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NEWS WATCH: Best of Gannett 2010: The Arizona Republic, Statesman Journal, Jackson Sun win Public Service; Detroit Free Press wins FOI award

The Arizona Republic, the Statesman Journal at Salem and The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun won the top Public Service Awards in the 2010 Best of Gannett contest.

The winners in the 34th year of the annual contest were announced Thursday, April 14, in a special edition of NEWS WATCH.

The Detroit Free Press, in Division One, won the most awards – six – in the contest. The Statesman Journal at Salem and the Burlington Free Press tied in Division Two, with four awards each. The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun won the most awards in Division Three with five awards. Thirty-four newspapers won awards.

Nine journalism professionals from outside the company judged entries in eight categories. (The judges’ names are listed at the end of this announcement.)

Here are the results and details on the winning entries:


First place: The Arizona Republic — For coverage and editorials on the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 1070, an immigration bill that divided residents, polarized lawmakers and made the state the target of damaging boycotts. The Republic sought clarity and context in its reporting. AZ Fact Check, originally designed to verify election-related issues, was used to help sort through the misinformation on the issue.

Judges’ comments: “In the midst of a tremendously volatile situation, The Arizona Republic examined the issue of immigration with clarity. The Republic team put truth behind the reporting. The strength of its efforts to get to the truth was notable. This work showed courage in a tough situation.”

Second place: Asbury Park Press – For “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” an extensive report explaining why the state’s largest coastal estuary is dying. The series became the rallying point for local citizens and state lawmakers who wanted to save the bay. Within four months, lawmakers passed the toughest fertilizer control law in the nation. New Jersey’s governor also provided $110 million in rescue funding and forced the early closure of the bay’s nuclear plant, a major source of stress for the bay.

Judges’ comments: “This work was a great explainer of how the issue of the health of the bay touched citizens. The results were convincing. Within four months, lawmakers passed the toughest fertilizer control law in the nation. The governor provided $110 million in rescue funding and forced the early closure of the bay’s nuclear plant.”

Third place: The Courier-Journal at Louisville — For “Preying on Seniors,” an investigation into the way Kentucky’s senior citizens are abused and exploited. The work resulted in two bills aimed to protect older and vulnerable adults winning approval in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Judges’ comments: “This work shows how poorly the state of Kentucky protects its oldest citizens. Stories described how seniors are neglected in nursing homes, how family members cheated their loved ones. Reporter Deborah Yetter offered important guidance to readers to recognize people in trouble and to get help for these fragile members of society.”

Division II

First place: Statesman Journal at Salem — For WESD Web of Deals, a report on rampant spending, questionable bidding processes and unusual reimbursement practices by the Williamette Education Service District. Lawmakers quickly moved to initiate legislation to reform the district.

Judges’ comments: “Tracy Loew’s investigation showcases the importance of watchdogging bureaucracies, especially this Oregon school district and 10 years of ignored red flags. The total package – crisp reporting, explanatory infographics and a particularly effective visual depiction of overlapping relationships in an online interactive – gives residents a deep understanding of problems and spurs lawmakers to address needed reform.”

Second place: Argus Leader at Sioux Falls – For Growing Up Indian, a report that examines the lives of children in South Dakota’s Native American reservations who face issues related to gang pressure, substance abuse and family violence.

Judges’ comments: “Blend reporter Steve Young’s well-reported narrative with photographer Devin Wagner’s stunning visuals, and it’s clear why the eight-part series “Growing Up Indian” deserves accolades. Together they get eye-level with complex socioeconomic issues on nine South Dakota reservations, commendably using effective storytelling approaches and tools, including Twitter, a Facebook fan page, video cams in the hands and in the homes of the young subjects themselves and video chats. This important work deserves to be read by people far beyond the Dakota borders.”

Third place: The Burlington Free Press – For a selection of editorials and candidate Q&As that put the issue of open government on the front burner in the 2010 Vermont state elections. This Free Press report led to both gubernatorial candidates agreeing to tackle the more than 200 exemptions to the disclosure of information.

Judges’ comments: “Three years of hammering away at closed meetings, closed records and closed minds in reporting and editorials finally results in an avowed spirit of openness that will have far-reaching impact on Vermonters. Burlington’s unrelenting quest for transparency resulted in reform at the state house and, down the road, will allow reports to dig deeper on all sorts of deserving stories.”

Division III (Public Service and Watchdog Journalism categories were combined)

First place: The Jackson Sun — For exposing the problem of multiple watershed dams in middle Tennessee not being inspected because of a reclassification process under Tennessee law. High rains and flooding made the circumstances more dangerous. A state lawmaker moved immediately to work with state officials on an agreement to inspect these dams and solve the problems that were discovered.

Judges’ comments: “Reporter Dan Morris responded quickly when local rains elevated the issue of dam safety. And his work drew immediate response from officials and the public. Tennessee residents are safer because of this work.”

Second place: Central Ohio Newspapers — For articles examining the pension systems in local governments and school districts in Ohio. The systems’ policies result in some districts paying all or most of their employees’ retirement contributions, a practice that pads employees’ pensions at the taxpayers’ expense.

Judges’ comments: “The Central Ohio newspapers did a terrific job of taking a complex pension issue and showing how taxpayers were footing extra dollars, in many cases resulting in no retirement contribution payments by employers. The articles were strengthened by helpful graphics and excellent localization and online supplements.”

Third place: Trevor Hughes, Fort Collins Coloradoan – For revealing the state education department was not alerting local school districts of all teacher arrests around the state, as called for in a 2008 state law.

Judges’ comments: “The Fort Collins Coloradoan uncovered a failure of the state to alert school districts of teacher arrests — a problem that could affect hiring and bring questionable teachers to school systems. The Coloradoan’s efforts prompted a change in practices that benefited schools around the state.”

In the Public Service category, cash prizes are $5,000 for first place; $2,500 for second place; and $1,000 for third place.


The Detroit Free Press won the 2010 Best of Gannett Freedom of Information Award for its relentless approach to fighting for public records and open government. The resulting coverage addressed issues related to restitution to crime victims, government ineptitude and bribes, anti-terrorism lapses and other topics.

Five other newspapers were named finalists: The Courier-Journal at Louisville, The News Journal at Wilmington, The Arizona Republic, Tallahassee Democrat and the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register.

The depth and breadth of the work in this year’s entries showed a deep commitment to watchdog journalism across U.S. Community Publishing. Excellent work was produced in our largest and smallest Information Centers.

We salute the editors and publishers who work so vigorously to protect Freedom of Information interests for the media and the public.

The FOI awards honor Gannett newsrooms that fight legal battles for public records and meetings, adapt First Amendment efforts to online platforms, publish editorial campaigns to educate the public on FOI and open-meeting laws, resist pressure from government entities or special-interest groups seeking to suppress the news and campaign to force government entities to open the door to the public and the press.

Judges were Barbara W. Wall, vice president/associate general counsel; Bob Dubill, retired executive editor of USA TODAY; and Kate Marymont, vice president/News.

The top award is $4,000; finalists receive $2,000.

The Detroit Free Press’ extensive FOI efforts ranged from reports on restitution to crime victims, the presence of gas pipelines near people’s homes and schools, anti-terrorism lapses, Toyota’s stonewalling strategy with federal investigators and government ineptitude. Houston-based Synagro Technologies was aware of – and often approved – bribes and questionable payments made to Detroit officials. Using databases and pipeline inspections, the newspaper developed a statewide interactive map showing how oil pipelines wove through subdivisions and near schools and parks. Documents on the “underwear bomber” attack aboard Flight 253 revealed that security protocols were botched. In one example, the newspaper used FOI records to determine that evidence didn’t exist to report on alleged rape allegations.

The newspaper won court-ordered attorney’s fees resulting from litigation between the Free Press and the city of Detroit. And it continues to support reporter David Ashenfelter’s fight to protect a multi-year confidential source – and avoid jail time – in connection with a story that disclosed how a prosecutor was suspected of depriving defendants of a fair trial in a terrorism case.

The judges said: “The Detroit Free Press demonstrates a total commitment to serve as its community’s watchdog, and the resulting work is top-notch. The stories on undelivered restitution were poignant, making a tale of dollars into much more. Results were immediate. The uninspected pipelines report uses digital smartly. This was powerful, revelatory reporting.”

Here are details on the finalists:

The Courier-Journal at Louisville used multiple access fights and FOI litigation to produce reports that improved the lives of children in need, kept open several trials, unsealed court records and showed how a non-profit Medicaid program was costing taxpayers more money.

The newspaper’s work showed how the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services was failing in its mission to protect children from neglect and abuse. After a protracted court battle, the agency released records that showed cases involving children who were injured or killed in difficult home situations were not being investigated properly.

The newspaper challenged efforts to close meetings, fought against efforts to keep an embattled fire chief’s credit card records secret and prompted a state Supreme Court justice to order sealed court files open and policies changed after an interview with The Courier-Journal reporter.

The judges said: “The Courier-Journal is relentless. The newspaper leaves nothing unchallenged. Its scope and sweep is impressive. The work resulted in precedent-setting litigation. Louisville’s work included multiple stories that touched many lives.”

The News Journal at Wilmington was cited for a yearlong investigation of sweetheart land deals between the state’s transportation department and well-connected friends of politicians – deals that enriched a liquor distributor and wealthy real estate developers at taxpayers’ expense. This story brought strong results, including the resignation of a cabinet secretary, FBI and Federal Highway Administration investigations, the impaneling of a federal grand jury and the halting of an $850 million highway project.

The judges said: “This reporting exposed the ugly underbelly of development in Delaware. This was an extreme example of sweetheart deals for wealthy, connected developers and it cost taxpayers big-time. The newspaper fought efforts to muzzle it. Every installment took a lot of digging, and the newspaper handled a difficult subject matter with finesse. The results were quick and impressive.”

The Arizona Republic at Phoenix was cited for a wide-ranging package, including lawsuits against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Arizona State Retirement System, which refused to release records of significant cases. The newspaper won the release of records in both cases, And the BIA was forced to provide records involving a serial rape investigation on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. The newspaper used its AZ Fact Check tool to hold public officials accountable and to test the accuracy of issues reported in the state’s immigration controversy. The Republic created a Watchdog Committee that presented weekly reports to the staff on First Amendment efforts and educated reporters about effective ways to navigate watchdog cases. During Sunshine Week, the newspaper showed readers how they could do their own watchdog work.

The judges said: “The Bureau of Indian Affairs report was just one piece in a wide-ranging package that stood out. Phoenix puts its money where its mouth is. These were difficult cases to litigate. And the resulting stories were revelatory. The Republic also gets credit for innovative techniques used in delivering these stories and for its efforts to change the FOI culture in Arizona.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was cited for its three-pronged strategy on FOI issues: public education, government accountability and legal action. During Sunshine Week, the newspaper’s report on the importance of FOI laws used interactive videos and columns to illustrate why the laws are important to the public and the role the media plays in open government. It persuaded a new chairman of an economic development agency to operate in the open. Editor Bob Gabordi used his daily blog to call out the mayor who campaigned on transparency and openness but who headed an agency that wanted to escape public attention. It fought to keep open the trials and court proceedings in three high-profile murders. It successfully fought a subpoena of a reporter in another murder case.

The judges said: “The Tallahassee Democrat is exceptionally focused on being a community. On these important issues, the Democrat engages blogs and interactive and other digital efforts to show readers the importance of an open government. This newspaper has built a community around watchdog work both in print and online.”

The Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance Register was cited for its investigation of expenses of Tulare County supervisors. The supervisors were meeting over lunch several times a week, charging their meals to the county and discussing county business. The stories resulted in a new written expense policy for county employees, including the supervisors. A state official filed a claim against the county.

The judges said: “The newspaper used public records requests to reveal something that was undisclosed and questionable, if not illegal. It also showed residents how to be a ‘citizen watcher’ – a cool example of crowd sourcing. Nice job.”

Here is a list of other 2010 Best of Gannett winners:

In the following categories, cash prizes are $1,000 for first place; $800 for second place; and $600 for third place.


Division I

First Place: Eric Felci, Xochitl Pena, The Desert Sun at Palm Springs – For “How They Spend Your Money,” a series that examines how public agencies are spending taxpayers’ dollars during lean budget times. Reporters Xochitl Pena and Erica Felci examined the city of Indio’s loose oversight of city credit card use and other spending. Despite serious budget pressures, Indio city employees over a nearly two-year period charged more than $805,000 for pricey meals, global travel, professional sporting events and a trip for the city manager’s wife — all on taxpayer-funded credit cards. Shortly after the initial stories, Indio City Manager Southard resigned. Three City Council members were ousted in the November election.

Judges’ comments: “Good beat reporting spearheaded by some old-fashioned records checks changed the way the city does business and chased the city manager out of a high-paid job. The comparison to Palm Spring’s practices added important context and reassured readers that the finger-pointing was warranted. A spirit of fairness, seen in the story about the resignation, was an important factor in elevating this work.”

Second Place: John Russell, The Indianapolis Star — For reporting on the too-cozy relationship between Indiana’s largest utility and state regulators. This work brought immediate action: Three officials of Duke Energy Corp. were fired or resigned (including the No. 2 executive), the chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission was fired and an administrative law judge was reassigned. The utility’s largest customers demanded an immediate renegotiation of $500 million in cost overruns on a $2.9 billion power plant, a move that could lower homeowners’ monthly electric bill for years.

Judges’ comments: “This was dogged reporting that truly made a difference. The reporter knew the players and understood which rocks to look under. John Russell provided a rare glimpse behind the scenes of an often impenetrable regulatory process.”

Third Place: Tina Lam, Detroit Free Press — For a selection of work, including two reports showing how pollution was affecting two Detroit audiences. “Life in our most polluted ZIP code” showed the health problems faced by Detroit residents who live in the 48217 ZIP code area.The second report described how children in Detroit were affected by high levels of lead contamination, which was tied to poor school performance.

Judges’ comments: “Two significant stories are presented in this package — the high incidence of lead poisoning in Detroit school children, and the remarkable concentration of polluting industry in one neighborhood. The work ethic, creativity and passion of the writer are on display throughout this entry. Mapping, video and photographic elements are especially strong.”

Division II

First Place: Tom Wilber, Press & Sun-Bulletin at Binghamton — For “Is it Safe to Drill?” a Sunday package that provided a look at natural gas drilling in the Marcellous Shale. Coverage included pieces on gas firms poised to drill, the impact of waste from hydrofracturing and pro-con pieces on drilling issues.

Judges’ comments: “Reporter Tom Wilber commands his beat. Complex issues such as waste treatment and regulatory safety concerns were easy to understand. Comprehensive multi-level reporting ranged from interactive maps to reader voices to a “how it works” graphic and key players’ bios. The writing shined at times explaining how a community more focused on vineyards and bed & breakfasts is now grappling with industrial waste as a regional issue.”

Second Place: Candace Page, The Burlington Free Press — For a selection of work covering frog hunting, proposed junkyard regulations and a millionaire trying to will his lakefront property to the state. This work covers the definitive environmental issues in Vermont.

Judges’ comments: “Candace is a gifted writer and has deep connections on her beat, allowing her to write with authority on environmental issues throughout the state. From junkyard regulations to the flight of the bobolink, the range of topics was refreshing to read. Her visual writing… “Junk laps in waves around Darter’s single-story home and auto repair shop…” puts readers at the scene with her colorful, detailed descriptions.”

Third Place: Kim Skornogoski, Great Falls Tribune — For stories on regional issues facing rural Montana, including a story on cattle mutilations, a handmade rocking horse and the explosion of medical marijuana use. A weekly “Around the Region” column provides a great sense of place.

Judges’ comments: “Kim’s storytelling and broad range of topics gave us a strong sense of place about what’s important in rural Montana. From chronicling a cold case to the history of Millie Ringold to the carnage of 200 goats dying, she weaves details from interviews into stories that are the fabric of rural life in Big Sky country.”

Division III

First Place: Russ Zimmer, Central Ohio Newspapers and — For a variety of database reporting on topics such as analysis of anticipated tax increases, progress on bridge inspections in the state, and ticketing trends on speeders driving 100 mph or more.

Judges’ comments: “It is clear that Russ Zimmer knows how to use database work to bring readers and online users extensive information on various topics. His stories were clearly written, understandable, interesting and informative. The variety makes the work all the more impressive. Zimmer makes smart use of Caspio database tools.”

Second Place: Barbara Leader, The News-Star at Monroe — For a selection of education reporting that revealed irregularities by school board members and other education issues. Reports focused on the implementation of a career-track diploma for high school students who were not college bound and a search firm failed to notice the new schools superintendent wasn’t certified for the position in Louisiana.

Judges’ comments: “Barbara Leader went after the hard stories as well as regular education coverage. Her work clearly brought to light situations the public needed to know. She also demonstrated strong, fair reporting on additional variety of school topics.”

Third Place: Mariann Martin, The Jackson Sun – For a selection of public safety stories, including stories on juveniles contributing to a rash of burglaries, the bail amounts for criminals, and the increase in the number of meth labs.

Judges’ comments: “Mariann Martin’s work stands out for her ability to develop police-beat enterprise that provided information on burglaries, juvenile crime and other topics as well as compelling stories about crime victims and their families. The range and handling of her stories are excellent.”


Division I

First Place: The Tennessean at Nashville — For coverage of the worst flood in Middle Tennessee’s history. The work included extensive coverage on and solutions-oriented work in print. Coverage documented the toll on individuals, neighborhoods and commerce. The staff provided around-the-clock updates and sought community engagement through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. An interactive “Flood Wall” offered personal stories, local bloggers posted headlines, a “SeeClickFix” map allowed residents to report flood problems.

Judges’ comments: “The Tennessean utilized its war chest of contemporary journalism tools to provide readers with extensive coverage of the floods that ravaged Nashville and Middle Tennessee. This was breaking news coverage at its best, in print, on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter. The heartbreak, the heroics, a community coming together in adversity — all of it was covered with precision reporting, riveting photography and high quality graphics. This is journalism at its very best.”

Second Place: The Des Moines Register– For coverage of overnight storms that forced evacuations, trapped a group of young people, displaced patients at a hospice and damaged a water tower. Reports from individual towns provided minute-by-minute developments from the storm.

Judges’ comments: “With all hands on duty, the Register’s team coverage on the devastating floods shows how a news team can react to breaking news on all platforms. From rousing helicopter pilots to taking dictation to crafting headlines for SEO, the Register’s staff demonstrated how to be responsive — and responsible — in a disaster.”

Third Place: Detroit Free Press – For coverage of the indictment of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father and three associates in a longstanding probe of city corruption. In quick response, the Free Press team posted news coverage, a timeline of the corruption probe, a copy of the indictment and reaction from local leaders and officials. The five-page print report was a retrospective on the most complex corruption case in Detroit’s history.

Judges’ comments: “Proof is in the timing and details, and the Free Press had both in paper and online when the mayor’s indictment came down. What was posted in short order was complete coverage that showed an agile responsiveness — from timeline to reaction to graphic explainers — that deserves recognition.”

Division II

First Place: Press & Sun-Bulletin at Binghamton — For coverage of a raging fire that threatened the heart of downtown Binghamton. The staff quickly posted a Qik-enabled cell phone Livestream of the fire, text messages to subscribers and bulletins on the Web site. Reader-submitted video added to the coverage, and a reader-contributed photo was the lead image in print.

Judges’ comments: “When a fire threatened the heart of downtown Binghamton, the Press & Sun-Bulletin staff responded. They used a wide range of tools — an iPhone 3 to livestream, crowdsourcing, Twitter, Facebook. They took advantage of user-generated video. That’s the way to cover a fire!”

Second Place: Poughkeepsie Journal — For extensive coverage of a historic snowstorm, with two feet of snow, a record 150,000 customers without power and schools closed for a week. The news team used social media tools to drive coverage. A Twitter widget and a Livestream screen featured multiple feeds for 153 straight hours. The Journal took questions from readers during a live interview with a local utility executive. Facebook updates, breaking-news text alerts fleshed out the coverage.

Judges’ comments: “This was a nice response to the sort of event that touches everyone, but can be hard to cover as breaking news. The team did a good job moving Twitter to the front of the coverage. Photo galleries are very well done. Journal readers said this was a terrific job. We agree.”

Third Place: Pensacola News Journal – For coverage of a shooting that involved injuries to three sheriff’s deputies. The story broke in the midst of a major murder trial, and the newspaper shifted resources to feed constant updates to the Web. The work included photos, video, aerials, a Google map, text alerts and live tweets.

Judges’ comments: “Good, straightforward cops reporting in real time. The final story is clear and well structured, built on layers of updates. The video of the sheriff spokesman was straightforward and timely. The package included maps and galleries. Well done.”

Division III

First Place: The News-Star at Monroe – For coverage of the arrest – at school – of a student accused of murdering his parents. This story unfolded throughout the day and the staff fed constant updates across the web site, mobile site and social media.

Judges’ comments: “This story started when students sent texts to the education reporter asking about a lock-down. From that moment on, the staff of The News-Star used every tool available to keep their community informed. Twitter and Facebook were used effectively and appropriately. This was savvy use of different platforms, including a forward-looking print edition.”

Second place: The Jackson Sun – For coverage of storms that dropped up to 18 inches of rain and caused widespread flooding. Reporters and photographers had to be resourceful because they faced danger from washed-out roads and raging waters.

Judges’ comments: “One measure of a news team is its ability to get news out despite adverse conditions. The Jackson Sun journalists got creative during this coverage. They pushed out rapid updates via texting, and turned to readers for photos and news from areas they couldn’t reach. They found ways to get the big story out.”

Third place: The Iowa City Press-Citizen – For coverage of the selection of a new basketball coach. An announcement was expected, so planning had been done. However, the selection was a coach who had not been widely discussed. That threw the news staff into a breaking-news situation.

Judges’ comments: “The depth and breadth of coverage was remarkable, especially given that a surprise candidate was named. The Iowa City Press-Citizen quickly pulled together stories on the coach’s style of play, his coaching and playing career, controversies that had nagged him. And it was all presented on a high-impact web site.”


Division I

First Place: Robert Anglen, Pat Kossan and Laurie Roberts, The Arizona Republic — For “Probate Court: A Troubled System,” an investigative report on how Arizona’s probate courts allowed the life savings of vulnerable adults to become cash machines for lawyers and for-profit fiduciaries. The work resulted in judicial and legislative reform.

Judges’ comments: “This package had depth. It was thorough and persuasive. It broke out the issue effectively. It focused sharply to help readers understand. Coverage was broad – with investigative pieces, explanatory guides, columns, editorials and online multimedia. This had everything.”

Second Place: Randy Essex and staff, Detroit Free Press — For Michigan Green Leaders, a newspaperwide project that recognized individuals, organizations and programs who were focused on developing high-tech, more sustainable communities. An Earth Day breakfast was held to acknowledge winners.

Judges’ comments: “In a region that is struggling, the newspaper brought together people who needed to be at the table. It was engaging, different work. The 400 nominations that poured in for the Michigan Green Leaders awards showed how this idea touched a nerve.”

Third Place: Robert King and staff, The Indianapolis Star — For “Our Children, Our City,” a yearlong project devoted to bettering the lives of the children of Indianapolis. Coverage identified the need for mentors and volunteers, and the community wholeheartedly responded.

Judges’ comments: “This ambitious project to improve the lives of area children is making a real difference in this community. The newspaper said to readers: ‘We must not let the children down.’ The community didn’t. Nor did the newspaper.”

Division II

First Place: Karen Lincoln Michel, Kelly McBride, Green Bay Press-Gazette — For “Greater Green Bay: Where Kids Count” Think Bold initiative, a multifaceted community effort dedicated to improving the lives of area children and address issues related to childhood obesity. The newspaper used stories, editorials, videos and personal meetings to engage community leaders in this project.

Judges’ comments: “The Press-Gazette created a framework which will allow the newspaper to do these kinds of community driven campaigns over and over. It was true to the spirit of community leadership. It had all the elements: the ability to take an idea from the community, transparency in its process, clear directives (including a call to action), a simple goal (healthiest kids in the country) and a forum for the community to engage major stakeholders and government officials. Through the solicitation and formation of a task force, the newspaper moved the project forward and gave the community ownership of this issue.”

Second Place: Joel Banner Baird, Adam Silverman, The Burlington Free Press — For a “Green Mountain” series that focused on how to shape public policy as it affects the earth, the water and the air. The work framed issues for state legislators and the public.

Judges’ comments: “Organized, unusual, creative and inspired, the work in the ‘Green Mountain’ section stood out from the pack. Over the course of a year, and tied to the legislative cycle, Burlington packaged together structurally sound elements of community activism rarely seen in establishment media.”

Third Place: Scott Johnson and staff, Montgomery Advertiser – “For Domestic Silence,” a report on the rising number of domestic violence homicides. As a result, the newspaper hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic, which elevated the public’s awareness of the issues. As a result, one shelter reported a doubling of women entering its program.

Judges’ comments: “Pieces of this package were especially appealing — the diversity of stories, the points of view of the counselors, the police, the battered and the batterers. These compelling pieces resonated with the reader.”

Division III

First Place: Iowa City Press-Citizen – For extensively reporting on and authoritatively advocating through editorials for a law setting the bar-entry age in Iowa City at 21. While groups against the law sought to have it repealed, voters followed the newspaper’s editorial lead and supported the ordinance’s retention.

Judges’ comments: “The Press-Citizen’s work epitomized responsible community leadership through its balanced, thorough coverage and its strong editorials. Its editorial pages and Web site hosted and fostered community debate and discussion on the highly contested issue. Iowa City did a truly outstanding job.”

Second Place: The Sheboygan Press — For extensive coverage and supporting editorials on granting a permit to a religious group to lease a building and house the county’s first mosque.

Judges’ comments: “The Sheboygan Press took the lead in reporting on and exploring the issues surrounding plans to grant a permit for the county’s first mosque. Its calm, convincing editorial voice helped influence public opinion and persuade government officials to support the mosque’s establishment. This was excellent community leadership on a sensitive topic.”

Third Place: Fort Collins Coloradoan — For “the New Normal,” an extensive exploration of how recent economic changes are permanently and profoundly affecting Northern Colorado.

Judges’ comments: “The Coloradoan’s ‘New Normal’ series provided readers with a clear understanding of how economic developments, at first thought to be temporary, are having permanent effects on the community in a multitude of areas. The series gave the community a better understanding of what has happened, what its impact is, and what’s ahead – key factors in providing community leadership as people move to adjust their lives, expectations and approaches to the future.”


Division I

First Place: The Tennessean at Nashville — For digital coverage of the worst flood in Middle Tennessee history. The news staff used a wide range of tools to keep the community informed about the damage, the dangers in certain areas and how to begin to solve problems that residents and businesses faced. An interactive flood resource guide, CoverItLive video streaming to host chats with FEMA, the United Way and Tennessean editors and a SeeClickFix map so that residents could report flood problems directly to government officials.

Judges’ comments: “Like townspeople improvising to save their homes in a time of disaster, The Tennessean’s staff used all available digital resources on multiple platforms to cover the floods and their aftermath: From the practical pdf guides, CoverItLive chats, SeeClickFix map, via iPhone footage to the clever memory wall. The entirety of the digital package is peerless.”

Second Place: The Arizona Republic — For AZ FactCheck, which takes a watchdog approach in helping to determine the accuracy of public officials and public issues. This interactive, digital format encourages community conversation and extends the reach of the reporting through social networking.

Judges’ comments: “This feature demonstrates the digital power of accountability journalism far beyond the hike in page views. Leveraging video, documents, databases and showcasing old-fashioned careful reporting, this project has breadth and shows the people of Arizona why watchdogs are essential to the democratic fabric of a community and our political systems.”

Third Place: Beth Miller, Suchat Pederson, The News Journal at Wilmington — For coverage of a team of 20 Delaware doctors and nurses who organized a grass roots relief effort to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. The work included Twitter and Blackberry Messenger reports, photos and emotion-packed video interviews with members of the medical team recounting their life-altering experiences.

Judges’ comments: “This team of two used every digital tool to bring back the shock, pain, sorrow, frustration and occasional joy of a medical mission of mercy to Haiti soon after the catastrophic earthquake hit. Transmitting audio and images via satellite phone, leveraging Twitter and Blackberry Messenger, and then crafting portraits of the team members with sound, video and still photography, they were able to communicate the blunt trauma of disaster and realize the potential of digital journalism.”

Division II

First Place: Statesman Journal at Salem — For coverage of the 30th anniversary of Mount St. Helens eruption. The Salem news team leverage social media tools to create a conversation around this story. A Mount St. Helens microsite offers a time capsule of this epic event.

Judges’ comments: “Beautifully executed retrospective on the volcanic eruption, told through stunning visuals, slideshows and reader memories. Also innovative: creating a Facebook page that pulled those reader memories into an automatic feed for the microsite. This package had everything: links to stories and maps, a timeline and historic front pages from the newspaper at the time of the eruption.”

Second Place: Chris Gregory, Barbara Gallo Farrell, Poughkeepsie Journal — For the “Scary Stories” contest, a competition that invites kids to submit their Halloween stories. The 500 entries and interest behind this contest led to an interactive, innovative Web site with wide-ranging content and software expertise.

Judges’ comments: “While designed for kids, the ‘Scary Stories’ contest acts as a springboard to an original, creative and fresh approach to a perennial event that easily appeals to the entire family. Not only are there fun games created for kids (costume creation, hidden objects, and a maze, to name a few), but also galleries of kids’ drawings and audiocasts of the winning scary stories — as acted out by the kids.”

Third Place: Adam Hammer, Mike Knaak, Cy Cords, St. Cloud Times — For, a digital entertainment product. The Web site pulls together entertainment and arts stories, a music player featuring more than 1,000 songs by local musicians, a searchable arts and entertainment calendar and more.

Judges’ comments: “ is packed with reader-friendly, useful information spanning major entertainment topics. Movie trailers, a free music player ( that plays more than 1,000 songs by local artists, photo galleries, a searchable calendar, a Facebook plug-in and FourSquare check-ins make this a thorough use of multimedia and social media to give the reader the resources for a great night out on the town.”

Division III

First Place: Media Network of Central Ohio and — For a digital strategy designed to increase real-time access to severe weather information and high school sports. This mobile-centric strategy included pushing severe weather notices to mobile first, including 4INFO, Twitter and Facebook; a CoverItLive ‘ticker’ page for ongoing coverage; and the use of Caspio databases for school closings and cancellations.

Judges’ comments: “These approaches clearly have helped Central Ohio residents stay informed about severe weather and get the latest on high schools sports. The Central Ohio team’s use of Caspio databases to streamline the distribution of school closings is smart. The high school sports CoverItLive ‘ticker’ pages and Twitter hashtags drew strong reader attention. Nice work.”

Second Place: Staff, Sheboygan Press — For coverage of the PGA Championship held at Whistling Straits.

Judges’ comments: “The Sheboygan team maximized digital coverage opportunities with stories, photo galleries, blogs, videos, live videos and an interactive map. If a reader couldn’t be at this tournament, he or she certainly got a good sense of the experience.”

Third Place: Judges chose not to award a third-place winner.


Division I

First Place: Reid Forgrave, The Des Moines Register — For “Eric’s Last Wishes: A Story of Faith & Love,” a story of life and death, faith and love. This work was about a woman with five children whose husband woke up from a dream and made a video about his death four months before he was killed in a plane crash.

Judges’ comments: “The series grabs the reader and won’t let go. Reid Forgrave’s writing has a wonderful narrative flow. He knows how to engage readers by using details that make a difference in the story. There is a great clarity in his writing, and he knows how to organize a long story to make it a quick read.”

Second Place: Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press — For a report on post-earthquake conditions in Haiti. The reporter traveled with two Detroit ministers to the Caring and Sharing Mission for orphans in Port-au-Prince.

Judges’ comments: “Mitch Albom’s writing makes you feel like you are in Haiti with him. He brings home the tragedy to the reader through his exceptional ability to describe what it looks, feels and sounds like to be in the orphanage. He does an outstanding job selecting words and sentence structures to connect with readers.”

Third Place: Krista Ramsey, The Cincinnati Enquirer — For a daughter’s tribute to her mother, who had recently passed away.

Judges’ comments: “Krista Ramsey’s column is a powerful piece of first-person writing. The column has exquisite word selection, packing tremendous emotion and understanding into a personal story that she makes universal.”

Division II

First Place: Amie Thompson, Great Falls Tribune — For a story about the loss of 12-year-old Sam LaCroix to a deadly and little-known choking game. Sam’s mother, Kirsten Pabst, relives this day of horror to warn other parents.

Judges’ comments: “This is powerful storytelling, propelled by a carefully crafted reconstruction of a family tragedy. What parent could not relate to the innocent curiosity of a 12-year-old boy, turned deadly with his exposure to a dangerous thrill encouraged on the Web? Who has not been that child, experimenting with one taboo or another? This compelling narrative surely will prevent other tragedies. Well done.”

Second Place: Candace Page, Burlington Free Press — For “The Battle of Chosin Reservoir,” a story about a battle fought 60 years earlier in Korea that was filled with brutality and heroism. The story is told through the memories of a survivor and a lost soldier’s grown daughter.

Judges’ comments: “The writer does a wonderful job of personalizing a long-forgotten battle in the Korean War through the lives of two Vermonters. The story presents a seamless blend of history and original reporting. Nice writing touches throughout, including this moment, when the reporter asks how the battle began. ‘The smile dissolves, his face crumples, tears start.”

Third Place: Steve Young, Argus Leader at Sioux Falls — For a story about an Augustana College student who has defied a disability that has confined him to a wheelchair.

Judges’ comments: “Steve’s crisp writing and attention to detail bring to life an inspiring subject. Those who don’t do this for a living might think a story about Chris Johnson ‘writes itself.’ Not true. This writer shows expert judgment regarding what to include and what to leave out. Every detail matters. A finely crafted portrait.”

Division III

First Place: Maria Longley, The News Leader at Staunton — For a story about an interracial marriage 40 years ago and the couple’s decision to return to the town that rejected them at the time.

Judges’ comments: “Maria’s story about Joann and James Gaines painted a portrait of life in the late 1960s and the brave decisions made by this young couple to leave their families and strike out for a life on their own. Their return to their hometown is bittersweet.”

Second Place: Heather Stanek, The Reporter at Fond du Lac — For a story about how bystanders rushed to the aide of a toddler dragged by a car.

Judges’ comments: “The reporter told the chilling story of a 2 year old struck by a car and dragged 70 feet while lodged in front of the back wheel. Heather’s story structure and vivid writing provided readers with compelling account — a story filled with suspense that surely struck the emotions of thousands of readers. ‘We said ‘1-2-3′ and we picked the car up and moved it…’ Excellent narrative, strong quotes, a story book rescue and a happy ending.”

Third Place: Matt Vines, The Jackson Sun — For a story about a former college football player who was paralyzed in a car wreck and the progress he was making a year later.

Judges’ comments: “An emotion-packed read that captured the willpower of this young man. Excellent reporting technique. Strong writing. Those qualities make for a high-value reader experience — an experience filled with emotion and hope. Vines did it all well.”


Division I

First Place: Kinfay Moroti, Mike Donlan, Javier Torres and staff, The News-Press at Fort Myers — For “33916: Life on the edge,” a report about a region of Fort Myers where residents face poverty, crime and other problems that few other areas face.

Judges’ comments: “This comprehensive, well-packaged and powerful project gave us an up-close look at how the trauma of adults poured down to the next generation. Its strength was in the relevance of the materials at the readers’ fingertips: the use of gospel and the reverend’s eulogy, the non-narrated and succinct videos, the searchable databases, the statistics, the history and profiles of those living in this dangerous zip code. But they gave us hope, too, in telling the story of a high school graduate and giving resources for those who want to help, and for those who need help.”

Second Place: Detroit Free Press — For two reports: Ballpark Bounty, which followed 42 foul balls on a July day at Comerica Park to the hands that grab them, and Belle Isle: A profile of the “jewel of the Detroit River” and the battle to preserve it.

Judges’ comments: “These two entries demonstrate the wide range of today’s digital media. Using interactives, photos and videos and clever, dynamic approaches, the ‘Ballpark Bounty’ team used wit and whimsy to capture one of the magical moments of the national pastime. As one citizen fielder said about catching a foul ball, ‘it’s better than a home run.’ In Belle Isle, the stunning beauty of Kaufman and Damron’s work transports both reader and viewer from paper and screen to the magical and hidden parts of the island.”

Third Place: Michael Chow, The Arizona Republic — For a selection of stories including human trafficking along the Arizona-Mexico border, vigilante patrols along the border and one Mexican immigrant’s choice to risk losing it all by returning to Mexico to return to the U.S. through legal channels. (See Parts 4, 5, 6)

Judges’ comments: “Michael Chow’s work captures the range of emotion that pulses through the immigration wars. He offers powerful images, illustrative interviews and sounds and makes them work on both newspaper and digital platforms. In particular his walk through the border wilds with a group of vigilantes is stark, illuminating and brilliant visual story telling.”

Division II

First Place: The Post-Crescent at Appleton — For the “ViewFinder,” a regular feature about out-of-the-way people and places. The three people highlighted are a guitar maker, a newly minted U.S. citizen from Burundi and a quirky zoo were represented in audio slideshows, videos and print page design.

Judges’ comments: “Allowing a story to tell itself, whether through video or audio or in the quotes and words of its subjects, can be difficult to achieve. When done right it is always rewarding. The Post-Crescent’s profile of a guitar maker through his own words and vibrant images of wood working and strings, and its portrait of a zookeeping couple and their animals are quirky yet visually effective. The same simplicity of visual construction was applied to chronicling the first vote of a new citizen. These work well in print and spring to life on the Web.”

Second Place: Statesman Journal at Salem — For the visual elements of the coverage of the 30th anniversary of Mount St. Helens.

Judges’ comments: “This stunning visual presentation, both in print and online, captures the breathlessness of the eruption 30 years ago. The wraparound cover of the special section shouts out the scope of the event. Inside, clean design, strong photos and good use of white space keep pages inviting even as you are treated to a great deal of text. Online, you are treated to video, an interactive timeline and a compelling slide show including little-known ‘hot facts’ about Mount St. Helens. Great work all around.”

Third Place: Amy Bowen, Jason Wachter, St. Cloud Times — For Tour of Honor: Central Minnesota’s World War II veterans journey to Washington, D.C., to view their memorial. This is as much a story about the commitment of those who took the veterans to Washington as it is the journey itself.

Judges’ comments: “From the welcoming sound of enthusiastic applause at the airport in Washington to the final and painful playing of taps, this report skillfully integrates sound with sight; voices with photos, music and emotion. To a man, these veterans will tell you the real heroes were left on the battlefield. But in the reflections on memorial walls and the names engraved in stone, the reader and the viewer are drawn to those few who still live to tell their stories. A beautiful visual portrait.”

Division III

First Place: The Sheboygan Press — For coverage of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Judges’ comments: “The Sheboygan team developed digital and print packages to give golf fans a first-rate experience. An interactive map of Whistling Straits golf resort, live videos, photo galleries helped to show off the event. A tabloid fan guide with attractive profiles of each hole and special wraps in print enhanced the experience for visitors to the event.”

Second Place: John Grap, Battle Creek Enquirer — For coverage of the Kalamazoo River oil spill.

Judges’ comments: “Photographer John Grap was everywhere as he covered the Kalamazoo River oil spill. Print and digital readers saw the care with which rescue teams worked to save the wildlife. They saw broad views of the river with the oil moving downstream. And they saw the emotions of local residents affected by the spill. This was an important story for the area. And John Grap portrayed that in his work.”

Third Place: Aaron Hardin, The Jackson Sun — For the photos of Fletcher Cleaves Jr., a freshman football player who was paralyzed in a car wreck, and his recovery after a year.

Judges’ comments: “Photographer Aaron Hardin built a nice relationship with his subject, Fletcher Cleaves Jr. and Cleaves’ father. He captured a wide range of experiences and emotions to show how Cleaves was handling life after the accident.”


Division I

First Place: Cris Barrish and staff, The News Journal at Wilmington — For a report that revealed lax approaches in Delaware’s oversight of doctors and hospitals. The story centered on pediatrician Dr. Earl Bradley and several failed attempts by medical authorities, police and prosecutors to build a case against the man now considered one of the worst pedophiles in U.S. history.

Judges’ comments: “This reporter never quit. He didn’t shy away from difficult details. He provided answers to so many unanswered questions. There was clear evidence that something was very wrong, and the reporter dug until he found the answers. This brought sweeping reform to the state’s system for investigating and disciplining physicians.”

Second Place: Andrew Tilghman, Brendan McGarry, Karen Jowers, Military Times/Gannett Government Media Corp. — For a look at the soaring use of prescription drugs in the military.

Judges’ comments: “This was unbelievable! The impact of the pharmaceutical industry was clear. This shows how soldiers are put in harm’s way and provided little support when they leave the service. A great piece of reporting.”

Third Place: Maureen Milford, Jeff Montgomery, The News Journal at Wilmington — For an examination of payments being made to developers so that they would not develop land along a proposed bypass. At the time of the deals, 2008, property values had crashed. The FBI, the state and local officials launched investigations.

Judges’ comments: “There is something magical and striking about a journalist’s investigation that leads to an FBI investigation. This is the kind of story people talk about … it’s what people expect from a newspaper.”

Division II

First Place: Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Poughkeepsie Journal — For coverage of the treatment of the mentally disabled and how New York institutions were being kept open so that the facilities would receive the $4,556 paid per day per person in Medicaid reimbursements.

Judges’ comments: “Shocking revelations on mentally disabled people kept institutionalized to help balance the budget shows the human impact of playing the money game. Reporter Mary Beth Pfeiffer unravels the numbers and shows how inefficiencies and gaming Medicaid reimbursements provide a windfall to New York. This is showcase journalism that matters.”

Second Place: Kimberly Blair, Louis Cooper and Travis Griggs, Pensacola News Journal — For coverage of the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The coverage focused on who was telling the truth about the oil and who was lining up to get millions of dollars being handed out for cleanup and damages.

Judges’ comments: “This project shows how hard reporting on the heels of a disaster by three gifted journalists spurs change. It was much easier to see the tar mat and tar balls along the Pensacola coast than the paper trail and lies that emanated from the oil spill and questionably earmarked BP money. But these reporters brought clarity about companies trying to make money from misfortune.”

Third Place: Stacey Barchenger, Statesman Journal at Salem — For stories on Oregon’s DUI laws and the number of double felon DUIs in two local counties. The newspaper’s editorial board called for a harder line on the issue.

Judges’ comments: “From dissecting the database and personalizing the stories behind driving drunk in Oregon, Stacey Barchenger’s two-part series shows the impact a single dogged reporter can make. She should be proud of her work. It resulted in lawmakers taking action and readers seeing the real toll of human irresponsibility.”

Division III Watchdog entries were included in the Public Service category.

The judges

We extend a heartfelt thank you to the 2010 Best of Gannett judges for their dedication to the judging process and careful attention to the work they reviewed. The judges were:

Jody Brannon, national director, Carnegie-Knight News21, Professor of Practice, Arizona State University

Athima Chansanchai, national secretary, AAJA, founder and president, Tima Media

Robert Dembo, senior broadcast producer, investigations, NBC News

Maria De Varenne, editor and vice president/News, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA

Martin Kaiser, editor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Jeff Light, vice president & editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Robert Ritter, director of student media, Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University

Rick Thames, editor, The Charlotte Observer