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Sunlight Foundation Wins Award for Contextualizing Live Streams

The Sunlight Foundation’s Sunlight Live project, which covers legislative proceedings and other political events in real time, is the winner of this year’s $10,000 Grand Prize of the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.

Sunlight Live is a pretty interesting take on live streaming politics online: The project takes existing live video feeds and contextualizes them with a widget displaying background information in real time as well as a live blog and a Twitter feed (check out the embedded video below for details).

One of the most recent use cases was last Friday’s GOP meeting with various lobbyists, which the party had dubbed America Speaking Out. Sunlight shed a little more light on who exactly was speaking out by displaying biographies as well as current involvement and donations of these lobbyists.

Sunlight spokesperson Gabriela Schneider said via phone that it has been a big challenge for Sunlight Live to actually get live feeds of various meetings. The GOP meeting, for instance, was meant to be a closed-door conversation, but the party eventually gave in and broadcasted it live on Ustream. Schneider also called the project “pretty labor-intensive,” with a number of researchers preparing contextual bits and pieces before events start, and live bloggers following the stream, curating the widget feed and monitoring social media for reactions and questions from viewers.

Sunlight Live premiered during the Health Care Summit in February. “We weren’t sure what the turnout would be like,” said Schneider, but close to 43,000 viewers ended up tuning in. That helped to validate the concept, and Sunlight Live has since been used to cover a number of events, including the recent conference committee proceedings on the Financial Reform Bill. “The biggest challenge is to make these speeches interesting,” Schneider said.

The foundation plans to improve Sunlight Live by automatizing the context widget so it can pull in infographics and simple charts more quickly. It also has plans to team up with media organizations for these types of events, something that it already tried with last week’s GOP meeting, with National Journal reporter Bara Vaida adding to the live blog. The audience seemed to appreciate the mix of live blogging and researched context: Sunlight Live made up for 70 to 75 percent of the meeting’s online audience, according to the foundation’s blog.

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