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News MVP Winners Reflect Efforts to Expand Digital Content, Identify Coverage for Target Audiences

A passion for their work, an understanding of their audiences and a desire to expand their digital offerings were underlying themes in the 2010 News MVP awards.

The 10 winners of the 2010 awards reflect a push for excellence in both large and small Information Centers. They helped to plan new products for target audiences. They partnered with nearby Gannett locations to pool their efforts for a greater result. They used new tools to engage digital users for longer periods of time.

The News MVP awards recognize individual newsroom staffers or supervisors who led special efforts in readership, innovation, reorganization, multi-platform approaches or other efforts.

Each of the nominees handled challenges in 2010 with strong results. And the judges – Vice President/News Kate Marymont, News Executive Ann Clark and Digital News Executive Maribel Perez Wadsworth – reviewed the work carefully before reaching their final decisions.

The winners receive $1,000 and a framed certificate.

To all of our News MVP winners, we salute their commitment to their journalism and celebrate their successes.

The winners are:

* Mara Bellaby, Space and Education Editor, FLORIDA TODAY at Brevard
* Wendy Fullerton Powell, Targeted Content Editor, The News-Press at Fort Myers
* Craig Harris, Senior Reporter for Public Integrity, Metro Desk, The Arizona Republic
* Len LaCara, Online & Audience Development Editor, MNCO
* Sean Lahman, Database Specialist, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
* Michael McGlone, Data Editor, Asheville Citizen-Times
* Bryce Miller, Executive Sports Editor, The Des Moines Register
* Bjorn Morton, Digital and Systems Editor, Tallahassee Democrat
* Candace Page, Environmental Reporter, The Burlington Free Press
* Nhia Yang, Assistant Editor/Digital, The Sheboygan Press

Mara Bellaby, Space and Education Editor, FLORIDA TODAY at Brevard

Mara guided teams of reporters on the newspaper’s two highest profile beats – space and education. She drove extensive, groundbreaking and multi-platform enterprise on the biggest local story of the year – the end of the shuttle program. Her team examined policy developments, showed the impact on the community and its residents and explored how private companies were building space projects. She coached young reporters on how to handle technical and scientific reports. At the same time, she managed education coverage, including coverage of changing demographics, new testing standards and contentious labor fights.

From her nomination letter: “Mara thinks big, multitasks with ease and is one of the best managers of people. She listens and leads. She has improved the work of veteran reporters and laid a strong foundation for new ones. She collaborates with fellow editors. She put all of these talents to use in 2010, and she had a simply exceptional year.”

Wendy Fullerton Powell, Targeted Content Editor, The News-Press at Fort Myers

Wendy is an audience-centric journalist who is responsible for multiple sections, two magazines, two Web sites and the related staffers and free-lancers. She works on storytelling for the newspaper and the right video or interactive element for online. Wendy’s audience focus targets the young social crowd on Metromix, the affluent people in Grandeur magazine, active snowbirds in a series called “Fit for Life” for the Healthy Living section and the Little League dad on She led a cross-departmental committee charged with increasing Sunday circulation; the result was a circulation increase year-over-year for 51 of 52 weeks.

From her nomination letter: “She inspires staffers to do more and do better by sharing a clear vision. She cares about the reader and makes sure the journalism is audience-centric. She contributes beyond the confines of her job description and always exceeds expectations on any given task. That is a testimony to the breadth of her skill set, her strong interpersonal skills and her versatility.”

Craig Harris, Senior Reporter for Public Integrity, Metro Desk, The Arizona Republic

Craig tracks the work of elected officials charged with the stewardship of Arizona taxpayer money. His series examining the rising costs of and abuses in the state’s public pension system required dozens of records requests and a legal challenge to obtain needed documents. He provided data to the Republic’s community newspaper reporters to cover the pension issue at the micro level. In response to the series, the Arizona Legislature, the governor and the mayor took steps to address the issues. Craig also shared his investigative skills and understanding of finances with colleagues covering the sheriff of Arizona’s largest county.

From his nomination letter: “Craig’s work with others in the newsroom has been generous and valuable. Craig spent weeks with several less-experienced reporters, showing them how to dig for public records, locate key sources, connect the dots and stay organized while weaving tight stories. Craig fed younger colleagues tips on being polite yet persistent during interviews. He has given them feedback on interviewing skills. These efforts pay off for reporters who say their skill level jumped exponentially.”

Len LaCara, Online & Audience Development Editor, Media Network of Central Ohio (MNCO)

Len manages MNCO’s 11 core Web sites for a group of newspapers in Central Ohio and leads a two-person group enterprise reporting staff. The enterprise staff produced watchdog projects on expense reimbursements of local government employees, public pensions and unemployment issues. Len worked closely with Gannett Digital on the first pilot Gannett Odyssey Web site redesign and on a mobile strategy corporate task force. The result of the Odyssey launch was a record month of 6.9 million page views. For 2010, MNCO increased annual unique visitors by 20 percent, which reflects Len’s focus on SEO and social media. Len uses Caspio databases in many ways, including the development of a school closings system that manages delays and closings across the 10 sites.

From his nomination letter: “Without his always present drive and strong online and journalism skills, it would be very challenging for MNCO to be as successful. The changes MNCO made have led to strong Page Ones and more in-depth coverage. Len played a key role in making that happen.”

Sean Lahman, Database Specialist, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Sean worked with Democrat & Chronicle staffers to bring user-submitted data and mapping to the RocDocs Web site. He added a Delegates section where readers could track information about their elected officials. He proposed and is a regular contributor to a Watchdog blog. His expertise in how to analyze and present data resulted in strong census coverage. He works with other Gannett New York journalists to use data in high-level enterprise work.

From his nomination letter: “It is rare to find a person who moves fluently among the worlds of digital development, journalism, management and non-management. Sean sets an example for others to follow. His leadership in Rochester is contagious because of the respect he earns for himself. Sean is a well-rounded, new world journalist with an exemplary work ethic.”

Michael McGlone, Data Editor, Asheville Citizen-Times

Michael is the Citizen-Times’ point person on the newspaper’s content management system. He worked closely with Gannett’s Enterprise NewsGate team and CCI on the integration with Saxotech online. He worked with reporters to manage and obtain data, developed a process to handle state election results. He worked with sports staffers and to export and display pre-formatted stats and schedules for the newspaper. Michael created a page on the newspaper’s intranet site as a resource for hard-to-find phone numbers and addresses. He leads training sessions on how to manage public databases.

From his nomination letter: “Michael has skills that are unique for a small newsroom. He has combined that with a passion for good journalism. His passion – and his relentless appetite for news – greatly improves the Web site and that work carries over to print. Michael makes us all better.”

Bryce Miller, Executive Sports Editor, The Des Moines Register

Bryce took ownership for coordinating a new strategy in cooperative coverage of University of Iowa sports with the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The result was a re-launch and implementation of, a co-branded collaborative effort of the two newsrooms. The result was an increase in page views, dynamic new digital content and more revenue for each news organization. Bryce let The Register’s sports staff to produce more enterprise, using open records requests to show how the football teams at Iowa and Iowa State universities spent more than $200,000 so players could stay in hotels on the nights of home games.

From his nomination letter: “Bryce’s strong work is a thoughtful blend of digital and traditional journalism helping the company succeed in new ways and on new platforms. He understands that we are in a transformative stage and his leadership, innovation and willingness to think of new things and execute in new ways are essential to our success of Register Media. Bryce has helped the staff find new solutions for a new era — all while maintaining award-winning quality, online and in print.”

Bjorn Morton, Digital and Systems Editor, Tallahassee Democrat

Bjorn was a central figure in the launch of the Democrat’s paid-content model. He created the draft of the paid content pre-launch document and landing pages with GMTI and Gannett Digital. He worked closely with both groups to quickly identify and correct initial bugs and find opportunities to improve the user experience. He also created a metrics report to easily track how the site was doing and understand the numbers. He also created a weekly newsletter to promote Sunday exclusives, launched a searchable database to partner with a Summer Camps print product and used Google Living Stories to cover Children’s Week, when the Legislature focuses on issues involving kids.

From his nomination letter: “Bjorn has been instrumental in navigating through all the murky waters, high seas and course of the unknown in getting the Tallahassee Democrat ready for paid content in its new business model. Through use of new tools and finding innovative ways to tell stories, he is the ultimate techno-journalist. In the center of our whirlwind of change, he was the calm that gave the team confidence and inspiration.”

Candace Page, Environmental Reporter, The Burlington Free Press

Candace covers the environment, and in doing so she brings the natural world to life in such a way that it resonates with any reader. Her level of productivity and her passion for newer-style storytelling result in work that is accessible and provides an exceptional sense of place. Candace helped to define three new Sunday sections – Green Mountain, ARTSbtv and Savorvore. All are popular with readers. Her extensive reporting skills lead to multiple watchdog pieces on the environment and politics.

From her nomination letter: “Candace immerses in her subjects. She lives this job. You can tell that by discussing a story’s direction with her or simply by reading the end result. She is a living example to the rest of the staff on how a successful journalist conducts herself.”

Nhia Yang, Assistant Editor/Digital, The Sheboygan Press

Nhia brings a team-first approach to her work to drive traffic to Her work using social media, video, databases and other digital tools resulted in a 29 percent increase YOY in page views and an 18 percent increase in YOY in unique visitors. She works with the Press staff on watchdog efforts and a weekday newscast video. For the PGA Championship at nearby Whistling Straits, Nhia helped the PGA digital team provide live video, edited video and breaking news updates throughout the week of the championship. Coverage was shared with all 10 Gannett Wisconsin papers, USA TODAY and newspapers across the country through ContentOne.

From her nomination letter: “Nhia remains focused on her daily mission of increasing Web traffic to Her talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to high quality journalism have helped make The Sheboygan Press and its Web site great examples of what can be accomplished with a small staff.”