Like many journalists, I crave external validation, so the other day I was idly browsing the Walkley Awards website and fantasising about entering.

Since I write largely for online media, I gravitated to the online category, but I had the disheartening realisation that, according to the Walkey Foundation’s criteria, I am basically a print journalist working online. I write features, and the feature writing category is explicitly only for newspapers and magazines. I also write opinion and analysis, but I doubt I’m enough of a “senior journalist” to enter that category.

The Walkley Award for online journalism “recognises original, courageous and ethical journalism in the evolving online field”. The judging criteria emphasise “innovative techniques in news gathering and presentation including interactives, multimedia, audio, video, animation and live interaction, crowdsourcing and modes of distribution”.

So it seems to me that winning an online Walkey requires the creation of a complex web of multimedia elements that scrutinise a single issue from a variety of angles.

The finalists in this category tend to be the online arms of major newspaper organisations. No independent, web-only organisations were finalists last year (yuh-huh, not even Crikey! I know). Without wanting to sketch any conspiracies, this situation definitely raises questions about resourcing levels, and about how even online-native content might still be considered not “onliney” enough.

“Obviously as this media evolves then these sorts of things will be taken into consideration,” Walkley Foundation deputy director Mary Cotter explained patiently to Crikey.

“The online category encompasses all forms of online journalism — features, audio, video,” Cotter says. “It was only introduced last year, so [its remit is] very hard to gauge.”

As I tell my online journalism students at Monash University, a clear difference between online and offline journalism lies in the former’s emphasis on interactivity and multimedia. But online journalism is also developing its own modes of practice — for good and bad. Headlines are crafted for SEO and for lurid clickability. Online communities can speak to and for each other, detaching from finding the news-value in offline events. Stories can become self-referential yarns that speak most eloquently about how much time journos spend monitoring online social media.

As I’ve written before in Crikey, discussions of “quality” in online journalism tend to focus on lofty public-trust projects while the nuts-and-bolts issues go unnoticed. Here I’m talking about ethics, sourcing practices, and the “publish now, edit later” school of subbing and fact checking.

The Walkley Foundation’s guidelines for its online award are certainly in line with those of the US National Press Foundation’s Excellence In Online Journalism Award. It aims “to recognise achievement in the rapidly changing field of internet journalism, and encourage others through the winner’s example”. Winners tend to be collaborative journalism hubs rather than projects by individual mastheads, although’s site redesign won the 2006 award.

The international Online Journalism Awards, however, are far more incisive and perhaps point a way forward for the Walkleys. Run jointly by the Online News Association and the University of Miami’s School of Communication, the OJAs have eight categories governing online subspecialties such as technical innovation, topical or beat reporting, online video journalism and investigative reporting. The newest category, “Outstanding Use of Emerging Platforms”, involves the use of smartphones, e-readers and tablets.

Perhaps the Walkley Award similarly needs to reflect innovation in form, reward a commitment to ethics and production quality within online journalism’s commercial realities.

Will last year’s proliferation of opinion and analysis sites affect this year’s field? Will Twitter-led stories get an edge? Will an organisation win for its innovative iPad and iPhone apps? Will paywalls create better delineation between “print-content-published-online” and the online-native content that wins Walkleys?

“[All the categories] evolve over time,” says Cotter. “I’ll be interested to see how it develops.”

Meanwhile, I’ll be entering.