The 2020 Excellence in Features award winners—Division I

DIVISION 1 | Circulation up to 90,000

Finest in Features Sweepstakes awards

This award honors three publications in each circulation category that garner the most awards in the other 22 categories.
First place: The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier
Five awards, including five firsts (General Feature, Food Criticism, Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio, Food Writing Portfolio and Integrated Storytelling).
Second place: The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate/
Six awards, including one first (Niche Product), three seconds (Arts & Entertainment Feature, Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio and Sports Feature) and two thirds (Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio and Food Writing Portfolio).
Third place: The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette
Five awards, including one first (Diversity in Digital Features) and four seconds (Best Section, Features Digital Presence, Video Storytelling and Special Section).

Best section

The best regularly occurring printed features sections that focus on A&E, lifestyles or other features coverage.
First place: Austin American-Statesman
Judge’s comments: These sections stand out because of the eye-popping photos, strong writing and diversity reflecting the community. Plus, there’s so much to love. The Austin360 Dining Guide doesn’t just have one photo per restaurant listing. Several have three or four, giving the dinner guest visual stimulation to go with the tantalizing descriptions. The size makes it convenient to keep and take along later. Not only do you learn the main acts of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but who’s playing outside of the festival if you want to avoid the crowds. You meet the Fajita King who first commercialized fajitas 50 years ago, and you visit a ranch for a Mexican style rodeo, where charros compete in a charreada.
Second place: The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette
Judge’s comments: The Colorado Springs Gazette feature sections introduce you to what you must see and do as well as everyday people doing special things. The presentation makes the stories and photos pop off the page and gives readers an easy way to consider what books to read and movies to see. You meet the 100-year-old granny rocking a 5-week-old in the Fort Carson nursery and an 11-year-old struggling to survive cancer. And who can’t relate to that slice of life problem of missing socks?
Third place: The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post
Judge’s comments: History dominates the pages of these sections of the Palm Beach Post as readers reflect on their summer of ’69. The Oscar issue takes a look back at native icon Veronica Lake and her lasting legacy. And readers are taken back to the Burt Reynolds Theater’s performances featuring Eartha Kitt and Carol Burnett. It’s all presented clean and crisp to draw readers in.

Best features digital presence

The best your publication has to offer in digital A&E, features and lifestyle coverage.
First place: Staff, Austin American-Statesman,
Judge’s comments: Austin360 offers a thorough look at this city’s vibrant entertainment and food scene. It’s informative, easy to navigate and well written. Bonus points for COVID-19 coverage during the pandemic.
Second place: Staff, The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette, Out There Colorado
Judge’s comments: An authoritative look at the cool things to do in Colorado, this website is useful and fun. If you’re visiting Colorado, you’ll want to check out this site.

General feature

Feature treatment of any A&E, lifestyles or news topic.
First place: Tony Bartelme, Glenn Smith, Lauren Petracca—The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), “Our Secret Delta: An epic story about power, beauty and how one of South Carolina’s last great places faces new threats”
Judge’s comments: The writing of Tony Bartelme and Glenn Smith, combined with the visuals of Lauren Petracca, create a masterclass in sense of place. Line after line—from the thwack of deerflies on skin at the outset to the twilit grass that puts the story to rest—is vibrant and tactile, in the way that can only be achieved when reporters spend ample time in the field and that serves the story only when they deeply research and care about the setting. Among this brilliant scenery, Bartelme and Smith adeptly weave the environmental, racial and economic histories of South Carolina’s Lowcountry into a tale that feels fluid but never superficial, serious but not cumbersome, and sweeping but deeply human.
Second place: Mark Patinkin—The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, “Touched by Cancer
Judge’s comments: Mark Patinkin’s writing is accessible and unsparing. His personal portrayal of cancer devastates the reader while revealing abstract medical procedures as vivid and real. The reporting includes interviews with his own children and doctors, evidence of rigor and reflection that elevate this story—unlike any we’ve read before.
Third place: Katie Sullivan Borrelli, Anthony Borrelli—The Ithaca Journal (New York), “Light in the Dark: A beloved trans woman was brutally murdered by her boyfriend. Her story reveals a nationwide problem
Judge’s comments: This retelling of a life lost to domestic violence, compounded by the victim’s transgender identity, moves and informs the reader in a nuanced and respectful way that is worthy of praise. Writers Katie Sullivan Borrelli and Anthony Borrelli ensure that Josie Berrios does not simply become another statistic in a world full of violence against trans women. Her story serves to shed light on a national, complex issue that these writers handle with care.
Honorable mention: Marc Lester—Anchorage Daily News “A day in the life of a United States senator: Lisa Murkowski

Arts & Entertainment feature

Feature treatment of an arts andFeature treatment of an arts and entertainment topic–such as architecture, art, books, dance, movies, music, opera, television or theater.entertainment topic.
First place: Gillian Friedman—Deseret News, “Hallmark is making Hanukkah movies this year. I’m Jewish, and I’m not excited about it”
Judge’s comments: The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are a cliche of the season, so we found Gillian Friedman’s take–as a Jewish viewer–to be refreshing. The personal column about two Hanukkah/Christmas movies was well-written and provided a thought-provoking cultural take.
Second place: Keith Spera—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate |, “Dr. John achieved greatness only after getting sober with the help of a friend and manager”
Judge’s comments: Writer Keith Spera took the opportunity of a high-interest obit to tell the fascinating backstory of New Orleans legend Dr. John’s sober journey. This was well-written and with a wealth of detail and local color.
Third place: Jennifer Tormo—225 Magazine, “Life in the Fast Laine”
Judge’s comments: This profile of “American Idol” winner Laine Hardy was a pleasure to read. Nice storytelling, polished writing and good turns of phrase by Jennifer Tormo.
Honorable mention: Rachel Gallaher—Gray Magazine, “A Modern Medici”

Short feature

Tight, bright writing of fewer than 1,000 words.
First place: Amaris Castillo—The Lowell (Mass.) Sun, “With every step, joy”
Judge’s comments: This story is lovely, and we continue to be astonished by its dual nature: simple yet complex. It is the story of two people walking, but it is so much more. We learn about a lifetime of love and obstacles and heartache in a relatively short read. There is nothing sappy or cloying in this piece. It just is. It made my heart ache, and it made my heart soar. It’s a gift.
Second place: Leigh Hornbeck—(Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “’Kissed by fire’: Local redheads meet ‘Game of Thrones’ author”
Judge’s comments:
How can any one not love a story that references Alan Moore and George R.R. Martin? We have a weakness for redheads and “Game of Thrones” (who doesn’t?) and were totally charmed by this story.
Third place: Riley Bienvenu—inRegister Magazine, “Pig Paradise”
Judge’s comments:
The subject of the story had me at hello. I must admit that I don’t think a lot about pigs, but this story has changed me – permanently. It’s a notable example of turning something that might be described as “quiet” into a very fun story.
Honorable mention: Liane Faulder—Edmonton (Canada) Journal, “A beloved spot for ladies-who-lunch shuts down in Edmonton”

Food feature

A single story focusing on food, not including reviews or commentary. Can be a trend story, personality profile, narrative piece, how-to or other feature treatment of a food topic.
First place: Chris Malloy—Phoenix New Times, “Lightning in the Hand: An Apache Leader Hunts for the Past to Nourish the Future”
Judge’s comments:
Chris Malloy’s writing is compelling and storytelling at its best, from a wonderful lede to vivid descriptions of what it takes to hunt and kill woodrats to skillfully capturing the voice of life on an Indian reservation.
Second place: Micah Castelo—Rooted, “An Inside Look at Home Canners Who Preserve by their Own Rules”
Judge’s comments: Micah Castelo offers an interesting and well-researched perspective of what it is to be in the shoes of rebel canners. The narrative is smooth and weaves in facts and figures without missing a beat.
Third place: Katelyn Weisbrod—The Daily Iowan, “2 years ago, she was pre-med at the UI. Now she’s running her own farm.”
Judge’s comments:
In a clean and efficient way, Katelyn Weisbrod conveys the challenges that first-generation farmers face in Iowa. The graphic adds an informative layer to the story.
Honorable mention: Emily Wolfe—Mountain Outlaw, “Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard Thinks Food Could Save the Planet”

Food criticism

A single story, such as a restaurant review, that offers opinions about a topic or restaurant in the food industry.
First place: Hanna Raskin—The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, “Malagon serves marvelous food to those allowed into downtown Charleston restaurant”
Judge’s comments:
Imagine reviewing a restaurant where you haven’t eaten. Hanna Raskin’s account of her efforts to crack into a Charleston restaurant that had warned her not to come is filled with bright writing and laudable restraint. Striking moment: While a review always reflects the perspective of the critic who wrote it, he or she is just an emissary of the people who have to think twice before plunking down $100 for dinner on a random Tuesday night.
Second place: Susie Davidson Powell—(Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “ca.1883 Tavern at the Stewart House in Athens”
Judge’s comments:
Susie Davidson Powell’s review transports the reader to right to the seasonal table of this restaurant with fabulous descriptions framed with just enough restaurant/chef context to follow along.
Third place: Matthew Odam—Austin American-Statesman “Comedor’s sophistication unmatched in Austin’s Mexican dining scene”
Judge’s comments:
Matthew Odam’s review deftly translates the dining experience at this Spanish restaurant for the uninitiated.

Features series or project

Feature treatment of any lifestyle, A&E or news topic that has multiple parts.
First place: Marisa Kwiatkowski—The Indianapolis Star, “Ashley’s Story: Her foster home seemed perfect. It held a dark secret.”
Judge’s comments:
Wow. Marisa Kwiatkowski takes what could have been a run-of-the-mill story about a young woman’s struggles and turns it into a sometimes beautiful, oftentimes troubling five-part series you won’t soon forget. It’s an exhaustive (but not exhausting) look at a young woman coming to terms with an abusive childhood and trauma throughout her life. The series is painstakingly reported, even though there are barriers at every turn, including a main character who disappears for months at a time. But it all pays off in this no-holds-barred series that is harrowing, heartbreaking and, in the end, a little bit hopeful. It’s a sweeping tale that you won’t soon forget.
Second place: Tony Plohetski—Austin American-Statesman, “19 Days”
Judge’s comments:
Tony Plohetski does a magnificent job of recreating “19 Days” in which Austin, Texas, law enforcement worked to stop a serial bomber from terrorizing the city. Exhaustive reporting leads to a detail-filled account of the bombings and their aftermath. It’s a not-often-seen look inside the investigation process, with superb writing and some compelling audio, also.
Third place: Staff—Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “ADG Pages from the Past Project”
Judge’s comments:
When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette turned 200, they celebrated in a big way–a 200-day series looking at a historical front page every day. But this was more than just reproductions, which are fascinating on their own. They were accompanied by essays that analyzed the news of the day, leading to a wonderful history of the past 200 years. All centennial and bicentennial celebrations should be this well done.
Honorable mention: Janine Zeitlin, Amanda Inscore—The News-Press/Naples (Fla.) Daily News, “Forsaken: Anber’s Story”

Narrative storytelling

A single story told in a narrative style, using techniques such as character development, use of dialogue, sense of place, scene building, narrative arc and adherence to theme.
First place: G. Wayne Miller—The Providence (R.I.) Journal “Redemption”
Judge’s comments:
This reads like a crafted piece of work — in form, function and emotional aptitude. The writing is nice, but it’s the storytelling that sells it so well as we discover how a man’s life led to a fateful moment.
Second place: Alexandra Becker—TMC Pulse, “Saving Officer Barnes”
Judge’s comments:
Wonderful writing. Great detail and scene building. There are times you feel like you were part of a tragedy that you’re so thankful you didn’t have to experience.
Third place: Devon Heinen—New Statesman America, “Life after Parkland”
Judge’s comments:
What makes this story work is how the writer uses the tangents of grief mixed with daily life to illustrate the bizarre experience of trying to parent and deal with your grief while the nation is watching every move you make.
Honorable mention: Jesse Hyde—Deseret News, “A nun, a shooting and the unlikely legacy that could save the Amazon rainforest”

Feature specialty writing portfolio

Three stories by the same writer on one features specialty topic, such as arts and entertainment, fashion, food, health, religion, technology or travel.
First place: Jennifer Berry Hawes—The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier
Judge’s comments:
Beautiful writing and moving, well-researched storytelling. Telling stories of our community that make a difference is what the best of features journalism does, and this writer does it extremely well. The assisted suicide saga had me literally weeping.
Second place: Doug MacCash—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate |
Judge’s comments:
With great ledes that hook you right away and interesting bits tucked in throughout the stories, you come away feeling like you know these people, their way of life and the city they live in.
Third place: Keith Spera—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate |
Judge’s comments:
Music writer Keith Spera examines the life and legacy of three giants of the New Orleans music scene who died in 2019. The writer moved well beyond the basic obit to tell the story of someone’s life. We liked the three different approaches.

Food writing portfolio

Three stories, columns or reviews by the same writer on any food topic.
First place: Hanna Raskin—The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier
Judge’s comments:
Hanna Raskin goes deep in her coverage of food and culture. She delivers a history lesson on the role of restaurants in the civil rights movement for those too young to have lived it, and delivers some unexpected pleasures in her story about an unusual niche in pop culture: prison DIY birthday cakes. Her stories are timely, well reported and expertly written.
Second place: Suzy Leonard—Florida Today
Judge’s comments:
Suzy Leonard speaks for residents of Brevard County in her restaurant scene coverage that spans the complicated place for dogs in restaurants, Florida’s evolving peach industry and even the are-we-cool-enough longing for a Trader Joe’s of their own.
Third place: Ian McNulty—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate |
Judge’s comments: Ian McNulty oozes NOLA in his dissertation about tea vs. sweet tea, the father-son bond of a tortilleria dream and the joy that comes with the return of a favorite pub.

General commentary portfolio

A collection of three columns or essays by the same writer on any human interest or specialty topic, excluding editorials.
First place: Mary C. Curtis—CQ Roll Call
Judge’s comments: Wonderful work by a writer who uses great reporting, combined with thoughtful perspective, to create work that makes readers think and feel. No ego-driven tricks as she allows her work to speak for itself.
Second place: Andrea Brown—The (Everett, Wash.) Daily Herald
Judge’s comments: A wonderful example of work that captures the heart and soul of a community. Wonderful piece on a street musician who found redemption.
Third place: Ashley Sexton Gordon—inRegister Magazine
Judge’s comments: Such clarity and voice in her pieces, she builds an intimacy with her readers.

Arts & entertainment commentary portfolio

A collection of three columns, essays or reviews by the same writer on any arts and entertainment topic, including dining reviews but excluding editorials.
First place: Court Mann—Deseret News
Judge’s comments: Slick and sassy on the surface, Court Mann’s takes on pop culture could be dismissed as shallow. (Can we please all agree on Seth Rogen’s hotness?) But Mann reaches for deeper truths here, like the value of interdependence in contemporary music, and the way women pop stars are consistently underestimated for what they bring to the table. These are well-crafted, highly digestible columns.
Second place: Jackson Arn—The Forward
Judge’s comments:
Though they’re aimed at a niche audience, Jackson Arn’s pieces pique broader interest with sharp cultural takes that display a subtle intelligence. His takedown of Daniel Mendelsohn speaks eloquently to what good criticism should achieve—going beyond a simple thumbs up or down to evoke what a particular work of art might have to say about society and the human condition.
Third place: Tracey O’Shaughnessy—(Waterbury, Conn.) Republican-American
Judge’s comments: Tracey O’Shaughnessy’s scholarly takes on art and history don’t merely respect her reader’s intelligence. They demand it—a precious rarity in the newspaper world. Yet they never talk down.
Honorable mention: Talya Zax—The Forward

Sports feature

Feature treatment of any sports topic.
First place: Jennifer Graham—Deseret News “Inside the mind of the man who keeps Tom Brady in the game”
Judge’s comments: The lede hooks you (“… these are the hands that massage Tom Brady. These hands.”) and the story keeps you there. Jennifer Graham goes beyond what can be the usual sports territory — how does a trainer keep Tom Brady going physically, although we learn about that, too — to deliver a deeper profile. A model for anyone trying to capture the essence of a person.
Second place: Doug MacCash—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate | “Saints superfan has 64 players’ autographs tattooed on body: Brees, Kamara, Gleason, even Gayle Benson”
Judge’s comments: So many details woven throughout enrich Doug MacCash’s story of a Saints superfan and prove what we know to be true: Everyone has an interesting tale to tell. Some nice writing throughout, including this imagery: In time, his back has become like the bottom of the U.S. Constitution, a selection of important though largely illegible scribbles. He wears a custom-made jersey with a transparent back made from a clear shower curtain, to let his collection shine through. He calls himself the “Signature Saint.”
Third place: Anna Kayser—The Daily Iowan “Tom Brands leads through accountability in the Iowa wrestling room”
Judge’s comments:
Anna Kayser gets past the corny cliches (and the ones just corny enough) to profile a storied wrestling program and the coach who sets the tone and the standards, on and off the mat. We get a clear picture of a coach and man who walks the walk and does not let down his athletes, who are not yet grown up when they come to him.
Honorable mention: Jeff Mills (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record “A&T’s Kayla White Uses Dancer’s Precision to Create Art of Speed”

Video storytelling

The coverage of any A&E, lifestyle or specialty topic using a single video of not more than 8 minutes in length.
First place: Madeline Powell, Kayla Thomas—The Fall Workshop 2019 | Syracuse University, “Beyond My Reflection”
Judge’s comments:
Visually this video was a stunner. And the filmmaker weaved all the components–including gorgeous b-roll–into a tight feature package. As viewers, we are treated to the awesome dance moves of the soloist, who doubles as a creative way to move the narrative along. Very well done!
Second place: Katie Klann—The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette, “The Time We Shared”
Judge’s comments: The filmmaker is a talented storyteller. This lovely vignette is well-paced and weaves nicely the dual themes of an artist’s passion and love and loss.

Integrated storytelling

The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic told through the integrated use of print, online, social media, video and any other platform.
First place: Tony Bartelme—The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier, “The AGEs Puzzle”
Judge’s comments: AGEs – what a fascinating topic! Well written, engaging, informative, educational. Tony Bartelme Breaks down a difficult topic, digests it and serves it up to readers in terms they can easily understand. That’s good writing! Video supported the topic well.
Second place: Staff—Florida Today, “Apollo 11 50th anniversary coverage”
Judge’s comments: The Apollo 11 50th anniversary story invoked awe and pride – to think what the men and women at NASA did with such rudimentary equipment (compared to now) is absolutely incredible. The film captures all of it. Watching the faces of the ground crew during moon takeoff really showed the concern they had for a successful launch. The malady called “Apollo 11 disease” was an interesting element to add. The advancer about the 1960s-themed party was fun.
Third place: Staff—The Rooted, “This Instagrammer is Turning Road Kill into Leather Goods”
Judge’s comments:
This story about a woman who is a homesteader was fascinating. To live off the land and put roadkill to good use by tanning hides and making a multitude of leather items is fascinating. A totally great online presence. Well written and informative.
Honorable mention: Cody Duty, Britni McAshan—TMC Pulse, “Curated: The Intersection of Arts and Medicine”

Diversity in digital features

The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic that highlights the diversity within a publication’s audience.
First place: Seth Boster—The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette “Lost and found at the auction
Judge’s comments: Reporter Seth Boster found love–and two charming characters–in an unexpected place. A greatly enjoyable read!
Second place: Mike Fisher—UMagazine, “How do we protect the most vulnerable?”
Judge’s comments:
A thorough and well-researched overview of an important issue—this is a great example of how to localize an international story.

Best special section

The best your publication has to offer in printed A&E, features and lifestyle coverage.
First place: Rebecca Vaughan, Staff—Palm Beach (Fla.) Post “Palm Beach County 2030”
Judge’s comments: A clear winner: solid writing, easy-to-use graphics, great photography and an appealing layout.
Second place: Staff—The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette, “Colorful Colorado”
Judge’s comments: The Gazette has much to work with on this topic and makes the most of it. The written profiles bring the characters and places to life, and the photography more than adequately captures the scenery.
Third place: Staff—(Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record, “Veterans section”
Judge’s comments: The appealing layout and great content selection for the two-page spread give this section a slight edge.
Honorable mention: Greg Lovett, Rebecca Vaughan—The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post “Up Above Palm Beach County”

Best niche product

The best examples of a niche product – such as a magazine or special section – published at least two times a year.
First place: Karen Taylor, Andrea Daniel, Annette Sisco—The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate |, “InsideOut”
Judge’s comments: This section offers useful–and sometimes unusual–tips on home decor, gardening and real estate. The writing is lively and informative. We especially loved the tour of some of New Orleans’ secret gardens. And the regular feature called Cool Stuff, which showcases local treasures, is a must-read for shopaholics.
Second place: Features staff—(Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “Upstate Magazine”
Judges comments: This well-done magazine showcases the offerings of upstate New York. The Family Vacations issue offered tons of ideas for quick get-aways, and the Best Of edition is a wealth of information.

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