NLA announces winners and finalists for 2020 awards
Columbia, Mo. (April 27, 2020)
– The News Leaders Association announced today the winners of this year's NLA Awards for distinguished writing, digital storytelling and photography. The winning work is a collection of high-quality, high-impact journalism from news outlets of various sizes and platforms.
Some of this year’s entries sprawled across the continent to expose wrongdoing. Others reached far back in history to give context to how the country looks today. There was reporting from distant seas as well as local communities, stories that held powerful forces accountable and stories that gave voice to those we needed to hear. They all showed courage, or deep commitment, or uncommon creativity
– and sometimes all of the above.
The NLA Awards honors the best in print, digital, photo and video content in 11 categories. The contest drew 455 entries, from which 48 finalists from news outlets of various sizes and platforms were named.
"The finalists cited here exemplify the important and powerful work under way in newsrooms across the country, in defiance of the economic trends we hear so much about and in service of the First Amendment,” said NLA President Michael Days. “We are proud to recognize so much inspiring work that shines a light on the most important issues of our day around the country and the world.”
This is the 2nd year of the NLA Awards, continuing the long traditions of the previously separate ASNE and APME Awards, among the most prestigious in journalism. Many of the categories are sponsored and come with cash prizes, thanks to a group of editors from the former Knight Ridder Inc., The Dallas Morning News, Advance Publications Inc., the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Seattle Times, the Chicago Tribune, the O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee and The New York Times.
Because of the current global pandemic, judging took place online this year for all rounds of judging. The winners and finalists are as follows:
Batten Medal for Courage in Journalism
Julie K. Brown, Emily Michot and the Staff of the Miami Herald are the winners of the Batten Medal, which honors public service journalism in memory of revered reporter, editor and newspaper executive James K. Batten. The medal is intended to celebrate the journalistic values Batten stood for: compassion, courage, humanity and a deep concern for the underdog. They will receive $2,500 for winning the award, sponsored by a group of editors from the former Knight Ridder Inc.
The courage and determination shown in this work is extraordinary. At numerous junctures the reporters could have moved on, but they stayed with the story despite a system designed to keep them at bay. The results created national headlines that reverberate to this day. There are few better examples of the wealthy and powerful being held accountable for horrific behavior.
Reporting and Data Teams, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Associated Press, NBC News Investigative Unit, The New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais, the Irish Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — “China Cables”
Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership - Large and Small
Robert Greene with the Los Angeles Times will receive $1,250 for winning the Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership Large division, and Jeffery Gerritt with the Palestine Herald-Press will receive $1,250 for winning the Burl Osborne Award for Editorial Leadership Small division. This award recognizes editorial writing that is excellent journalism and makes a difference in a community. The award is sponsored by The Dallas Morning News in memory of Burl Osborne, who died in 2012.
Robert Greene’s rigorously reported editorials showed Californians that the old system of retributive justice, toughened in recent decades. In a topic area that’s rife with opportunity for demagoguery, Greene brandished hard facts and logic to challenge generations of conventional wisdom surrounding criminal justice.
Jeffery Gerritt took on entrenched bureaucrats and elected officials to force the state of Texas to confront the problem of in-custody deaths. His series “Death without conviction” produced soul-searching and action by the Texas Rangers and the state legislature.
Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence - Large and Small
T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi with ProPublica will receive $1,250 for winning the Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence Large category, and Eric Boodman with STAT will receive $1,250 for winning the Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence Small category. The Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence recognizes excellence in news and feature writing (except commentary or editorials) that's not done as breaking news. The award is sponsored by Advance Publications Inc. in memory of former editor Deborah Howell, who died in 2010.
ProPublica’s reconstruction of the U.S. Navy’s worst disaster in decades — the deaths of 17 sailors on the USS Fitzgerald, a $1.8 billion destroyer in the 7th Fleet — was stunning. Based on secret documents, first-hand accounts, aging ship blueprints and data wizardry, was a tour de force of longform, compelling accountability storytelling. Sailor diaries, hand drawn depictions of the accident, trial and transcripts and leaked video. All of it was used to create an experience that was painstakingly precise, bravely unflinching, utterly damning.
With empathy and compassion, Eric Boodman of STAT News chronicled the anguish of parents of a baby who died from sudden infant death syndrome. He meticulously documented the ways in which their bewilderment and grief were exacerbated by a lack of research into the syndrome, prolonged delays and even indifference among various public agencies.
Christie Thompson - The Marshall Project produced in partnership with NPR and Mother Jones, The Marshall Project — “Chuck Coma Comes Home”
The Staff of the New York Times are the winners of the Dori J. Maynard Award for Justice in Journalism, which celebrates journalism that overcomes ignorance, stereotypes, intolerance, racism, hate, negligence and indifference. They will receive $2,500 for winning the award, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in memory of Dori J. Maynard, who was an ASNE board member and a strong advocate for news and newsroom diversity.
Using as its cornerstone the first year that enslaved Africans set foot in Virginia, the Times delivers a powerful re-examination of slavery and it's continuing impact on virtually every corner of American life. The scope was ambitious, the subject matter novel and the storytelling first-rate.
Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting - Large and Small
Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi S. Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis with ProPublica will receive $1,250 for winning the Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting Large division, and the staff of the Anchorage Daily News/ProPublica/NPR, with lead reporter Kyle Hopkins, will receive $1,250 for winning the Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting Small division. This award, sponsored by The Seattle Times in honor of Frank A. Blethen, who has been The Times' publisher and CEO since 1985, recognizes outstanding work done by a news organization that holds important local institutions accountable for their actions.
Children, many with special needs, are being locked away in isolation, often in violation of state law. This collaborative partnership from ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune exposed alarming and outrageous actions inside Illinois schools and prompted significant results.
Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing
Steve Lopez with the Los Angeles Times will receive $2,500 for winning the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing, which recognizes excellence in writing by an individual that expresses a personal point of view. The award is sponsored by the Chicago Tribune in memory of legendary columnist Mike Royko, who died in 1997.
Steve Lopez puts a face – or many faces – on the homeless epidemic in Southern California. Through his stories, we see theirs– that they are people, with full lives and families that love them, and ended up in situations beyond what they imagined. Lopez took us with him onto the squalid streets of LA, using his keen eye for detail and his vivid and poignant storytelling skills to allow us to see, smell and feel a world that we too often turn away from. In a category with some great writing, It's impossible to get his work out of your mind.
O'Brien Fellowship Award for Impact in Public Service Journalism
Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich with The Washington Post are the winners of the O'Brien Fellowship Award for Impact in Public Service Journalism. This award recognizes public service work that helps solve community or societal issues and leads to changes in laws, regulations or other demonstrated results. They will receive $2,500 for winning the award, sponsored by the fellowship at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
In an authoritative, groundbreaking series, The Washington Post disclosed what drove the devastating opioid crisis that ravaged parts of America. After a year-long court battle, The Post obtained a government database that Drug Enforcement Administration and drug industry officials had long fought to keep private. The records, and meticulous reporting, showed the full scope of the opioid epidemic and which manufacturers benefited.
Punch Sulzberger Award for Innovative Storytelling - Large and Small
The staff of Newsday are the winners of the Punch Sulzberger Award for Innovative Storytelling Large division and the combined staffs of The University of Maryland's Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and Capital News Service, in collaboration with National Public Radio and Wide Angle Youth Media, are the winners of the Punch Sulzberger Award for Innovative Storytelling Small division. This award recognizes excellence and innovation in the use of digital tools to tell news stories. Each winning work will receive $1,250 for winning the award, sponsored by The New York Times in memory of former publisher Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, who died in 2012.
This ambitious 3-year investigation uncovers discriminatory practices by the real estate industry by deploying undercover testers. The results highlight the disparate treatment of minority home seekers by agents from well-known brokerage companies. This is a big package but the pacing and treatment of various digital journalism formats keeps readers engaged throughout. This includes well-produced videos and expandable boxes that elegantly allow readers to dig into more contextual information if they choose to. The reader can meet the testers, learn how the hidden cameras work, and generally gain a lot of transparency around the investigation. One of the more powerful aspects was the use of digital mapping tools to show data visualizations revealing the patterns found by the testers. Significant impact followed the publication, including the launch of several government investigations. The story was placed outside the paywall to make it accessible to a broader community, and a signal and prompt for people to support local journalism. All of these things tied together signify a thoughtful approach to digital journalism, with the audience at the center.
Code Red, a multimedia series illustrating Baltimore’s climate divide, used temperature sensors and other data to investigate the impacts of climate change on the city’s underserved neighborhoods. Beyond the innovative use of sensor technology and data journalism, the team had to engage and earn the trust of their community by conducting extensive on-the-ground reporting. The result was a compelling, data-centric and visually-rich series that bring both a local and an equity lens to climate change reporting.
Emily Kassie - The Marshall Project in partnership with The Guardian, The Marshall Project — “Detained”
The staff of The Baltimore Sun are the winners of the Al Neuharth Breaking News Reporting Award for coverage of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s shady business dealings. This award recognizes coverage of breaking news events produced in the first 24 hours of an event.
The Baltimore Sun did an astonishing job of breaking news reporting built upon a foundation of sources and knowledge gained from its earlier investigation into Mayor Catherine Pugh’s shady business dealings. That investigation had triggered both the mayor’s resignation and a federal criminal investigation. Sun reporters learned of a grand jury’s 11-count indictment before it was announced and immediately went to work on the many details that hadn’t yet been reported – about how the mayor had sold twice as many copies of her children’s book than had ever been printed; used the profits to buy a house, pay down debt, and make illegal donations to her campaign; and claimed income of $31,000 to the IRS in 2016 when she actually made more than $322,000. Their first-day reporting of Pugh’s indictment is a stellar example of accountability reporting under deadline by reporters with unparalleled knowledge of their subject.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii with the Star Tribune is the winner of the Visual Journalism Award Large division, and Mark Lambie with the El Paso Times is the winner of the Visual Journalism Award Small division. This award rewards powerful and meaningful photography, videos and any visual multimedia that capture a community, issue or news event.
In "A mother's love: caring for Lizzie," the Star Tribune personalizes the breakdown of Minnesota's system of Medicaid services for the disabled. Through compassionate and patient photography, Richard Tsong-Taatarii captures the joys and heartbreak of a mother's enduring love, and challenges of caring for her critically ill daughter.
Mark Lambie's coverage of the aftermath of the Walmart shooting in El Paso was compelling and heartfelt. His inclusion of documentary work of the local immigration crisis put the tragedy in context, creating a nuanced portrait of his community.
Emily Kassie - The Marshall Project in partnership with The Guardian, The Marshall Project — “Detained”
Jennifer Berry Hawes, Stephen Hobbs, Glenn Smith and Seanna Adcox of The Post and Courier are the winners of the First Amendment Award. This award recognizes the best example of protecting or advancing freedom of information principles, and/or overcoming significant resistance to the application of the First Amendment. The First Amendment Award winner receives $1,000, sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University’s Free Speech Center.
The Post and Courier provided a haunting, detailed report on conditions that led to the deadliest prison riot in 25 years at a South Carolina facility, leaving seven people dead. The team’s timeline-style narrative, which involved significant data requests, thousands of pages of documents and hundreds of interviews, is a Class A example of journalism that makes a difference. The powers that be didn’t want to give up information about what happened, and the Post and Courier didn’t give up. Truly powerful reporting.
Chip Rowe, Liz Schevtchuck Armstrong, Highlands Current — “Secret Putnam”
A group of news leaders and journalism professionals around the nation determined finalists and winners. In addition to the NLA Awards Committee Co-Chairs Brian McGrory of The Boston Globe and Tom Koetting of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, judges include:
Alfredo Carbajal, Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News)
Paige Mudd, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Audrey Cooper, San Francisco Chronicle
Bill Church, Gannett
Bill Greene, The Boston Globe
Carla Minet, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo
Colin McMahon, Tribune Publishing
Dann Miller, Memphis Commercial Appeal
David Plazas, The Tennessean
Deanna Pan, The Boston Globe
Deb Pastner, The Star-Tribune
Dennis Anderson, Peoria Journal Star
Dudley Brooks, The Washington Post
Ellen Gabler, The New York Times
Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, The Washington Post
George Rodrigue, The Plain Dealer
George Stanley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Hollis Towns, Gannett / USA TODAY Network
Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, CBS News
Irene Virag, Stony Brook University
Jamie Stockwell, The New York Times
Jim Simon, Honolulu Civil Beat
Kathy Best, University of Maryland
Katrice Hardy, The Greenville News
Kim Fox, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Lisa Cianci, Orlando Sentinel
Lisa Lednicer, The Washington Post
Lucy Dalglish, University of Maryland
Mandy Jenkins, The Compass Experiment
Manny Garcia, ProPublica
Mark Baldwin, Rockford Register Star
Mark Horvit, University of Missouri
Mark Katches, Tampa Bay Times
Marty Kaiser, University of Maryland
Michael Days, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Michele Matassa Flores, The Seattle Times
Mike Szvetitz, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Mimi Swartz, Texas Monthly
Mitch Pugh, The Post and Courier
Neil Chase, CalMatters
Oskar Garcia, The New York Times
Paul Cheung, Knight Foundation
Raquel Rutledge, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Rene Sanchez, The Star-Tribune
Robert Salladay, McClatchy
Robyn Tomlin, The News & Observer
Rona Kobell, University System of Maryland
Ruby Bailey, Columbia Missourian
Sarah Nordgren, The Associated Press
Sewell Chan, Los Angeles Times
Shazna Nessa, Wall Street Journal
Sisi Wei, OpenNews
Teri Hayt, NLA Executive Director
Tom Davidson, Gannett
Tom Koetting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tom Verdin, The Associated Press
About the News Leaders Association
The American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors have joined forces to become the News Leaders Association. NLA aims to foster and develop the highest standards of trustworthy, truth-seeking journalism; to advocate for open, honest and transparent government; to fight for free speech and an independent press; to nurture the next generation of news leaders committed to spreading knowledge that informs democracy. Our goal is for all citizens to be informed by accurate, truthful, independent reporting so they can demand the best from our democratic institutions.
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