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Navigating the ‘Political’ Web

Navigating the ‘Political’ Web
USC professor Robert Scheer

The Webby Awards has named Truthdig, a website co-founded by Robert Scheer, communication professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, and alumna Zuade Kaufman MA ’05, the best political blog for the second consecutive year.

Truthdig’s competition consisted of four widely read sites: The New Yorker‘s Close Read, Comedy Central’s Indecision, TheAtlantic.com’s Politics and The Huffington Post.

“We’re taking the standards of old media and applying them to the Internet,” Scheer said. “We have traditional standards of fairness, accuracy and fact-checking. That’s unusual for the Internet, where most people are flying by the seat of their pants.”

The Webby Awards, hailed as the “Oscars of the Internet” by The New York Times, is the leading international honor for excellence on the Internet, including websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile sites.

“This year’s Webby Winners exemplify the type of profound effect the Internet is having on popular culture and the world at large,” said David-Michel Davies, executive director of the awards. “From Arcade Fire’s reinvention of the music video format with The Wilderness Downtown, or The New York Times coverage of revolution in Egypt and the Middle East, the Internet is the driving force of change in the world today.”

Since 2007, Truthdig has won a total of four Webby Awards.

“I think it speaks to the quality of our product,” Kaufman said about Truthdig’s multiple Webby Awards. “The judges have recognized the importance of the journalism we do. We’re serious in our approach to journalism and about keeping an independent voice.”

Scheer said Truthdig gives its writers the opportunity to be independent. He pointed to a time earlier this year when columnist Chris Hedges wrote an article criticizing Arianna Huffington for selling her Huffington Post. Scheer then wrote his own column in which he said Hedges “missed the point.”

“Our model of journalism is what I like to call a ‘condominium model,’ ” Scheer said. “If we decide to hire somebody like Chris Hedges or Bill Boyarsky or Marc Cooper, we let them decorate their condominium however they want. We’re not going to let them be libelous or homophobic or racist – there are limits – but within those restraints we’re not going to tell them their opinions are wrong.”

In addition to Scheer, who serves as editor-in-chief, and Kaufman, who is the publisher, other USC Annenberg contributors to the Truthdig team include managing editor Peter Scheer ’04; associate editor Kasia Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate; editorial assistant John Cheney-Lippold PhD ’11; contributor Joshua Scheer ’03; Web designer/developer Kassandra Zuanich ’09; contributor Larry Gross, director of the School of Communication; contributor Marc Cooper, journalism professor; contributor Sandy Tolan, journalism professor; and contributor Jon Dillingham MA ’11.

Dillingham, who came to USC Annenberg after spending five years at a newspaper in Vietnam, said editorial neutrality is what sets Truthdig apart from other news organizations.

“The editors have really trusted me to write about topics I find interesting,” he said. “The journalism model at Truthdig is working.”

Winners will be honored at the 15th annual Webby Gala at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York on June 13.

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