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Best of Gannett 2012: Asbury Park, Springfield and Fort Collins Top Public Service Honors While Watchdog Work Thrives Company-Wide

The Asbury Park Press, Springfield-News Leader and Fort Collins Coloradoan won top public service honors in the 2012 Best of Gannett competition, which for the 36th year recognized the top journalism done in U.S. Community Publishing.

Asbury Park and Fort Collins both turned coverage of natural disasters into community leadership moments, in which they helped residents prepare for and recover from the devastating effects of hurricane, flood and fire. Springfield’s ongoing initiative to document and reverse child poverty in the Ozark Mountains caused numerous judges to remark that it shows how much a single news organization can do to set the agenda and fight for positive change in a community.

Overall, The Arizona Republic (five citations) and Detroit Free Press (four) led Division I. The Poughkeepsie Journal (five), The Burlington Free Press and Springfield (four each) topped Division II. And Fort Collins (four) set the standard in Division III, with the Home News Tribune at East Brunswick and The News-Star at Monroe each earning three awards. Among Design Studios, Asbury Park led with two.

Eight top journalists from outside Gannett judged the entries in three divisions. They assessed work in the eight categories outlined below. A list of those judges appears at the end of this announcement.

Emily Ramshaw, editor of the Texas Tribune and a returning judge from last year, said she was impressed by across-the-board improvements in the work submitted in the contest. She cited multimedia storytelling in particular as having become much more sophisticated.

Judges also said the focus on passion topics and target audiences – foundations of Content Evolution – helped distinguish many of the winning entries by making the work more focused and hard-hitting. And they praised the quality of workmanship that came from collaboration, whether among multiple sites in states and regions or between local sites and Design Studios.

Here are the results and the judges’ comments about each of the winning entries:

Public Service Journalism
Division I

First place: Asbury Park Press – For comprehensive, innovative and community-focused coverage of the violent effects of Superstorm Sandy on the New Jersey coastline, which included strong watchdog reporting in real time and after the fact.

Judges’ comments: “The Asbury Park Press set standards for news organizations on how to handle the aftermath of a major natural disaster. The news organization’s staff combined superb watchdog reporting with great public outreach, which included a one-stop online guide to recovery services, a “rumor control” page to make sure readers were getting accurate information and reporters on call to assist readers in crisis. By the end of the year, The Press’ investigative staff had produced a deep and striking look at “greed, elitism and self-interests that left much of the area ill-prepared for the blow.” The Press dropped its paywall during the storm and gave papers away in shelters, becoming a crucial resource to the public in its time of need.”

Second place: Lori Brasier, Gina Damron and Amalie Nash, Detroit Free Press – For “Free to Kill,” a 7-month investigation revealing gaps in the Michigan Department of Corrections’ supervision of parolees and probationers. Convicts under supervision killed 95 people in a 32-month period, and had the Department of Corrections done its job, some of those people might still be alive, the investigation found.

Judges’ comments: “This deeply reported project by the Free Press, completed in spite of corrections officials’ extreme resistance to turning over records, combined moving anecdotes with data pointing to larger problems with the corrections system. The reporting by Lori Brasier and Gina Damron resulted in its first reforms even before the story was published.”

Third place: The Tennessean at Nashville – For deep coverage of the fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 48 people across the U.S., including stories highlighting regulatory failures that contributed to the outbreak.

Judges’ comments: “The Tennessean attacked this national story with aggression and skill, digging into regulatory systems in Tennessee, Massachusetts and federally while also painting a compelling picture of the suffering experienced by some of the outbreak’s local victims.”

Division II

First place: Springfield News-Leader – For an innovative and heart-wrenching project that demanded the community’s attention by illustrating challenges facing the children of Springfield.

Judges’ comments: “The clear winner in an impressive field. The newspaper brilliantly used every tool available to draw attention to its important topic, including: running quotes from child protective investigators on its front page for a month to highlight the horror that children face; a deftly written series on child poverty, told without judgment through the eyes of poor children and their parents; creating an advisory panel to recommend changes. The concepts were crisp and the execution was perfect. This package would have competed for the same prize in Division 1.”

Second place: Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Spencer Ainsley, Chris Cusumano, Chrissie Williams, John Ferro and Darryl BautistaPoughkeepsie Journal – For aggressive reporting, backed up with statistics and data, that details the threat Lyme disease poses to the Hudson Valley, and the challenges and conflict over its treatment.

Judges’ comments: “The Journal served its readers well with this nuanced and detailed series that shed light on the challenges facing an unknown number of Lyme sufferers, even as doctors and researchers bitterly struggle over how best to treat them, and as the problem worsens based on the changing local ecosystem.”

Third place: Mike Donoghue, The Burlington Free Press – For exposing a corrupt police sergeant and uncovering a serious lack of oversight in the Vermont state police.

Judges’ comments: “Mike Donoghue’s story began with a simple public records requests for the highest-paid state employees. High on the list was a state police sergeant, and Donoghue wanted to know why. That question led to the sergeant pleading guilty to timecard fraud and calls for oversight reform.”

Division III

First place: Fort Collins Coloradoan – For deep, intense and commendable 23-day coverage of the High Park wildfire, which ultimately grew to 87,000 acres.

Judges Comments: “Over a series of weeks, the staff of the tiny Fort Collins Coloradoan provided an impressive ensemble of coverage. They turned their website into a resource for the community; produced deep and comprehensive print editions detailing evacuation efforts; created a special section for letters from the community thanking the firefighters; and developed a series of innovative online fly-over maps to visually detail the destruction, day-by-day.”

Second place: Greg Hilburn, The News-Star at Monroe – For revealing the impact of a little-known rules change to a tax credit program that could have cost the state of Louisiana hundreds of millions of dollars.

Judges’ comments: “Impressively, business editor Greg Hilburn forced the state to change its policy before his story even ran in print. Reacting to Hilburn’s story online, Gov. Bobby Jindal overturned the rule, which was estimated to have cost the state $200 million a year. The state secretary of revenue resigned, new rules are now being written and lawmakers are considering calling a special section to solve the problem.”

Third place: Visalia Times-Delta – For its weekly “We The People” section, which both serves and educates readers on the first amendment and workings of their government.

Judges’ comments: “We particularly liked an innovative feature called the “Secret Citizen,” where readers are recruited to seek records from public agencies to test compliance with the law. The agencies are graded, and the reader writes about his or her experience.”

Watchdog Journalism
Division I

First place: John Wisely, Jennifer Dixon, Brian Kaufman and Kofi Myler, Detroit Free Press (this was a combined entry) – The team of reporters, videographers and graphic artists from Detroit once again show that few cities can compete with the abundance of corruption and malfeasance found in Wayne County, Michigan. In the words of one of the recipients of a lucrative pension payment conceded, it “looks bad.” Do ya think?

Judges’ comments: “The team from the Freep rolled out a series of investigative stories that exposed outrageous pension deals, misuse of public employee time and audacious behavior by an elected county executive. Great stories, great graphics, great video and great use of public records.”

Second place: JJ Hensley and Rob O’Dell, The Arizona Republic at Phoenix – An investigation into 400-plus re-opened sex crimes in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Judges’ comments: “Hundreds of pages of documents were reviewed and dozens of interviews were conducted to produce a troubling report of a troubling Sheriff’s Department that apparently has mismanaged sex abuse cases for years. The interactive graphics made the stories easy to understand and the video reports on the Gannett-owned TV station helped put the entire package into perspective.”

Tied-Third Place: Keith Matheny and Kate McGinty, The Desert Sun at Palm Springs – The College of the Desert’s football team was put on probation for two years after the Desert Sun reported recruiting violations, lax oversight of players and even felonies committed by team members.

Judges’ comments: “This story shows a college athletic department out of control. These football team members didn’t violate curfew, they STABBED each other. Checks on law enforcement databases and a review of teams from all of California’s 71 community colleges showed that more than 25 percent of the state’s 5,300 community college football players came from out of state. And many of those athletes had troubled and violent histories. It made you wonder: Who’s in charge here?”

Tied-Third Place: Dennis Wagner, The Arizona Republic at Phoenix – A tipster launches an investigation of the Arizona National Guard that revealed a culture of corruption and failed leadership.

Judges’ comments: “Letting Down the Guard” unmasked a culture among some members of the full-time National Guard in Arizona that allowed, among other things, sexual assaults and abuse of the homeless. The reporter followed up on solid tips with more than 30 interviews with outraged members of the guard and analysis of thousands of pages of government records.”

Division II

First place: John Ferro, Poughkeepsie Journal – NY State Transportation officials acknowledge their procedures caused extensive well-water pollution in East Fishkill, NY and were instructed on how to cure the problem. But the DOT repeatedly declined to act on the proposed solutions, choosing instead to truck in water to affected homes… for seventeen years. Environmental reporter John Ferro tracks the gross negligence of DOT officials, their efforts at placating homeowners, and their failure to take responsibility for the mess they had caused.

Judges’ comments: “Looking back, it’s hard to believe state DOT officials were able to completely ignore East Fishkill’s water troubles for a full generation– even after the cause had been acknowledged and a solution was readily available. It took the gumshoe determination of Environmental Reporter John Ferro to act on an anonymous tip, deeply dive into into the facts and documents behind the DOT’s repeated failures and get officials to finally act. Ferro’s work represents the best of watchdog journalism: digging deep into the records, demanding answers from recalcitrant officials, forcing the release of documents when needed, and serving the needs of a long-suffering community by reporting their story.”

Second place: Kirsti Marohn and David Unze, St. Cloud Times – The Dunhams were nationally known as a “supersized” family, comprising 26 biological, adopted and foster children. How could one family grow so large so fast with almost no oversight? It turns out Minnesota has a “dual” system that allows either counties or private agencies to license foster homes. Because the Dunhams were licensed through a private agency, the family grew to an untenable size and some of the children became the victims of abuse. The newspaper became involved in the story when reporter David Unze learned of emergency child protection hearings for 16 children and criminal sexual charges against four.

Judges’ comments: “‘Failure to Protect’ documents the failures of state human services agencies to manage placement of children with special needs and histories of trauma and abuse. Reporters David Unze and Kirsti Marohn interviewed experts, reviewed police, agency and court records, fought for access to records concealed by the state data practices act, and explained a complicated and troubling dual system for placement of children. The Dunhams were able to expand their family even after numerous police calls to their home and a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct among two of the children. The story was compelling, the writing was clear, the supporting graphics and records were illuminating and the reader can only conclude, in the words of the Stearns County, ‘This was one big mess when this came in.’ But without the stories, one wonders whether the county/state would have worked to solve this type of problem. The St. Cloud Times story should be a road map on how NOT to run a child placement program.”

Third place: Eric Litke, Gannett Wisconsin Media – Reporter Eric Litke analyzed the performance of virtual schools, which apparently charter school licensed by the state that allow students to learn at their own rate by taking their courses online. The schools are increasingly popular but have little accountability to the state. While they work very well for highly motivated students, average student performance in virtual school lags behind brick-and-mortar schools.

Judges’ comments: “Online education at all levels is a hot topic worldwide. Wisconsin’s virtual school system seems to be fairly well developed, but the stories show that while the system of education is fairly cheap, accountability is lacking. The reporting was solid, the writing was clear, the reporters relied on a considerable amount of crunched government data and the state seemed to pay attention. This was a successful watchdog project.”

Division III

First place: Barbara Leader, The News-Star at Monroe – Barbara Leader’s expose of Louisiana’s sloppy handling of its education voucher system leads state leaders to launch a swift cover-up effort. Leader’s reporting reveals not only a potential pillaging of taxpayer money, but the extent to which officials will go to divert attention from their failures.

Judges’ comments: “It probably doesn’t hurt that Barbara Leader works in a target-rich environment for corruption – Louisiana politics – but her uncanny news sense helped her identify an easy-to-miss story that state officials worked hard to keep hidden. Leader exposed a manipulation of the state education voucher system. Her stories set in motion a frantic effort to defend the Education Department’s practices, and sources provided her evidence that the state’s new Superintendent conspired with the Governor’s office to “muddy the waters” so the Department could avoid more questions. Through her dogged and well-sourced reporting, Leader held firm to the best of watchdog journalism.”

Second place: Jason Whong, Star-Gazette at Elmira – Jason Whong systematically chronicles a long history of failure to monitor safety and fire alarm issues at Elmira, NY’s First Arena.

Judges’ comments: “Thousands of hockey fans over multiple seasons have cheered on Elmira’s pro team oblivious to the serious safety risks they face in First Arena. Jason Whong’s methodical study of sprinkler problems and management’s failure to rectify them paint a disturbing picture of reckless disregard for public safety. Whong is recognized for his use of data to document both the safety issues and management failures; his watchdog reporting serves to protect the Elmira community.”

Third place: Josh O’Leary and Tara Bannow, Iowa City Press-Citizen – The Press-Citizen’s Josh O’Leary and Tara Bannow’s investigation documents a history of sexual misconduct by a senior University of Iowa official and forces University leaders to make information about the harassment public.

Judges’ comments: “Josh O’Leary and Tara Bannow exposed a long history of sexual harassment allegations against a senior University of Iowa official. School leaders were aware of the allegations, but did not disclose them publicly and even rehired the official after a seven-year hiatus. The team thoroughly established the history of the allegations and made good use of digital offerings to support their reporting. O’Leary and Bannow’s achievement at uncovering important details of the internal investigation and compelling the University to act are honored as Best of Gannett honorees.”

In-Depth Journalism
Division I

First place: Shaun McKinnon, The Arizona Republic at Phoenix – For “The Air We Breathe,” “The Land We Love” and “The Water We Need,” a yearlong look at the environmental challenges facing Arizona.

Judges’ comments: “Air, land and water. Those are not exactly small topics to cover. But McKinnon and The Arizona Republic committed to tackling environment issues in their state and succeeded tremendously. McKinnon wrote clearly and comprehensively on the past, present and future of the state’s environmental problems and policies.”

Second place: Jerry Mitchell and Debbie Skipper, The Clarion-Ledger at Jackson, Miss. – For an investigation of the mysterious death and strange disappearances of three women linked to one Mississippi man.

Judges’ comments: “Arguably, there’s no more difficult work for a journalist than probing deaths and and long forgotten cases filled with suspicious circumstances and official malfeasance. Here, Jerry Mitchell and the Clarion-Ledger excels far and beyond any other news institution in the nation.”

Tied – Third place: Chastity Pratt Dawsey, Detroit Free Press – For exposing Detroit’s failed promise to ensure safe passages for school children, using open record laws, data mapping and on-the-ground reporting.

Tied – Third place: Nate Rau, The Tennessean at Nashville – For methodically showing that Tennessee had virtually ignored rules designed to protect young athletes from life altering brain injuries.

Judges’ comments: “Both the Free Press and the Tennessean deserve special commendation for outstanding writing and reporting that illuminated critical issues effecting children.

In Detroit, Dawsey and her team, revealed the dangers faced daily by children who must walk by unsafe abandoned houses in high crime areas just to attend school.

In Nashville, Rau navigated the medical, sports and political worlds to explain how concussions work, why their damage could be missed, the real life consequences, the lack of protections in Tennessee youth sports, and the legislative gridlock stifling reform.

Judges’ comments: Both newspapers also devoted considerable resources online that aided their community’s interaction and understanding. The response from officials was nearly immediate. In Detroit, the local mayor secured funding to tear down the sketchy buildings. In Nashville, the legislature passed reforms that will make young players safer. Bravo, Free Press and Tennessean. This is journalism that makes a difference and possibly saves lives.”

Division II

First place: Poughkeepsie Journal – For an exhaustive examination of the use and abuse of Tasers by law enforcement. Staffers named on the nomination were: Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Chrissie Williams, Karl Rabe, Darryl Bautista and Spencer Ainsley.

Judges’ comments: “It takes unique ability to wrangle data out 19 police agencies, cull 467 stun gun incidents out of a mountain of paper, then construct a cogent, compelling series. Mary Beth Pfeiffer makes it look easy, which is her genius.

By scope, breadth and depth, Pfeiffer’s meticulous investigation finds systemic police abuse of Tasers, enabled by loose oversight and policies. This Herculean effort of writing and research gave voice to the voiceless and ultimately positions the Poughkeepsie Journal into a national resource for police, policymakers, researchers, legal experts, family members and anyone else seeking learn more about the dangers of this tool.”

Second place: Kevin Allenspach, St. Cloud – For Kevin Allenspach’s five-day series “Chasing Futures in the Oil Patch,” which described in human and statistical terms the impact of the oil boom in western North Dakota on the lives of Central Minnesotans.

Judges’ comments: “Kevin Allenspach demonstrates that strong local reporting does not need to have a hometown dateline. He puts a human face on the trend of Minnesotans seeking economic opportunity on the oil fields of North Dakota. He expertly pairs profiles of families with strong business sense.”

Third place: Ira Schoffel, Tallahassee Democrat – For “The Finances of College Recruiting,” an examination of the costs of recruiting to the athletic department at Florida State University. By obtaining and analyzing every travel receipt and itinerary for every FSU coach.

Judges’ comments: “Used a mountain of documents — more than 1,000 files. Could have just focused on the football department, but instead showed the differences between nonrevenue and revenue sports. Remained objective, letting readers decide for themselves whether the cost of recruiting and competing with athletic rivals was worth it.”

Division III

First place: Eric Woomer, Visalia Times-Delta – For a once-a-month series on DUI in Tulare County – the costs in lives and dollars, who is most likely to be arrested, why people repeat, and what is being done to keep people from being repeat offenders. Sharp, invaluable and compelling.

Judges’ comments: “Reporter Eric Woomer did outstanding work on uncovering the linkages between the large numbers of DUIs, the reasons why they occur and weaknesses of the criminal justice responses. Woomer’s series especially soars when he explores the cultural context behind the high incidence of Hispanic DUIs and the obstacles presented by the high fees exacted by local DUI programs. The side bar on towing costs and profits was a particularly nice touch in this regard. Overall, Woomer’s storytelling was superb with an alert and compelling photojournalistic eye and smart use of statistics. This entry exhibits the best of community reporting, with findings that could have statewide importance. Job well done.”

Second place: Philip Grey, The Leaf-Chronicle at Clarksville – For a sensitive but unflinching examination of Sgt. Justin Junkin’s suicide.

Judges’ comments: “Phillip Grey’s work, punctuated by crisp writing, raised timely questions about how the military and the community can best care for troops returning from battle. This excellent effort makes the reader aware of and concerned about the human cost of war, the tragedies sometimes sparked by bureaucratic insensitivity and the extra support our troops still need as they return home.”

Third place: The News-Messenger at Fremont – For insightful and thoughtful coverage of the political and legal questions posed by Internet café gaming.

Judges’ comments: “Is it gaming or gambling? That question is taking shape in Ohio. Here, The News-Messenger’s dogged but fair reporting gives all sides a sound hearing. By doing so, The News-Messenger transforms a series of local police raids into an education lesson with wide implications. This work is intelligent and meaningful.”

Breaking News
Division I

First place: Asbury Park Press – For comprehensive and useful coverage in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, including stunning photos and timely updates online.

Judges’ comments: “The Press’ tremendous web effort crossed platforms and devices to give readers constant updates as the storm hit. Its print editions provided an expertly produced summary of the Jersey Shore’s devastation, balancing major regional issues with local concerns like whether specific landmarks were still standing.”

Second place: Bobby King, Matt Kryger, Ryan Sabalow and Jill Disis, The Indianapolis Star – For exemplary coverage of a late-night explosion that killed two people, leveled three homes and damaged a wide swath of an Indianapolis neighborhood.

Judges’ comments: “The Star did everything right here, with coverage that exemplifies speed, strong reporting and excellent writing. Though the explosion didn’t happen till 11:05 p.m., a story led the next day’s paper, and reporters worked through the night collecting information and fleshing out online coverage so readers would wake up to a fuller story. In the two days that followed, the Star’s coverage remained excellent, including a moving story on one of the victims — a teacher — and how her students were coping with the loss.”

Third place: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – For an eight-page special report, produced on deadline, into the bankruptcy filing of Kodak, a local institution since 1883.

Judges’ comments: “The Democrat-Chronicle’s effort began in the middle of the night, after Kodak’s 12:01 a.m. bankruptcy filing. By the next day the paper’s staff had produced an excellent package that examined the bankruptcy’s local impact from many angles. An excellent cover and a two-page timeline spread tied the package together.”

Division II

First place: Springfield News-Leader – For fast and deep coverage, both online and in print, of the “Leap Day” tornadoes that swept through Branson Feb. 29, 2012.

Judges’ comments: “Immediately after the twisters, the News-Leader provided outstanding online reporting that detailed damage and gave readers vital information. That was enhanced by a comprehensive print product, compete with richly reported accounts of the storm, well-written survivor vignettes and vivid, moving photography.”

Second place: The Burlington Free Press – For a compelling narrative, written on deadline, after police announced that a serial killer had confessed in a gruesome and mysterious local murder case.

Judges’ comments: “Excellent writing, coupled with vivid if gruesome detail, created two days of stories that were as hard to put down as they were to read.”

Third place: Poughkeepsie Journal – For fast, comprehensive work under difficult circumstances covering the effects of Sandy.

Judges’ comments: “We were impressed by the Journal’s smart use of digital and multimedia tools. The constant updates across various platforms included nice touches like tweeting instructions in Spanish for how to get help and pointing a laptop at a major local intersection to stream live storm video online. In print, the paper provided thorough storytelling and useful information.”

Division III

First place: The Advocate at Newark – For comprehensive online and print coverage of a Hebron-area thunderstorm that caused extensive flooding in a matter of hours, affecting 144 homes and causing some residents to evacuate.

Judges’ comments: “Impressive online coverage, starting before 7 a.m., chronicled road closings, evacuations, flood levels and water safety, giving readers the information they needed in real-time. That was coupled with superb photos and excellent use of social media, and then followed in the next day’s paper with an explanatory story that took a step back to explain why the water rose so quickly in such a short time.”

Second place: Fort Collins Coloradoan – For deep coverage of a run-away wildfire that grew from two acres to thousands over the course of a weekend.

Judges’ comments: “The Coloradoan distinguished itself with powerful vignettes of the evacuation and comprehensive, detail-packed stories, performed by a small but versatile staff under intense, constant deadline pressure.”

Third place: The News-Star at Monroe – For excellent coverage of the preparation for and impact of Hurricane Isaac.

Judges’ comments: “We were impressed by the staff’s nuanced attention to two sets of readers, serving both locals with storm-preparation tips and evacuees who had fled north to Monroe with information on the storm’s impact on their hometowns.”

Outstanding Writing
Division I

First place: Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic at Phoenix – For a well-crafted account of a married couple grappling with Alzheimer’s disease.

Judges’ comments: “Bland’s prose is so rich and pitch-perfect that the reader seemingly communes directly with Donna and Nick Baker, sharing their highs and lows on a life’s journey invaded by this terrible disease. It is a journey of courage to be sure, but Bland ensures that it never fails to be authentic. The end result is a tale that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. A journalism experience that is magical and transcendent. “

Second place: Bobby King, The Indianapolis Star – For “49 miles, 49 minutes,” which chronicles a tornado’s devastating march through Southern Indiana.

Judges’ comments: ” King’s adroit use of detail, pace and rhythm evokes vivid images of the tornado’s menace, the tragic loss of life, and the individual acts of heroism and resilience. The writing in this series is its own force of nature. It grabs then sweeps you into a narrative that’s haunting, inspiring but utterly unforgettable. Well done.”

Third place: Drew Schmenner, The Desert Sun at Palm Springs – For Drew Schmenner’s riveting recounting of the final hours of two Dutch hikers who got stuck in a remote stretch of Joshua Tree National Park and died in 108-degree heat as they tried to make it back to civilization.

Judges’ comments: “Schmenner captures the romanticism and adventure of Joshua Tree National Park and the dangers with becoming enamored with the place.”

Division II

First place: Candace Page, The Burlington Free Press – For a collection of writing by veteran Candace Page, who probes at the very heart of what it means to be a Vermonter.

Judges’ comments: “Writing about a range of topics, from a proposed wind farm to Hurricane Irene recovery and a local love of grilled meat, Page beautifully evoked the community. One of the best, most descriptive, emotional stories about a public hearing I have ever read.”

Second place: Steve Young, Argus Leader at Sioux Falls – For an examination of the life of South Dakota man convicted for the murder of a child.

Judges’ comments: “A skillfully done narrative that neither excuses nor condemns Donald Moeller. Rich with poignant examples from Moeller’s childhood, Young’s writing and deep reporting provides some understanding on a heinous case that outraged the community for decades.”

Third place: Troy Moon, Pensacola News Journal – For vibrantly capturing fun at a local skating rink, and by extension, highlighting the charm of a blue-collar neighborhood.

Judges’ comments: “Troy Moon’s brilliant writing provides the reader with a slice of Americana and poignant images of childhood innocence and levity. Telling what appears to be a simple tale of teens and pre-teens having fun, experiencing their first couple skates, and gleefully doing the Hokey-Pokey dance around the roller rink, Moon reminds of the universality that flows through all communities.”

Division III

First place: Josh O’Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen – For writing that elegantly tells Iowa City’s past, present and possible future.

Judges’ comments: “O’Leary’s skill and range can be breathtaking. In three separate and different stories, O’Leary’s storytelling never falters. He rewards his readers time, which is one of the highest feats a writer can ever hope to achieve.”

Second place: Megan Wyatt, The Daily Advertiser at Lafayette, La. – For “Waiting for Justice” a moving account of a mother grieving over the untimely death of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver.

Judges’ comments: “This entry epitomizes passion with balance. Megan Wyatt deftly conveys Cathy Sonnier’s agony in ways that arouses sympathy. Yet the piece moves without becoming shrill and retains a fair tone towards the prosecutors. Stellar work by Wyatt.”

(The judges awarded only first- and second-place prizes for Outstanding Writing in Division III.)

Multimedia Storytelling
Division I

First place: Annabelle Fister, The Courier-Journal at Louisville – For “Wrath and Recovery,” a sensitive, heartfelt and seamlessly digital approach to covering the tornados that killed 34 people in Kentucky and Indiana in March 2012.

Judges’ comments: “Everything about this project impressed us, from the sliding panels on the site’s homescreen to the interactive storm map to the touching video testimonials honoring the victims. The main multimedia presentation – a 15-minute documentary-style video project – was gripping, and the footage astonishing. What an impressive use of interactives and multimedia on deadline in the midst of local tragedy.”

Second place: Chris Brown, Peter Carr, Carucha Meuse, Ricky Flores, Gary Stern and Mareesa Nicosia, The Journal News at Westchester – For a “A District in Crisis,” a multimedia investigation into the dramatic conflict between Rockland County’s black and Hispanic families and the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews who run the East Ramapo school district’s board of education.

Judges’ comments: “The multimedia elements brought this fascinating community clash to life, from the smart introductory video to the board member directory to the impressive interactive district map, complete with in-depth statistics for every school. A fantastic approach to a complex issue.”

Third place: The News Journal at Wilmington – For “Firefly Music Festival,” an innovative, multi-platform approach to covering a weekend-long Woodstock-style music event, from original reporting to crowdsourcing.

Judges’ comments: “The specialty site was a brilliant way to let attendees and observers commune around the music festival. The site had a clean and streamlined user interface, great scheduling features and fun videos with well-designed graphics. We loved the use of Instagram and iPhone cameras alongside traditional staff photography and videography.”

Division II

First place: Statesman Journal at Salem – For “Home, Foreclosed Home,” a microsite that used a sweeping range of interactive tools and compelling video vignettes to examine the fallout from the region’s housing crisis.

Judges’ comments: “The staff of the Statesman Journal provided an incredible service to its readers, giving them the chance to visualize the region’s foreclosure troubles by way of interactive timelines, how-to graphics and heartfelt video tales. The project was expertly designed and perfectly embraced social media, connecting via Facebook to answer reader questions. This was the full package.”

Second place: Sharon Cekada, Dwight Nale, Joel Christopher and Nick Penzenstadler, The Post-Crescent at Appleton – For “Drop that gun,” a gut-wrenching multimedia look at a deadly police shooting, using raw audio and video obtained under open records laws and extensive source documents.

Judges’ comments: “The professional, well-produced package – complete with police reports, crime scene diagrams and powerful original footage — had the judges glued to their screens. A compelling look at a night in the life of a police squad and a man struggling with mental illness.”

Third place: Chris Cusumano, Irwin Goldberg, Barbara Gallo Farrell and Chrissie Williams, Poughkeepsie Journal – For “Scary Stories,” a delightfully creepy specialty site that’s home to the Journal’s annual youth storytelling contest, plus a host of spooky video tales and youth-friendly games.

Judges’ comments: “This interactive site couldn’t have more fun features, from the jump-out-at-you spiders and ghostly computer games to the horror movie-style video stories. It’s an incredibly creative departure from traditional online news.”

Division III

First place: Fort Collins Coloradoan – For “High Park Fire,” which used innovative multimedia tools to perform a public service by illustrating burn areas, plotting destroyed homes and highlighting the struggles facing firefighters.

Judges’ comments: “The Coloradoan staff used impressive, cutting edge technology – primarily Google Earth Pro – to give readers daily status updates on the breadth of the destructive High Park fire, offering expert analysis via narrated flyover video in a way that was both useful and accessible to the average user.”

Second place: Home News Tribune at East Brunswick – For “On the Mat,” an intensive, around-the-clock multimedia coverage of a two-day wrestling tournament, from livestreamed matches and expert live blogging to brackets and up-to-date scores.

Judges’ comments: “Talk about comprehensive. The project used a combination of multimedia tools — including live video, photo slideshows, blogging and expert voices — to bring the NJSIAA Wrestling Tournament to life. The streaming, brackets and ESPN-style video coverage really played (pun intended) above its weight.”

(The judges awarded only first- and second-place prizes for Multimedia Storytelling in Division III.)

Visual Journalism: Design
Division I

First place: Amy King, The Arizona Republic at Phoenix; Andrea Heser, AZ magazine and the Phoenix Design Studio – For the Republic’s smart new interactive tablet magazine and Amy King’s dramatic and delightful front page layouts.

Judges’ comments: “AZ’s iPad imagery is phenomenal, as is the user-friendly interaction and arrow navigation to the clearly marked scroll-downs, scroll-overs and combination of static and mobile panels. Amy King’s layouts combine stunning photography, playful and thematic fonts and the perfect blend of grayscale and white space to drive a powerful message. The judges loved the variation, from the elegant, magazine-style Centennial antique box to the pure power of words with SB 1070 and the Trust project.”

Second place: Leah Balconi and Chris Muench, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – For a combined entry that included the appealing, inventive iPad applications for the paper’s glossy Rochester Magazine and its Fall Cultural Arts Preview.

Judges’ comments: “These features are lively and eye-catching, colorful and adventurous. The design feels hip and youthful, from the Arts Preview’s grid and hyperactive navigation to the magazine’s lovely, streamlined story pages. Both are readable and comfortable, while making terrific use of the medium for photography.”

Third place: The News-Press at Fort Myers – For “JetBlue Park,” The News-Press’s thrilling and informative multimedia experience around the opening of Fenway South, the new spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.

Judges’ comments: “The News-Press interactive designers knocked it out of the park with the special multimedia stadium feature, from the neat rotational renderings to the 360-degree photography to the interactive seating map and before-and-after sliding scales. For baseball nerds, this is a terrific home base; what a fantastic tool.”

Division II

First place: Karla Brown-Garcia, Des Moines Design Studio, Dean Curtis, Cheryl Whitsitt, Matt Peterson, Springfield News-Leader – For “Children in Poverty,” a stark, thematic and visually compelling design project on the impoverished Ozarks, and the kids and families caught in the balance.

Judges’ comments: “Between the gut-wrenching photographic detail and the in-your-face white-on-black headline style, this high-impact design was a show-stopper. The consistency of daily presentation, coupled with the brutal imagery and somber sepia tones, drove the heartbreaking message home.”

Second place: The Burlington Free Press and the Asbury Park Design Studio – For a creative and collaborative approach to smart, engaging A1 design that feels more magazine than tabloid.

Judges’ comments: “The Burlington Free Press and the Asbury Park Design Studio have managed to produce high-impact, draw-you-in front page design without sacrificing content. The layouts and mastheads are smart and entertaining, equal parts moving and hard-hitting and don’t fear data or tough topics.”

Third place: Great Falls Tribune – For “My Montana,” an innovative Sunday section design that provides an incredible sense of place for the Great Falls region and the people who live there.

Judges’ comments: “Between attractive photography, a comfortable, airy feel and a playful use of headlines and color palates, the Great Falls staff has knocked the ‘My Montana’ section out of the park. Judges especially loved the location features, and that designers put as much attention into the back of the section as the front.”

Division III

First place: Jennifer Meyer, Home News Tribune at East Brunswick and the Asbury Park Design Studio – For the “Table” section, which employed a creative eye and fun-filled flavor to present everything from recipes to holiday treats in a non-traditional design.

Judges’ comments: “Our stomachs gave appreciative rumbles for Jennifer Meyer’s incredible feat: throwing out routine newspaper design in favor of a colorful, so-close-you-can-taste-it spread. You don’t have to be a foodie to want to dive in to this delightful section.”

Second place: The News Leader at Staunton and the Nashville Design Studio – For its Sunday redesign, including an eye-catching magazine-style A-section, a bolstered local news feel and a streamlined sports section.

Judges’ comments: “The News Leader’s ambitious redesign, in the midst of a design studio transition, produced an elegant Sunday spread with creative art features, an enhanced masthead and greater emphasis on sweeping photography. The spacing – and pacing – feels luxurious.”

Third place: Oshkosh Northwestern, Wisconsin Team and the Des Moines Design Studio – For an attractive special design display associated with the Northwestern’s coverage of the annual EAA AirVenture aviation convention.

Judges’ comments: “Northwestern designers took advantage of vibrant color, gorgeous photography and inventive layouts to draw attention to a major local news event. The playful mastheads are particularly creative and fun, and the contrasting images and hues are eye-catching.”

Visual Storytelling: Photo/Video
Division I

First place: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press – The judges evaluated three stories shot and edited by Brian Kaufman: A review of the ongoing hunt for a serial killer that murdered four children in Oakland County 40 years ago; an investigative story documenting questionable campaign fundraising practices by the Wayne County Executive; and a visually stunning story documenting the “life and death” of Detroit’s Packard automobile plant, which has sat in ruins for more than 60 years.

Judges’ comments: “The three stories considered by the judges showed a remarkable breath of talent and creativity. Mr. Kaufman has no peer in this contest.

The child killer story wove 40-year-old (but still compelling) black and white photographs and current video into a story that made the deaths feel as though they occurred yesterday. This story is an important reminder of the value of an outstanding black and white newspaper photographic archive.

Investigative reporting can often be the opposite of “visual.” Although this story was dependent on thousands of pages of documents, the video of reporters checking out bogus addresses and screen shots of documents were highly effective. And while the county executive apparently did not want to be videotaped, the still shots of him woven throughout the story were very effective.

And then there was the Packard plant story. This video package did not waste a word or image. Each shot was visually perfect. The poetry was exquisite. The voices/sources were either authoritative or illuminating. This piece can only be described as art. I will watch this piece over and over and over. Truly remarkable.”

Second place: Matt Stone, The Courier-Journal at Louisville – Photographer Matt Stone’s entry captures a body of work that ranges from still fashion shots to quirky videos about a local woman who forecasts the weather using sliced persimmon seeds.

Judges’ comments: “I enjoyed every one of Matt Stone’s entries. His fashion shots are high art. His story about the woman who forecasts the weather by reading sliced persimmon seeds was folksy, tightly edited, lighthearted and thorough. A total delight.

The extreme sports competition told a fun story from beginning to end. The 79-year-old man was a terrific subject to follow. Stone’s technical skills are terrific and his selection of material displays an obviously quirky sense of humor. He probably finds the ‘personality’ in each assignment.”

Third place: Michael Keating, The Cincinnati Enquirer – Photojournalist Michael Keating chronicles the final year in the life of 104-year-old Clyde Day.

Judges’ comments: “Michael Keating’s visual story really belongs in a special class– as does his friendship with the character at the heart of this story, Clyde Day. In this series of images shot over the final months of Day’s life, Keating reveals his own affection and compassion for Day, a long-time friend turned story subject. The images are spare and sensitive; the visuals really support Keating’s voice-over without getting in the way. Keating captures Day’s grief over the loss of his wife, and the softness of a barber’s brush powdering the fragile scalp of the older gentleman. Throughout the piece, Keating’s restraint helps what might have been a simple story about an unrecognized life bloom into a compelling and memorable tale.”

Division II

First place: Valerie Mosley, Springfield News-Leader – Photographer Valerie Mosley documented the desperate lives of poverty-stricken children living in the Ozarks.

Judges’ comments: “Mosley’s spellbinding photos capture the heartbreaking stories of children living in unspeakable conditions in the Ozarks. The stories accompanying the photos are also remarkable, but Mosley’s work stands on its own. Each photo tells a story of poverty and desperation. The photos of the child’s dirty feet, the garage apartment, and the face of the mother who lost custody of her sons take your breath away.”

Second place: Natalie Pierre, Tallahassee Democrat – This video story reflects on the Crumpacker Family’s difficult year coping with 14-year-old son Jake’s battle with bone cancer.

Judges’ comments: “Natalie Pierre’s use of compelling video and natural sound allows the Crumpacker family tell their own story of fear, struggle, unity and triumph. The video is tightly shot and edited, the sound is terrific, and the story is heartwarming. Intimate family moments are shown with compassion and even humor. Pierre captured the qualities that make the Crumpacker family very special.”

Third place: Evan Siegle, Green Bay Press-Gazette – Evan Siegle’s adventures following the Green Bay Packers on road trips across America are illustrated in these lighthearted essays on an NFL season.

Judges’ comments: “Photographer Evan Siegle’s football action photos are technically terrific. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His commentaries from road trips are fun, the travelogue photos are colorful and the crowd shots make you want to don a cheesehead.”

Division III

First place: Sam Wilson, Fort Collins Coloradoan – Visual feature combines innovative use of audio recording and still images to tell the delightful story of a vanishing piece of Americana: the drive-in movie theatre.

Judges’ comments: “Sam Wilson tells a charming story using retro techniques: a photo slideshow over the audio track of interviewees and natural sound captured throughout the theatre. The feature demonstrated a thoughtful use of enterprise and stood out as the entry that most effectively told a story. Wilson captured the ‘characters’ at the drive-in through his images and the production of the piece. He leaves the viewer with a memorable story and even a little chuckle; the clever use of the old-time announcer’s track will stick with us long after those ‘delightful snacks to nibble’ are gone.”

Second place: Ryan Moore, Hattiesburg American – Photojournalist Ryan Moore chronicles the capture of a jail escapee on the run.

Judges’ comments: “Ryan Moore’s images capture a fast-moving event – you can feel the drama of the scene in his images. Moore and his camera are right in the middle of the action; the photographer doesn’t miss a beat even when the fleeing suspect turns and looks directly into his lens. Great coverage of breaking news means more than being in the right place at the right time; it requires a cool head and rapid response. Moore clearly has both and does a fantastic job.”

Third Place: Matthew Apgar, Herald Times Reporter at Manitowoc – Matthew Apgar’s entry features the early morning work of fishermen in northern Wisconsin.

Judges’ comments: “Matthew Apgar transports his audience to a bobbing boat on the bracing shores of Lake Michigan. Apgar shows great enterprise in revealing an overlooked industry – how many of us stop to consider the challenges of bringing fish to our dinner menus? His technical skills are a standout in this category; operating with available light on a small watercraft he achieves surprising depth of angles and images. He captures the fleeting moment as the catch is tossed back into the water… for just one moment cast against the sky and sun instead of the dark beneath the waves. “

Honorable Mention/Fourth place: Mark Sullivan, Home News Tribune at East Brunswick – Mark Sullivan’s thorough chronicling of a firefighter’s funeral captures the dignity and poignancy of the event in a small New Jersey town.

Judges’ comments: “Sullivan’s work is recognized for the effort he puts into chronicling a traditional event. He makes effective use of distinctive angles and images to capture the pain and dignity of the firefighter’s widow and colleagues.”

The judges
We thank the eight journalists who judged the 2012 Best of Gannett competition for their dedication, careful attention, and professionalism. The judges were: