Best Of The Web

Dragonfire_1_1 Philly's got a survivor in the Webby Awards. Drexel's Dragonfire is one of five finalists in the digital magazine category. Pretty good for an operation that isn't even a year old.

The Webbies were established in 1996 to honor design, functionality and creativity among international Internet sites. There are five finalists in more than 65 categories. There's even a Webby statuette. Here are the nominees.

"I don't know that we're doing digital journalism 100% right, but something must be working..." editor Amy L. Webb wrote this morning in an email to members of a newsgroup I belong to.

Blinq watched in July when Dragonfire took wing. We wrote:

I’m not sure what to call Dragonfire, Drexel University’s new interactive magazine/digital digest -- other than promising. While its mission is time-honored – find good stories that are not reported elsewhere – the way it expresses them is firmly 21st Century.

Its photo essay on the Italian Market is illustrated in a noisy panorama that lets you hear interviews with vendors and customers as you scroll across Ninth Street. A feature on Evolved Fighting (think kickboxing plus martial arts throwing) at a Delaware Avenue club brings to life characters like Mark "the Oaktree" Brown, who suddenly starts huffing and puffing about his unstoppable team of South Jersey lightweights as the cursor passes his photo.

Ask editor Amy. L. Webb what her new project reminds her most of, and she answers, "a kibbutz," for its funky, heartfelt sense of community. Young staffers work long, irregular hours, she says, but she can’t envision burn-out. "Dragonfire was born out of frustration,"says Webb, 30, a former Newsweek correspondent in Tokyo. For a long time, "it was hard to get news published that was not about war or the economy…. I really thought that people wanted more, or different kinds of information. We tried to create a place where people would get context."

Webb, hired in January, is the only full-time staffer. The rest are either students, moonlighting professionals or a fleet of free-lancers spread over 30 countries. One way she attracts talent is by setting no story lengths. "We’re not going to take a 10,000-word piece, obviously, unless it’s great and needs to be that long. We’re trying to give people a real chance to forget about all the formulas, templates and pre-conceived ideas. Stories should be accurate, fact-checked and copy-edited. They should answer a certain number of questions. Other than that, it is ok to use the capital I and use some color."

Dragonfire’s way of exploring Middle East conflict is by profiling forgotten foreign workers in the Gaza Strip whose lives will be changed upon Israeli’s withdrawal from 21 settlements. All stories are free. Translators are at work to make them available to readers around the world. "I don’t know if there is a market" for that, she says. "I believe information should be available to people no matter what their language is."

There's another Philly tie to the Webby finalists. The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center is partnered up with NPR's Justice Talking and the New York Times Learning Network to produce Justice Learning, a Web site that seeks to engage high school students in political discourse. It's a finalist in the "Law" category.

And how about the Toll Brothers? since those who would own the Inquirer are in the news today. The Horsham-based builders made the grade for .... "Real Estate."

Sign of the Apocalypse: In the same week that South Park wins a Peabody, The Onion shows up as a Webby finalist in "News."

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