Cox Media Group, according to the press release.

Former Georgia News Lab student Leah Jordan said GNL is deserving of its recent win and hopes funds like the Challenge Fund Prize will help further the lab’s efforts.

I think the contest is a wonderful way to encourage professors and other journalism professionals at the educational level to keep creating groundbreaking initiatives,” she said.

Armstrong said the funding GNL receives, including the recently awarded Challenge Fund Grand Prize, covers a variety of investigative tools, such as student reporter travel costs, commercial databases, personnel costs and open records requests.

Armstrong also said the lab has the assistance of investigative journalist, Corey Johnson, who helps students hone their skills.

“The students bring their passion and work ethic to the project, and we use that to maximize their efforts. The reward is they get to do great work and tell great stories,” he said.

Adjoa Danso, Georgia State graduate communication major and current GNL student, said she believes the award is well deserved and hopes the funding will expand the program.

“Hopefully people outside Atlanta will take note of the program and students who have participated,” she said. “It really sets the precedent you can be a student journalist and produce incredible work.”

Under Armstrong’s leadership, Jordan said GNL students have what they need to create great journalism.

And that is exactly what everyone has come to expect from Georgia News Lab throughout the last year: groundbreaking journalism,” she said.

Armstrong said GNL partners WSB and AJC see this program as an investment in finding diverse reporters.

“They do this for students who want to help them create stories. Everybody contributes, everybody wins,” he said.

Jared Loggins, former Georgia News Lab student, said he thinks the award is fantastic, because it reaffirms Armstrong’s intentions in creating the lab.

“I think it’s a testament to the core commitment, which is opening doors in journalism for underrepresented groups,” he said.

GNL was one of 24 finalists for the Competitive Fund Grand Prize, selected from nearly 200 applicants over a two year period, according to the ONA website.