The second-quarter Awards of Excellence showed how teamwork across markets and disciplines can elevate our journalism and add unique value for our local readers. There were, as always, great works and breakthroughs by individual journalists and small teams in many Information Centers. But for the first time, five Design Studios won awards for their roles in local journalism. And also for the first time, three awards (in Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin) went to teams that worked together on journalism delivered to readers statewide.
Investigative and watchdog reporting is the heart and soul of what we do. It’s what readers value most. In Detroit, the Free Press team continued to blow open new aspects of sprawling corruption and waste in county government it first revealed earlier in the year. Across Louisiana, our reporting from Monroe, Shreveport and Lafayette continues to drive fundamental changes in state education policy. In these cases, as in many others, relentlessness was a key ingredient. The judges said one reporter’s pursuit of a story reminded them of “a pit bull on a rump roast.”
Gannett journalists contributed to the greater good in our communities by protecting kids, saving taxpayers millions, holding powerful interests to account and continuing to work aggressively to shape the agenda in 81 communities across the nation.
These awards show we often do our best work when weather crises unfold in our communities. Fort Collins’ work covering the weeks-long High Park Fire set new standards for digital storytelling and reinforced the news organization’s critical role as a community leader. Pensacola and Tallahassee both won praise for how they prepared their readers for Tropical Storm Debby, which turned away from forecasters’ original projections and toward North Florida. The Indianapolis Star turned in cross-platform storytelling about a killer tornado that gave readers intimate details and evoked emotions one might instead expect from a movie theater experience. News organizations from Central Ohio to Staunton earned citations for the incredible work they did – and the adverse circumstances under which they did it – in the wake of the derecho storm. Historical coverage of natural disasters even factored into a few of the winning entries, from Springfield’s approach to the Joplin tornado anniversary to Elmira’s look back 40 years at a devastating flood to how Manitowoc’s localized the 100-year anniversary of the Titanic sinking after running into an iceberg.
In addition to the five Design Studios and three statewide groups that won awards, 47 individual Information Centers were cited. In Division I, Detroit, Nashville and Phoenix led the way with four citations each. Division II’s leaders were Pensacola and Tallahassee, also with four citations apiece. And in Division III, Monroe took top billing with six citations, while Fort Collins collected four. Nashville and Phoenix led among Design Studios with two awards each.
Judges for the second quarter were: Mara Bellaby, enterprise editor, at FLORIDA TODAY in Brevard; Terry Eberle, vice president/content and executive editor at The News-Press in Fort Myers; Carol Hunter, political editor at The Des Moines Register; Patrick Lalley, managing editor at the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls; David Ledford, vice president/news and executive editor at The News Journal in Wilmington; and Bjorn Morton, digital and systems editor at the Tallahassee Democrat.
Detroit Free Press
John Wisely and M.L. Elrick, staff reporters; Brian Kaufman, videographer, and Kofi Myler, graphic artist
For stories digging into the practices of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. The reporters found three Ficano aides spent most of their time raising money for his re-election campaign, a county pension fund in the black a few years ago is now more than $600 million in the red and what Facino said was a surplus in the county is actually a $1.5 billion shortfall.
Judges said: “Dogged reporting, exhaustive searches of public records and shoe leather paid off with exceptional work. The saga of Wayne County Executive Robert Facino continues. They used audit reports, actuarial evaluations from nine years ago and an internal pension record obtained through FOIA requests. It was complimented with great design and a great video.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jim Hannah, justice reporter
A leaked report, public records requests and good sources led to an investigation that showed a home for at-risk children failed to provide three meals a day, clean clothes and beds. Workers also dispensed psychotropic drugs that were not prescribed by doctors to quiet the children.
Judges said: “Reporter Jim Hannah made a difference to children that no one really cared about. His work forced the closure of the school and its head fired. Despite all of this, the school never lost accreditation, may reopen and no criminal charges have been filed. Rightfully so, he continues to work the story.”
The Tennessean at Nashville
Walter Roche, investigations editor/reporter
Tennessee law enabled courts to establish conservatorships to protect people in the greatest need. But that system also was being used to take everything away from people who didn’t need the help. With only a complaint from a relative or other person, the state could sell everything that person owned – in most cases to cover the legal fees – without anyone in the court system ever even talking to the person.
Judges said: “One had to ask why. Why did an 82-year-old widow lose everything without anyone asking her if she was competent? Reporter Walter Roche asked that question and then wrote stories that outraged the community and got the attention of the state legislature. He combined great storytelling with great, basic hard reporting to create an exceptional package.”
The Des Moines Register
Jens Krogstad, staff writer
Iowa residents are graduating from Iowa universities saddled with $30,000 in student loan debt — third-highest in the nation. Krogstad’s reporting showed 20 percent of these students’ tuition dollars have gone to a program that funds scholarships for out-of-state students.
Judges said: “Reporter Jens Krogstad did more than report alarming numbers, he put real people and faces with those stories. You can feel the strain on people like recent graduate Norah Carroll, who owes $35,000 and hopes to have it paid off in 20 years. Her reporting got the attention of the state legislature, which will phase out the tuition set-aside program and add $40 million to in-state scholarships.”
The Desert Sun at Palm Springs
Keith Matheny and Kate McGinty, staff reporters
What started out as an investigation into crimes committed by football players at the College of the Desert turned into questions about recruiting out-of-state and how the football program was avoiding budgetary cuts while the $64 billion state budget for 112 schools was being slashed 12 percent.
Judges said: “Reporters Keith Matheny and Kate McGinty dug through records, called out-of-state coaches and got the attention of the state Assembly. Their attention to detail – the athletic department was cut $20,000 while the library was cut $44,000 – put a focus on the question of why community colleges have football in the first place.”
Mary Beth Pfeiffer, special projects, and Michael LaPick, intern
New York State: taxes are high; programs have been cut; state jobs eliminated. But an investigation by the Poughkeepsie Journal found the state was ignoring one potential source of revenue. State-owned homes – some quite stately – were being rented at absurdly low rates to prison employees. The reporting prompted the state to announce that it would eliminate unneeded staff housing.
Judges said: “Top-notch investigation that prompted action even before the story ran – on the basis of the solid reporting and hard questions being asked. With how government agencies spend our money at the top of every reader’s list of concerns, this story hit the mark. Online, readers could search a database of the housing. This is the kind of story that keeps newspapers vital.”
Argus Leader at Sioux Falls
Josh Verges, reporter
Rumors that a teacher’s sudden resignation came after an ethics complaint charging sex with a 17-year-old student prompted reporter Josh Verges to wonder: Had this happened before? It had, he found, after seeking all the state’s related records. Verges’ reporting revealed cases that had never been publicized and explored the secrecy around these cases.
Judges said: “This is one of the stories that as you read it, as a fellow journalist, you’re thinking: Go! Go! Go! Great watchdog journalism. Reporter Josh Verges revealed cases of teacher misbehavior that had been dealt with secretly, and made officials go on the record about why they’re not telling the public.”
Gannett Wisconsin Media
Adam Rodewald, senior content provider, and Karl Ebert, watchdog team leader at the Oshkosh Northwestern; Andy Thompson, local enterprise editor, and Jamie Mara, managing editor at The Post-Crescent at Appleton
Gannett Wisconsin Media’s investigative team wanted to see how a 2010 state law aimed at drawing attention to cases of serious child abuse was working. Their review of state records found that it’s not. In one-third of the most serious cases, agencies failed to meet state standards.
Judges said: “Nice job of being the watchdog on state initiatives; checking back on results. Their reporting informed officials, one of whom called the findings alarming. A lawmaker suggested the Legislature may have to revisit the counties’ progress. Reporting was coupled with a very compelling second-day piece about a victim of child abuse, making it clear why getting this right matters.”
Lansing State Journal
Steven R. Reed, investigative reporter
In a special report, the paper delves into the connection between charities and the telemarketing companies that help them seek donations. The findings are shocking. Sometimes less than 10 cents for every dollar raised goes to the charities.
Judges said: “Consumer-friendly watchdog journalism. Who hasn’t received a call from a charity telemarketer? Results were shocking. Reporter Steven R. Reed went in-depth and used great examples, data and quotes to illustrate the relationship between charities and telemarketers. Anyone reading this will be much better informed next time that phone call comes.”
The News-Star at Monroe
Barbara Leader, senior writer
Revelatory reporting on the state’s lack of investigation into schools approved to participate in a new voucher program. New Living Word School had been approved to accept 315 students, for which it would receive $8,500 each in state-paid tuition, even though the school had no facilities to accommodate that many students — and its main method of instruction was showing DVDs.
Judges said: “Reporter Barbara Leader did what state officials did not do before approving New Living Word School for the state voucher program: She visited the school. She then doggedly pursued explanations from state officials about their cursory process in approving schools for the program.”
Jona Ison, reporter
Jona Ison found that the Chillicothe Fire Department’s compressed air bottles were anywhere from four months to two years overdue in being tested. In the wake of her reporting, the mayor announced an investigation into the expired air bottles and sought the fire chief’s termination.
Judges said: “Reporter Jona Ison’s reporting started with a letter sent to the Gazette by a concerned citizen. Beyond nailing the facts on the expired air bottles, Ison also obtained disciplinary records involving the fire chief.”
Star-Gazette at Elmira
Jason Whong, staff writer
For an examination of fire alarm problems at a local hockey arena that were documented in fire inspection records since 2005 but never fixed. The records revealed that sprinkler heads had been painted over or obstructed or were otherwise nonfunctioning, and that some fire alarm pull stations did not sound when activated.
Judges said: “Jason Whong obtained detailed inspection reports on the fire alarm system and reviewed emails and city invoices to document that the city had arranged for firefighters to stand watch during events because of lack of confidence in the alarm system. The Star-Gazette’s reporting prompted a pledge from the arena’s new general manager to begin the process to fix the system.”
The Daily Advertiser at Lafayette, La.
Claire Taylor, senior reporter
A look at the outcome of operating while intoxicated cases in Lafayette Parish. The investigation began after the FBI searched the offices of the 15th judicial district attorney; an employee involved with preparing pretrial diversion cases was later put on administrative leave.
Judges said: “Reporter Claire Taylor showed extraordinary persistence in filing repeated records requests to learn the outcome of OWI cases, in the face of the district attorney’s resistance. The initial package included a chart showing 10 requests to five government agencies, the response by each agency and what state law specifies should be released.”
Public Service Journalism
Detroit Free Press
Chastity Pratt, reporter, and staff
Powerful series that explored the dangers students face as they walk to school in neighborhoods marked by abandoned buildings and high crime rates. The series prompted the Detroit mayor to pledge to tear down 1,500 abandoned buildings; he started with an abandoned house near a school featured in the series.
Judges said: “This is an awful story told extremely well – a happy marriage of digital mapping, strong visuals and a powerful narrative to help readers understand the perils children in Detroit face daily. GIS mapping illustrated the staggering number of abandoned homes. The deep database proved to be a powerful vehicle for holding Mayor Dave Bing accountable for demolishing ruins, as he promised in his election campaign.”
Asbury Park Press
The Lakewood School District has 5,000 public school children, but also must support 20,000 private school students. The public schools are in disrepair. The investigation shed light on how the district was failing its students. It uncovered lies, deception, missing money and a senior class that saw only half the students graduate.
Judges said: “This work made clear that officials running Lakewood School District robbed poor students of the education they deserved while pumping huge sums of money into private schools favored by the school board’s attorney and public spokesman. The reporting of Shannon Mullen, Ken Serrano, Margaret F. Bonafide and Todd Bates was buttressed by two Page1 editorials demanding action by the governor, education commissioner and other public officials. Well done.”
The Des Moines Register
Clark Kauffman, investigative reporter; Andie Dominick, editorial writer
Investigative journalism on the front page and in editorials revealed the practice of University of Iowa physicians soliciting patients as part of a University of Iowa foundation fundraising campaign.
Judges said: “Clark Kauffman’s reporting shined a light on an ethically questionable practice conducted by institutions normally held in high esteem. Andie Dominick’s heartfelt column added a human voice that put in perspective the doctor-patient relationship, and the indebtedness one feels to a physician whose brilliance in the operating room brings life-changing results. This is important work that served the public well.”
Amos Bridges and Michael Gulledge, staff reporters; Linda Leicht, opinion editor; David Stoeffler, executive editor
After only one year, voters were asked to reverse a ban on smoking in most public places, including bars and restaurants. The newspaper engaged the community in the debate and aggressively covered all aspects of what the vote would mean.
Judges said: “Journalists at the News-Leader made sure voters had all the facts before voting to reverse a smoking ban. They engaged readers through stories, included diverse voices, sought out people in favor and opposed and ran clear editorials on why it should be defeated. This is an example of a newspaper showing leadership on an important subject. The smoking ban was defeated by a large margin.”
Lansing State Journal
Louise Knott Ahern, reporter; Elaine Kulhanek, community conversations editor
A baby died in birth at a popular birthing center. That was a tragedy in itself, but reporter Louise Knott Ahern found more as she dug through records to uncover the risks involved in birthing centers – risks not talked about. The newspaper weighed in with solutions.
Judges said: “Reporter Louise Knott Ahern did the digging and community conversation editor Elaine Kulhanek did the leading to help get change started with statewide birthing centers. Their work captured the emotion of a mother who thought the birth was safe and without problems and ended in the final frantic moments when the baby breeched and died. The newspaper’s work started a statewide debate.”
Jennifer Portman, reporter, Gerald Ensley, senior reporter and columnist, Byron Dobson, editorial board and Bob Gabordi, executive editor
It started with the death of a Florida A&M drum major from hazing and ended with the resignation of the university president. The Democrat covered the story through watchdog reporting, hard-hitting editorials, blogs and social media. In its wake the band director left, two faculty band teachers were fired and the Marching 100 band was shut down.
Judges said: “Without the newspaper, the changes never would have happened. It was a program that was out of control and ran itself. It wasn’t an easy story to cover because of the reputation and popularity of the band, but the newspaper never shied away from uncovering the facts. Combine the great reporting with a strong column and editorials and you have a winning combination.”
Argus Leader at Sioux Falls
Cody Winchester, reporter
Reporter Cody Winchester found that 85-octane gasoline was being sold as 87-octane gasoline across South Dakota. In fact, in some cases, pumps were intentionally being mislabeled to fool motorists. The ripple effect went all the way to the governor’s office, through auto dealers and ethanol producers.
Judges said: “This newspaper took what could have been a very dry story about gasoline and octane and turned it into an understandable piece of journalism. The reporting brought an emergency order from the governor to sell the lower octane gasoline but also uncovered a practice that could invalidate car warranties. The state now has turned over information to prosecutors.”
The News-Star at Monroe
Greg Hilburn, business editor
A ruling from the state revenue director that fuel tax credits included all flex fuel vehicles would have cost the state of Louisiana hundreds of millions of dollars. Car dealers knew about this, as did accountants, but the governor said he didn’t. That is, until Business Editor Greg Hilburn broke the news online.
Judges said: “This story happened because of a curious reporter with a sharp eye and got fast results because of the immediacy of their website. What the governor knew is unclear, but what is clear is the story saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in tough budgeting times. The story was posted online at 4:04 p.m., an uproar started at 4:55 and Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered the tax credits killed at 6:22 p.m.”
Fort Collins Coloradoan
The High Park fire destroyed 250 houses, burned through more than 87,000 acres and caused nearly $100 million in damage. The story lasted for weeks and the staff of the Coloradoan committed to not only report the news but to help the community.
Judges said: “Coverage was far more than just words on a page. It included a one-stop portal online giving readers breaking news, road closures, videos and graphics. They teamed with local charities to raise money to help the people now finding themselves homeless. They engaged readers through a special section that allowed readers to thank the firefighters.”
Luis Hernandez, Melinda Morales, Donna-Marie Sonnichsen, staff reporters
The Times-Delta wanted answers to why there were three shootings in one hour and eight in 14 days and no one was talking about it — neither the police nor the city. Police said the shootings were random and there were no gangs. Neighbors disagreed and officials finally had to admit there not only were gangs but they had been entrenched in the community for some time.
Judges said: “These are the type of stories that help a community and give it a voice. Reporters walked the neighborhood streets and talked to people living in fear. Residents told the real story to reporters, who used old-fashioned, shoe-leather techniques. This enabled the Times-Delta to bring to light a truth authorities hadn’t told about gang presence and the affect it was having on public safety. Police would not have publicly acknowledged the gang activity if it were not for the reporting and the editorials calling them out. Bravo.”
Times Recorder at Zanesville
Hannah Sparling, staff reporter
No one suspected there were 70 people living on the streets of Muskingum County. This is a big city problem, but with an economy that is struggling, the problem was spreading to smaller communities. And no one was helping these homeless until the newspaper told their stories.
Judges said: “Reporter Hannah Sparling put a face on the homeless in Muskingum County. They no longer are invisible in the community. Sparling’s stories brought swift action – donations from the public, calls to help and the opening of a center by a church. This happened because Sparling and her editors cared.”
The Louisiana Group
Mary Nash-Wood, reporter, The Shreveport Times; Barbara Leader, senior writer, The News Star at Monroe; and Nicholas Persac, reporter at The Daily Advertiser at Lafayette, La.
Louisiana newspapers combined to offer readers detailed information on the state’s education reform. They tracked the influence from businesses and which out-of-state businesses were benefiting.
Judges said: “Education reform in Louisiana does not come easy and should raise suspicions. The three-part series Education for Sale found how big business shapes reform, how out-of-state consulting companies made nearly $133 million and who benefits from the voucher system. This was a good example of reporters using databases to tell their stories and hold officials accountable.”
The Arizona Republic at Phoenix
Shaun McKinnon and Dennis Wagner, reporters, and Mark Henle, photojournalist
For an in-depth look at Arizona’s state forests, with particular focus on what needs to be done to protect them from future catastrophic fires. This was an important work of journalism that will help drive the conversation statewide to protect precious watersheds for future generations.
Judges said: “Shaun McKinnon writes with authority about land management practices and the consequences of quibbling while doing nothing. Dennis Wagner captured the heartache of loss from monster fires. This series was well-edited, smartly packaged and supported with terrific photography from Mark Henle. Video also was strong.”
The Tennessean at Nashville
For in-depth reporting on treatment of show horses in response to a shocking undercover video. Two weeks of coverage exposed the myth that horse abuse was isolated to a few rogue individuals.
Judges said: “While The Tennessean did not secure the scandalous undercover video that blew the lid off the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, it provided extraordinary depth that helped readers see the underbelly of a sport that intentionally harms animals in the name of competition and cash. And The Tennessean’s ongoing, persistent coverage will no doubt help shape the reform of a once-proud sport that is economically important to the state. Well done.”
The Des Moines Register
Kyle Munson and Tony Leys, staff reporters
For an examination into bullying and teen suicide in Iowa, which helped draw widespread attention to the issue. The topic was sparked by the suicide of a 14-year-old boy who was bullied relentlessly after revealing he was gay.
Judges said: “Strong print and digital delivery that demonstrated leadership by The Register. Writers Kyle Munson and Tony Leys helped readers see the hurt associated with bullying and did an exemplary job of fostering wider community understanding, and empathy for gay students subjected to meanness. Well done.”
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Matt Daneman, reporter
For expert coverage following Kodak’s bankruptcy in January.
Judges said: “Reporter Matt Daneman used his contacts and expertise to shape the spot bankruptcy package and to continue unfolding the ramifications of the decision during the following days. His work helped people come to grips and to look ahead to what is next for the long-ailing photo giant and for the rest of the Rochester community.”
Lansing State Journal
Steven R. Reed, reporter
For an investigation into what went wrong at a popular brewing company, resulting in its bankruptcy and its name and brews being sold at auction. Using documents and interviews, reporter Steven R. Reed detailed how the owner got into trouble, even as on the surface, business seemed to be going well.
Judges said: “Great example of taking a newsy business story and going deeper — following the paper trail, interviewing investors, persuading the reluctant owner to talk — to tell the story behind the story, informing readers of what was really going on. Clearly, the effort was appreciated: The story generated more than 60,000 page views.”
Ira Schoffel, sports editor
Using Freedom of Information requests, Sports Editor Ira Schoffel looked at travel and expense reports for all Florida State coaches over a 12-month period. The story explored how recruitment spending for FSU football had grown significantly, with details on how the coaches spend that money and an analysis of whether or or not it’s working.
Judges said: “Investigative reporting doesn’t belong to just the metro desk. Great example of investigative reporting that used data obtained through FOI requests, beat knowledge and good sourcing to tell the story of the money behind sports recruiting. Sports editor Ira Schoffel’s beat expertise put it all in perspective.”
Mary Beth Pfeiffer, reporter
For two installments of the Poughkeepsie Journal’s investigation into police use of stun guns. These installments looked in depth at the dangers stun guns pose, particularly when not used properly. The stories were told by delving into three lawsuits for misuse of the stun guns. Two men died.
Judges said: “What stood out most was the paper’s doggedness on the issue. They’re not letting it go, and are using the exhaustive reporting that kicked off the first quarter series to inform and add context and depth to their continuing coverage. That’s so important and really shows readers the Poughkeepsie Journal owns the story and doesn’t just publish and forget. Compelling online components too.”
Pensacola News Journal
Rob Johnson, reporter
After the sheriff wrote an unsolicited op-ed piece defending his decision to wear an array of military decorations, reporter Rob Johnson decided to investigate. Is it OK for politicians to don medals? How do military and veterans groups view that?
Judges said: “Johnson picked up the scent of a good story, and ran with it. He explored the rules, customs (or lack thereof) and varying opinions around wearing military decorations. His report drew a fuller picture for readers, giving them the information they need to make up their own minds. The paper followed with an editorial, a column and by publishing numerous letters to the editor.”
The Star Press at Muncie
Seth Slabaugh, reporter
For a string of stories in which Slabaugh used national databases to explore the salaries of professors and administrators at Ball State University. The findings uncovered that Ball State professors ranked near the bottom, and the discrepancy between their salaries and the president’s salary was wider than at other colleges.
Judges said: “Reporter Seth Slabaugh used national databases to see how salaries at Ball State University compare to other colleges. His reporting was tenacious as he kept drilling into new data to provide more context and uncover new angles. Ultimately, trustees gave the faculty a pay increase.”
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Tara Bannow and Josh O’Leary, reporters
Reporting on a passion topic – downtown Iowa City – the Press-Citizen examined the district’s past and what leaders envision for its future.
Judges said: “This ambitious story helps readers understand possible approaches for returning downtown Iowa City to its resplendent past. Reporters Josh O’Leary and Tara Bannow did a good job of mixing past and present in the respective narratives they created, and the timeline and graphic gave readers a lot of information at a glance. Well done.”
The News-Star at Monroe
Amritha Alladi, senior writer
For an in-depth look at the problems caused by poorly supervised installation of a major automated water meter project. It left the city two months behind in billings.
Judges said: “Pit bull on a rump roast. That’s the image the reader gets from reading reporter Amritha Alladi’s work on the poorly supervised, poorly installed new water meters that were supposed to make Monroe a more efficient city. Alladi’s work forced the city to acknowledge it had a problem, and spurred a bit of outrage among council members, who helped find a quick remedy. Good show.”
The News-Messenger at Fremont
Kristina Smith Horn, reporter
For an exploration of Sandusky County’s growing Hispanic community, focused on what issues and concerns were top-of-mind to them.
Judges said: “The breadth of Kristina Smith Horn’s five-part series is impressive, spanning the lives of Hispanics young and old who are driving dramatic population growth in Sandusky County. Horn illustrated the difficulty of field work for migrant workers. She helped readers see the importance Hispanics place on faith, and she introduced ordinary Ohioans to neighbors they didn’t know. It was an ambitious undertaking that was well done.”
The Arizona Republic at Phoenix
For coverage of a murder-suicide that left four people dead and involved a controversial militia leader.
Judges said: “Within 20 minutes of the call coming off the scanner, The Arizona Republic owned this story and never let go online or in print the next day. Video was up and social media was being tapped. But what stood out most was how reporters broke news repeatedly on this breaking news story, from the ID of the gunmen to identifying the victims.”
Detroit Free Press
For comprehensive coverage pulled together on the fly when a new — and controversial — international bridge was announced.
Judges said: “When the Free Press journalists received word that the announcement about the new bridge would happen, they had less than 24 hours to spring into action. And, wow, did they. They blew it out in print, but kept digital top-of-mind too, staying live with the story throughout the news cycle. Online the extras just kept growing. They aggressively distributed the story over social media, covering the announcement events live on Twitter using ScribbleLive blog and engaged readers throughout.”
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
For coverage of the bus monitor brutally bullied by students. The bullying was captured on video, posted on social media and created a stir: outrage over the students’ actions and support for the bullied grandmother.
Judges said: “The Democrat and Chronicle journalists landed the first video interview with the bullied school bus monitor, out-reporting all the national news outlets that poured in on the story. They also expertly used social media to engage the community and promote their coverage. The paper nicely tied in the story with the editorial board’s campaign against coarse behavior, and the editorial page staff kept the discussion moving online. Their strong response kept Democrat and Chronicle at the top of Google News and Google Web on what became a massive story.”
The Journal News at Westchester
Coverage of a fire that killed a police captain, his wife and two of his three children. From the flames to the moving vigils for the family, The Journal News stayed on top of the story.
Judges said: “Westchester’s coverage of the overnight fire started while the home was still in flames with exclusive video and photos from the scene — and it never let up. Dozens of updates throughout the day, photo galleries, videos (including a nice interview with their photographer who was first on the scene), and tweets kept the coverage fresh. Readers responded with a record number of clicks.”
The Clarion-Ledger at Jackson, Miss.
For team coverage of the fatal shooting of a Pearl, Miss., police officer.
Judges said: “The tweet from a competing TV station says it best: ‘The Clarion-Ledger’s reporter is kicking EVERYONE’s ass as far as getting info out on the pearl story.’ C-J journalists owned the story, providing live updates, videos and photo galleries. The paper turned over its front page to the story the next day, offering comprehensive coverage of the shooting, the killer’s background and details about the slain cop. There were five refers to online videos and photo galleries, each piece of which added unique storytelling value.”
Florida Today at Brevard
For team coverage of a murder-suicide involving a mother and her four children in the early morning hours after Mother’s Day.
Judges said: “The paper jumped on the story as people across Brevard County were waking up, providing constant updates, photos and videos. By mid-morning, teams had been dispatched to the schools and the neighborhood, to dig through court records and to call experts – for online updates and two pages of print coverage. The main print story added details about the family’s last hours that gave it a very different feel from the online coverage.”
St. Cloud Times
For coverage of a Memorial Day explosion and fire that killed one worker and injured five others at a paper mill in a nearby town.
Judges said: “Despite light holiday staffing, the Information Center quickly rounded up staffers and sprang to action, providing a rich digital experience that started with an initial report on St. Cloud’s website and social media accounts within 20 minutes of the 911 call. That was followed by continuous updates for the next eight hours. The print package included key context on the plant’s importance to the town’s economy and history.”
For expansive digital and print coverage of the flooding triggered by Tropical Storm Debby, reflecting the power of decades of experience in covering coastal storms coupled with smart use of digital tools.
Judges said: “Coverage included extensive use of Facebook and Twitter, 20 text alerts sent in one night alone as the storm changed course, and staff video as well as video acquired from the Coast Guard of a dramatic rescue. Print coverage featured breakouts with coping information and town-specific damage and rainfall reports.”
Pensacola News Journal
For its strong coverage of the impact on its area of the Tropical Storm Debby deluge.
Judges said: “As with Tallahassee, Pensacola’s digital coverage featured rapid news updates, text alerts, use of Twitter and Facebook and staff photo galleries and video. But its coverage also stands out for its early outreach to readers for submitted photos. It posted 160 reader-submitted photos. In the first two days, its largest gallery of reader-submitted photos received 1.2 million page views.”
The Star Press at Muncie
For its on-the-scenes coverage of a multiple-site drug raid. The staff picked up police radio chatter about tactical teams gathering one morning, worked its sources, learned where the arrests were taking place and dispatched four reporters, a photographer and videographer to several of the scenes.
Judges said: “The staff’s hustle and quick posting of raw video from three of the arrest scenes put viewers right on the spot as the arrests unfolded. A more polished video posted that afternoon combined a voice-over and video of multiple arrest scenes, a press conference and comments from residents.”
Fort Collins Coloradoan
The Coloradoan provided readers with marathon reporting on a large fire burning northwest of Fort Collins that would come to be known as the High Park Fire. Before the fire was contained, it burned through 87,000 acres, destroying more than 250 homes and causing nearly $100 million in damage.
Judges said: “In a true all-hands effort, Fort Collins functioned as a team that was ready to do everything necessary, including on-the-job training, to keep their community informed online and in print. Coloradoan.com offered a granular level of urgent reporting on road closures and evacuations unmatched by other outlets, setting page-view records. Staffers stayed engaged with social media throughout.”
The Leaf-Chronicle at Clarksville
Chris Smith, Matt Schorr and Alane Megna, editors; Adam Tamburin, reporter
When news broke that a hacker group had released private information on up to 14,000 Clarksville, Tenn., students and school employees, staff sprung into action to push updates to multiple channels generating a story that garnered almost 2,000 recommends on Facebook.
Judges said: “Staffers Chris Smith, Matt Schorr, Alane Megna and Adam Tamburin pushed breaking news updates to multiple channels, including an email alert and frequent use of social media. That reporting speed gave readers a head start in protecting their identities. They spun forward information about what steps to take if readers feared their information had been breached.”
When a severe storm known as a derecho knocked out power to huge swaths of MNCO’s coverage area, including several newsrooms, journalists turned to iPhones and Twitter to deliver critical information to readers. The team maintained continuity in print production, including relocating the copy desk hub from Newark to Mansfield.
Judges said: “Readers turned to their mobile phones for the latest information and, using much of the same technology, MNCO journalists were able to publish critical information. For example, a story composed of Twitter updates drew more than 80,000 page views.”
The News Leader at Staunton
When the derecho storm whipped 80 mph winds into the Shenandoah Valley, the News Leader was left without power and staffers deployed into the darkness with Twitter as their only easily accessible publishing platform. Coverage online continued while print publishing required assembling an ad-hoc network at a hotel conference room.
Judges said: “As other sites did during the derecho, Staunton continued to serve their community online and in print despite many of their own challenges. Coverage gradually ramped up from Twitter feeds to photo galleries as power was slowly restored and alternative workflows were invented.”
The Indianapolis Star
Bobby King, reporter
For a three-part series that followed the trail of the March 2 tornado that swept across Southern Indiana.
Judges said: “King’s heart-pounding narrative moves like the tornado he chronicles. The storm 10 weeks earlier ravaged Indiana and Kentucky farmland with swirling winds up to 175 mph. This story is fueled with rich scene-setting and details of the calamity as King traces the storm’s on-the-ground trajectory over 49 miles. A riveting read spread across three Sunday editions.”
The Arizona Republic at Phoenix
Karina Bland, reporter