The 2020 Excellence in Features award winners—Combined divisions

All circulation categories compete together.

Headline writing portfolio

A collection of three headlines and accompanying decks by the same writer for feature stories or columns.
First place: Vince Rinehart—The Washington Post
“Upsetting the a la carte,” “They’ll take crushed hopes, Alex,” “Adam Schiff’s toughest script”
Judge’s comments: These entries display wonderful wordplay that capture the stories’ gist without seeming forced. Our favorite on a story about a San Francisco food critic doing things her way: “Upsetting the a la carte.”
Second place: Panfilo Garcia—The Washington Post
“Congress: Hello? Hello? US: smh,” “Nick Cave and the seeds of communion,” “’CMAs cowboys up (again)”
Judge’s comments: Smart, effective headlines that make you think–and smile. Kudos especially for this one: “Nick Cave and the seeds of communion.”
Third place: Thomas Floyd—The Washington Post Express
“A statuette of limitations,” “Old yarn, fresh spin,” “Free Solo’s’ Honnold is staying grounded”
Judge’s comments: Another set of clever headlines that tell the story. Best of the bunch (on a story about attempts to limit Oscar participation): “A statuette of limitations.”
Honorable mention: Joe Stalvey—(Albany, N.Y.) Times Union
“Weather permitting, a chance to soar,” “Some extra legs to break onstage,” “Cannabis’ kin generating its own buzz”
Honorable mention: Mesfin Fekadu—The Associated Press
“Regina is already a King, but what about president?” “Dilemma of having an R. Kelly-penned hit: Sing or sink it?” “The talking dead: Life during and after ‘Game of Thrones’”

Features podcast

The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic told through a podcast. 
First place: Doug Fabrizio, Benjamin Bombard, Tim Slover—RadioWest, “RadioWest”
Judge’s comments: RadioWest uses the audio format expertly to tell a feature story in a way that feels effortless, professional and even comforting. Host Ted Giola is a curious, steady interviewer, the kind you can’t wait to hear take on your favorite notable subject. Listening to the entries submitted reminded one of the best feature stories that peel back the layers of its subject in an intimate way. Every episode felt like a conversation between really smart friends. The Tan France interview was a standout. RadioWest might not use audio in a flashy way, but it is substantive and calmly addictive.
Second place: Noah Rosenberg , Ryan Sweikert—Narratively, “Believable”
Judge’s comments: Believable captures mood and tone in an almost dreamlike way, which gives it an arresting quality. It uses music and atmospheric sound more effectively than any other entry. The concept of Believable and foregrounding of its subjects’ voices also stood out. It was a close call between first and second place; laying out the “nut graf” of the episodes, so to speak, a little more explicitly and immediately would have tipped the judging in this podcast’s favor. That’s ultimately a minor critique, as Believable stood head and shoulders among almost every podcast entry for its excellence in craft and approach to audio storytelling.
Third place: Staff—Syracuse Side Hustles, “Syracuse Side Hustles”
Judge’s comments: “Syracuse Side Hustles” is charming. A fabulous concept executed with lean efficiency. Episodes are quick and to the point, which more podcasts should try to be. The stories it tells feel essential and potentially transformative. Wouldn’t the world be much better if we asked our neighbors what they really cared about?
Honorable mention: Zachary Siegel, Kaitlin Benz, Alexander Charles Adams—Undark, “The Undark Podcast”

Digital innovation

New or improved digital ventures, which can include new or upgraded websites, apps, social-media experiments or other ways to share information in the digital world. 
First place: Staff—The Trace, Miami Herald, McClatchy, “Since Parkland”
Judge’s comments: This project – whose centerpiece is a dizzying collection of 1,200 mini-profiles of gun violence victims over the course of a year – works on multiple levels. Instead of retreading the story of Parkland for its anniversary, it tells new stories. In humanizing the victims of under-reported gun crimes, it tells a more nuanced picture of who is affected than the anecdotal or high-profile death. By using more than 200 teen journalists to write those profiles, it makes parallels between the promise of these writers and those that lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas High School. An ambitious, innovative, affecting collaboration.
Second place: Walter Hussman Jr. and Staff—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “ADG iPad Initiative”
Judge’s comments: This statewide initiative to replace a printed paper Monday to Saturday with a free iPad lease is bold and with potential to meaningfully change the paper’s bottom line. The instructional videos and telephone support line are thoughtful ways to ease less tech-savvy readers through the transition. Note to SFJ heads: The ADG iPad initiative also won 2nd place in the same category last year for essentially the same project. In 2018 it was local, in 2019 they’ve expanded it statewide. But if we have a policy against awarding the same project at different stages, this might be counted out. If so, you can count my third place winner as 2nd place and I don’t have a third place selection.
Third place: Eric Roper, James Lileks, Jeff Hargarten—(Minneapolis) Star Tribune News, “Minneapolis 1907: A guided tour”
Judge’s comments: A community history project that takes a simple concept and uses it to connect people to a shared sense of place through their curiosity.

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