SFJ 27th Annual Winners by Category

The SFJ Excellence-in-Features awards honor the craft of feature writing and the people who do it for a living at news organizations and wire services. Winners will be honored at SFJ’s national conference in College Park, Md., August 26th-29th.

DIVISION 1 | Circulation up to 90,000

 

Best Section

Three awards given; winners listed alphabetically.

Edmonton (Canada) Journal
Judge’s comments: A classic literary style meets exceptionally strong visuals. The sections are solid and contain great reads.

(Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record
Judge’s comments: Local reporting is solid – just wish for much more of it.

The (Nashville) Tennessean
Judge’s comments: These are engaging, informative and vibrant sections, strongly reflecting the personality and tone of their home city.

 

General Feature

Feature treatment of any A&E, lifestyles or news topic.

First place: Justine Griffin, (Sarasota, Fla.) Herald-Tribune, “Cost of Life
Judge’s comments: This first-person, long-form narrative immediately s your attention. Plenty has been written about egg donation – the typical pieces about the cute college girls who are recruited to go through the process and the money they make. But this writer flipped it all on its ear and looked at the underbelly of a trend that sounds as though it can have only a happy ending but, in truth, can cause great physical harm. The author reminds us that this brave-new-world technology is not nearly as regulated as it should be – and that technology is not necessarily the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Second place: Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton (Canada) Journal, “A Country Built on Fur”

Judge’s comments: This story had me at the lede – animal urine! Fur-trapping is not something that many of us read about on a regular basis, or, if we do, it’s because fur is the subject of some sort of protest. But this story takes a look at the life of a longtime trapper and makes it seem as normal as those of a lawyer or a schoolteacher – in fact, it makes it seem a good deal more interesting. It seems as though the writer was allowed a great deal of time to report on and write about her subject, and it’s wonderful to read the results of that commitment.

Third place: Carlos Frias, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “A Visionary in the Dark”

Judge’s comments: Another lovely read from Carlos Frias, who has an amazing gift for storytelling.

Honorable mention: Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “They Gave Us Away Like We Were Puppies”

Judge’s comments: So, let’s see: A family had seven babies and gave them all away via a classified ad? It was impossible not to be hooked from the outset.

 

Arts & Entertainment Feature

Feature treatment of an arts and entertainment topic.

First place: Steve Bornfeld, Vegas Seven magazine, “A Tale of Two Dreamers

Judge’s comments: This exquisitely told tale about two small-time musicians with big dreams was the standout in this category. The story contrasts the life of Michael Monge, a part-time singer who finds success in Vegas, with the life of the writer’s father, a part-time singer who forfeits his stage ambition to support his family. The piece is touching, revealing and beautifully written. You can almost hear the Vegas crooner, who “cradles the finishing notes like delicate china,” and the dad, who wailed away in a tiny Bronx apartment, “letting go in a way that showed me what joy looked like.” Feature writing at its finest.

Second place: Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “Opera’s Ordinary Joe”

Judge’s comments: This piece reveals a playful side to the seemingly stuffy world of opera. It’s an insightful and often humorous look at an opera company’s accountant, who becomes an extra in productions. Along the way, he has a blast, and that is clear in Marshall’s confident handling of the story.

Third place: Tracey O’Shaughnessy, (Waterbury, Conn.) Republican-American, “Lusting After Rare Maps”

Judge’s comments: This book review about a man who steals antique maps grabs you from the opening line – “It started with the slender blade of an X-Acto knife” – and never lets go. It’s well-paced, informative and told with authority. A pleasure to read.

Honorable mention: Liz Nicholls, Edmonton (Canada) Post, “The ‘Clowns of Horror’ Are Back”

 

Short Feature

Tight, bright writing of fewer than 1,000 words.

First place: Jodie Sinnema, Edmonton (Canada) Journal, “No Shampoo a Real Blast

Judge’s comments: The reporter clearly had fun writing about the “no-’poo” trend while also conveying useful information to consumers. She brings just the right light touch to the story and her interviews.

Second place: Carlos Frias, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “The Truth About Tiki Bars”

Third place: Jennifer Gish, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “Vague Look”

Honorable mention: Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “Inspired by Godzilla?”

 

Features Series or Project

Feature treatment of any lifestyle, A&E or news topic that has multiple parts.

First place: Jessica Lipscomb, Naples (Fla.) Daily News, “Little Man and the Pursuit of Happiness

Judge’s comments: This heartbreaking story of a mother and son is extremely well told. The writer doesn’t merely focus on Ethan Arbelo’s illness; she looks at what he wants to do with the time he has left and how his mother is trying to help fulfill his dreams. The story captures both important details and small moments between the subjects that let readers get to know the family. It’s a story that sticks with you long after you read it.

Second place: Carrie Seidman, (Sarasota, Fla.) Herald-Tribune, “Home to Havana”

Third place: Paul Grondahl, Claire Hughes, Keshia Clukey, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “The Scourge of Heroin”

Honorable mention: Sandra Sperounes, Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal, “So, Do We Need New Arts Venues?”

 

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: Ben Birnbaum, Amir Tibon, Greg Veis, The New Republic, “Behind the Scenes of the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Judge’s comments: Exhaustive look at the process of an ultimately failed diplomatic effort. While not every one’s first choice of feature flavor, it is the best example of narrative entered here. Just as important is the smooth, clean writing and the incredible amount of work and source development.

Second place: Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “They Gave Us Away Like We Were Puppies”

Judge’s comments: Of the many human interest pieces submitted, this seemed the most fresh and original, with compelling writing to back up the storyline.

Third place: Elisha Sauers, The (Annapolis, Md.) Capital, “Close to Home: The Troubled Life and Death of Clifford Lee Nickalo”

Judge’s comments: Excellent writing supports this close look at the personal and societal costs of homelessness and mental illness. A boon to this newspaper’s readers.

Honorable mention: Carlos Frias, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “Wrestlemaniacs”

Judge’s comments: Perhaps the most stylish writing among the entries, though the wrestling subject is an often visited part of show biz. A treat for the reader though.

 

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: Barbara Marshall, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post

Judge’s comments: The writer gives us a great sense of place in these travel stories. She has a strong voice with plenty of attitude, and the pieces are fun to read.

Second place: Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane, (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record

Judge’s comments: Great story ideas executed well. A strong entry.

Third place: Staci Sturrock, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post

Judge’s comments: Great job of making history interesting in the USS Indianapolis piece. Of particular note is the description of Kay in the barbershop story.

Honorable mention: Mark Kellner, Deseret News

Judge’s comments: Crisp writing is evident in this nice mix of religion stories.

 

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: Tracey O’Shaughnessy, (Waterbury, Conn.) Republican-American

Judge’s comments: These “Sunday Reflections” columns are thoughtful and wise. The writer manages to capture life’s little details to illustrate universal themes.

Second place: Amy Biancolli, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union

Judge’s comments: The essay about the writer’s sister is dramatic, descriptive and compelling.

Third place: Suzy Leonard, Florida Today

Judge’s comments: The writer uses personal voice, scene setting and descriptive writing in her columns. She does a good job of reporting to support her commentary.

Honorable mention: Paula Simons, Edmonton (Canada) Journal

Judge’s comments: These columns showcase reporting-driven commentary on important themes.

 

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: Peter Cooper, The (Nashville) Tennessean

Judge’s comments: The writer uses a variety of styles and approaches that draw readers into his work. He plays with language, giving us well-paced pieces that make us both smile and think. The body of work is extremely approachable – yet it remains smart.

Second place: Bob Strauss, Los Angeles News Group

Judge’s comments: A fine style is carried throughout this thoughtful film-commentary entry, which proves that the writer is comfortable with straight reviews, analysis and a bit of humor. Well done.

Third place: Carlos Frias, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post

Judge’s comments: The writer is authoritative without being preachy. He finds fresh approaches to writing about dining in America, and that is impressive considering the number of people doing similar work throughout the country. Fun reading that makes you want to dig in.

Honorable mention: Amy Biancolli, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union

Judge’s comments: It’s easy to love the quiet tone of these pieces and the way they provide an intelligent discussion of art.

 

Sports Feature

Feature treatment of any sports topic.

First place: Chris Anderson, (Sarasota, Fla.) Herald-Tribune, “Finally Forgiven: The Howard Porter Story

Judge’s comments: Compelling writing, rich details and a tragic subject combine for a superior narrative about a former basketball star haunted by his mistakes.

Second place: Ian Cummings, (Sarasota, Fla.) Herald-Tribune, “He Was a Star in the Negro Leagues. But That’s Just a Sliver of His Legacy”

Judge’s comments: Guys like Buck O’Neil are a treat to write about because everyone has a great story. The writer crafts a tale showing O’Neil’s colorful history through the memories of those who knew him.

Third place: Jennifer Gish, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “Marathon Goal Pushes Father, Son”

Judge’s comments: An uplifting story about a father and a challenged son who together chase a dream.

 

Blog Portfolio

Three blog posts by the same writer on any feature topic, including commentary and reviews.

First place: Leslie Streeter, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “The Pop File

Second place: Amy Biancolli, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, “Arts Talk”

Third place: Liz Balmaseda, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “Feast”

 

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: Shelley Mays, The Tennessean, “Recovering From Meth Addiction

Second place: Joe Forzano, Staci Sturrock, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, “Zoo’s ‘Animal Experiences’ Let You Get Up Close and Personal”

Third place: Suzy Leonard, Florida Today, “Suzy Cooks: How to Make Gumbo”

 

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: Nate Rau, Sam Simpkins, Karen Kraft, The (Nashville) Tennessean, “Band on the Brink

Judge’s comments: A story about musicians and the music they make, of course, cries out for sound, and this project doesn’t disappoint. Using Spotify playlists, Soundcloud embeds and a documentary film, this piece succeeds in providing a rich experience, which was extended to a concert and community screening of the film – a neat idea.

Second place: Carrie Seidman, Elaine Litherland, (Sarasota, Fla.) Herald-Tribune, “Home to Havana”

 

Digital Innovation

New or improved online ventures, including websites, apps, social-media experiments or other ways to share information in the digital world.

No awards given.

 

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: The New Orleans Advocate, Dining Guides

Judge’s comments: These dining guides tell readers where to go, what to expect when they get there and what to order. You get a little history, a little lesson in food culture and lots of mouthwatering descriptions and photos.

 

DIVISION 2 | Circulation 90,000 to 199,999

 

Best Section

Four awards given; winners listed alphabetically.

Kansas City Star
Judge’s comments: These sections are strong, and the food photography and reporting sparkle. Exceptional work on the Civil Rights Act cover story, with its compelling portraits and profiles.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Judge’s comments: Engaging presentation on local artists’ responses to Ferguson, with stories across the arts spectrum. Great food section, too.

San Antonio Express-News
Judge’s comments: Strong application of the “My SA” brand across these print platforms. They achieve unity, variety and reader engagement.

The Virginian-Pilot
Judge’s comments: On every section front, there’s something unexpected – and the design, often bold, is driven by the content. The topics across all sections are different, fun or relevant, and the writing is conversational and accessible. On every page, there’s a beautiful layering of information.

 

General Feature

Feature treatment of any A&E, lifestyles or news topic.

First place: Kristin Page-Kirby, Washington Post Express, “All in a Day’s Walk”

Judge’s comments: Absolutely riveting work – the writer uses an untraditional format and careful restraint that allow the details to shine and the emotion of the day to unpack itself at an even pace.

Second place: Stephen Deere, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Two Worlds: Surgeon is Driven by Vision for School in his Native India”

Judge’s comments: Nice command of the narrative. This is a story that is so multifaceted – amazing, really – that the writer could have easily derailed readers. That doesn’t happen. The piece is well-paced, with thoughtful anecdotes and perfectly captured moments.

Third place: Jason Nark, Philadelphia Daily News, “Hope on Haddon Avenue in Camden”

Judge’s comments: This feature is remarkable for the way it humanizes a troubling pattern of crime by telling the story through the experience of a neighborhood kid. It’s rare that a news-based story can enlighten, engage and entertain all at once.

Honorable mention: Susan Reimer, Baltimore Sun, “A Final Salute”

Judge’s comments: This tale is stoic and sad – featuring beautifully captured moments – and gives readers a snapshot into a world they wouldn’t otherwise know.

 

Arts & Entertainment Feature

Feature treatment of an arts and entertainment topic.

First place: Rashod Ollison, The Virginian-Pilot, “Where Once There Was Music”

Judge’s comments: Great story idea, insightful treatment, exceptional writing and beautiful design.

Second place: Aaron Applegate, The Virginian-Pilot, “Rock ’N’ Roll Roar Falls Silent”

Judge’s comments: Smart, well-written story, with an exciting design.

Third place: Robert Trussell, The Kansas City Star, “Branson Christmas Pageantry”

Judge’s comments: A superb piece told with a vivid, engaging tone.

Honorable mention: Chris Christen, Heidi Thorson, Hooton Images, Inspired Living Omaha magazine, “Find Your Muse”

Judge’s comments: Sometimes the story isn’t simply words, but, for that to happen, the execution must be this good.

 

Short Feature

Tight, bright writing of fewer than 1,000 words.

First place: Cathy Frye, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Amid Ruin, on Trail of Life Before Storm

Judge’s comments: This is a wonderfully told story, with rich detail in the description. You can almost feel the horror of this poor teenage girl as she sifts through the rubble of her home, but the story isn’t maudlin or overwritten.

Second place: Diane Tennant, The Virginian-Pilot, “It Seems Every Cause Has a Day in May”

Judge’s comments: I love a story that makes me laugh out loud. Cleverly written, on a subject that drives a lot of us crazy – hundreds of Special Days on pretty much every day of the year. My only (slight) criticism is that I would have liked to have seen some brief description of who approves these Special Days (if anyone does) or is it just a free-for-all?

Third place: Jen Karetnick, MiamiHerald.com/MiamiHistory.com, “Mangoes a Tasty Currency But They Won’t Buy Much”

Judge’s comments: Great anecdotes bookend this story – the one at the start about the homeless man rejecting the mangoes and the one at the end about being turned away from the restaurant with mangoes. Lovely humor in the writing, and I’m jealous of someone who gets to live on a property where mangoes are grown.

Honorable mention: Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot, “It’s Almost Time”

Judge’s comments: This short story about a neighborhood oddity ­– a countdown clock in the window of a home – is told in sparse language and is a wonderful, unconventional read.

 

Features Series on a Project

Feature treatment of any lifestyle, A&E or news topic that has multiple parts.

First place: Cathy Frye, Rick McFarland, Kirk Montgomery, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “The Other Side of Nowhere

Second place: Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje, San Antonio Express-News, “Asten’s Story”

Third place: Dan Browning, Sue Campbell, NextAvenue.org, “Under 60 and Living With Dementia”

Honorable mention: Nellie Bowles, Recode.net, “Downtown Las Vegas is the Great American Techtopia”

 

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: Diane Lade, (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun-Sentinel, “In Sickness and in Health: A Couple’s Final Journey

Judge’s comments: An affecting story that tackles a number of major social issues – same-sex marriage, end-of-life decisions and elderly care – with a deft, deceptively simple touch.

Second place: Jason Nark, Philadelphia Daily News, “Under the Stars, at the Movies”

Judge’s comments: With sharp writing and expertly chosen details, the writer takes readers behind the scenes of a struggling drive-in theater. A pleasure to read.

Third place: Lisa Krantz, Jessica Belasco, San Antonio Express-News, “A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity”

Judge’s comments: A deeply researched and well-reported piece. The writers’ respect and empathy for their subject make for an informative and moving story.

Honorable mention: Holley Simmons, Washington Post Express, “Good Swill Hunting”

Judge’s comments: A brightly written feature that introduces readers to an aspect of contemporary whiskey culture that few of us have considered.

 

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: John Blake, CNN.com

Second place: Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Third place: Sam McManis, Sacramento (Calif.) Bee

Honorable mention: Chris Christen, Inspired Living Omaha magazine

 

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: Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Dirty Laundry”

Judge’s comments: These pieces showcase a slice of life while offering powerful opinions when needed. The columns are timely and pertinent – and ones I would come back to.

Second place: Jenee Osterheldt, Kansas City Star

Judge’s comments: Topical and well-written.

Third place: Emily Spicer, San Antonio Express-News, “Spice of Life”

Judge’s comments: The writer’s involvement in her subjects is great, and the columns are fun to read.

Honorable mention: Cindy Hoedel, Kansas City Star

Judge’s comments: Interesting and thought-provoking.

 

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: Brett Anderson, NOLA.com/The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune

Judge’s comments: Loved the writer’s use of the one-sentence lede. This is explanatory journalism that teachers and informs readers even if they never visit these restaurants.

Second place: Sara Smith, The Kansas City Star

Judge’s comments: The columns have a strong voice and address smart topics that are put into the context of pop culture. Fun to read.

Third place: Rashod Ollison, The Virginian-Pilot

 

Sports Feature

Feature treatment of any sports topic.

First place: Gabriella Souza, The Virginian-Pilot, “Virginia Beach Field Holds Memories of Old-Time Baseball

Judge’s comments: A pleasure to read.

Second place: Michael Mayo, (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun-Sentinel, “Driven”

Judge’s comments: This piece resonates with fine writing and a well-conceived multimedia presentation, which would have outshined lesser writing.

Third place: Jeff McDonald, San Antonio Express-News, “Popovich Was Forged in Steel Country”

Judge’s comments: A well-written and captivating piece.

Honorable mention: Tom Orsborn, San Antonio Express-News, “Preacher Scored From Center Court”

 

Blog Portfolio

Three blog posts by the same writer on any feature topic, including commentary and reviews.

First place: Rashod Ollison, The Virginian-Pilot, “Behind the Groove

Judge’s comments: Strong writing with flavor creates a sense of place and unveils the writer’s passion. Great historical context and perspective – the music comes alive through the storytelling. “My grandmother sold bootleg liquor and fried pork skins out of her kitchen” is the writer’s wonderful way to set the tone for a piece on “brown liquor music” and all that comes with it.

Second place: Lindsay Taub, VoyageVixens.com, “Baby Voyage”

Third place: Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Blood, Dirt & Angels”

 

Video Storytelling

The coverage of any A&E, lifestyle or specialty topic using a single video of not more than eight minutes in length.

First place: Hyunsoo Leo Kim, Bill Tiernan, The Virginian-Pilot, “John Hickey, the Muralist Around Town

Judge’s comments: Nice storytelling. You’ll love watching the mural come together in hyperfast motion and the various samples of Hickey’s work. The music fits the tone of the piece without overpowering it.

Second place: Matt Rivera, Win Rosenfeld, Bill Smee, NBC News Digital, “Party Animals: Meet the Furries”

Judge’s comments: This educational and fun video reveals a lot of personality, both the reporter’s and her subjects’.

Third place: Lindsay Taub, Lanee Neil, VoyageVixens.com, “Swimming with a Whale Shark in La Paz, Mexico”

Honorable mention: Hyunsoo Leo Kim, The Virginian-Pilot, “Preview | Hand Work, a Labor Day Essay”

 

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: Lisa Krantz, Jessica Belasco, San Antonio Express-News, “A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity

Judge’s comments: A powerful photo gallery and an audio interview/slide show support the writing well. Readers come to understand Hector through his “cautionary tale.”

Second place: Dave Forster, C.K. Hickey, L. Todd Spencer, The Virginian-Pilot, “Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel: Splitting the Sea”

Judge’s comments: A tremendous tale of grit, determination and achievement. Wonderful video vignettes and photos propel you across every wave, from start to finish.

Third place: Liz Gannes, Recode.net, “I Want It, and I Want It Now: The Machine Behind Instant Gratification”

 

Digital Innovation

New or improved online ventures, including websites, apps, social-media experiments or other ways to share information in the digital world.

First place: The Odysseys Team, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Odysseys Project

Judge’s comments: This project is incredibly ambitious in its scope and yet simple in its goal: Who are Pittsburgh’s immigrants? The website’s easy-to-navigate format is both innovative and interactive. The videos of the people introducing themselves atop their stories make it feel as if they’re talking directly to readers. The design encourages readers to engage by clicking from one person to the next – and to keep coming back for new people from more countries.

Second place: Catherine Ferguson, James Smith, San Antonio Express-News, Play SA app

Judge’s comments: This entertainment-planning app is innovative in that it allows readers to “connect” with their friends and make plans together, taking advantage of what people of all ages have come to expect of an app in the digital age. The Express-News says Play SA is “changing the way people find fun things to do in San Antonio.” And, by doing so, it’s also changing the way people look at and use their newspaper.

Third place: Chris Waddington, Andrew Boyd, Lynette Johnson, NOLA.com/The (New Orleans) Times Picayune, “New Orleans Holiday Music Videos”

Judge’s comments: This project does a nice job of telling the same story simultaneously in different ways on multiple platforms. While reading about a musician’s favorite holiday song, readers can listen to the artist perform the song. The videos of the studio performances add context that can’t be replicated.

Honorable mention: Robert Nolin, Rachel Schallom, (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun-Sentinel, “Wild, Wild Florida”

 

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: Arkansas Life, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Judge’s comments: A brilliantly executed magazine full of lively reads and beautiful photography. The interesting mix of topics and energetic writing styles make this a publication for all of the newspaper’s readers.

Second place: Distinction, The Virginian-Pilot

Third place: B, Baltimore Sun

Honorable mention: Ink, The Kansas City Star

 

DIVISION 3 | Circulation 200,000 and up

 

Best Section

Three awards given; winners listed alphabetically.

Los Angeles Times

Judge’s comments: These sections provide excellent contrast and variety. Stories are conversational and often chunked up in ways to make everything accessible. Poster-style fronts are lively and well-executed. The design is often daring on the covers, and the inside pages are clean, organized and layered. Bravo!

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Judge’s comments: You can feel the Philly vibe in these sections, and there’s a definite sense of diversity represented in the pages. Design is sometimes bold, and stories are well-written and engaging. Of exceptional note is the “Black Lives Matter” package.

The Washington Post

Judge’s comments: All stories are well-written and engaging, and headlines and visual presentations do a great job of drawing readers in. There’s nothing cliché about Post stories – they seem to be written for intelligent readers who are aware of nuance. Lovely pacing and rhythm is found throughout these pages. Reading these sections makes me want to start a subscription – and have it delivered to my door!

 

General Feature

Feature treatment of any A&E, lifestyles or news topic.

First place: Gregory Johnsen, Buzzfeed.com, “60 Words and a War Without End: The Untold Story of the Most Dangerous Sentence in U.S. History

Judge’s comments: The storytelling is as good as the subject is important. The writer manages to construct a riveting narrative about a one-paragraph, hastily passed law that has quietly shaped U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade. The writing is engaging and personal, drawing in readers who normally wouldn’t spend much time on a story about politics or foreign policy. Brilliantly executed.

Second place: Matt Sedensky, The Associated Press, “One Death Too Many”

Judge’s comments: There are many stories written about hospice workers. This one stands out. Jay Westbrook carries a lot with him. The writer captures the details and brings them to us in precisely the right doses. And just when death hurts too much, we learn that this isn’t a story about death at all. It is one about love. A beautiful, heart-wrenching tale full of drama and rich detail, such as the luminary who sleeps with a night light and has an “empathy so strong he became irreplaceable at the worst moment in others’ lives.” We can only wish there had been a Jay Westbrook beside him when his worst moment came.

Third place: Adam C. Smith, Michael Kruse, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “Knowing Charlie Crist”

Judge’s comments: Most political profiles barely get past the suit and tie. This one is in its own class – gutsy, skilled, insightful, entertaining and rich with precisely chosen details, artfully served. The judges did debate the approach – not all liked the reporters entering the story near the end – but the pure beauty of the execution won out. This is the kind of profile all reporters wish they could pull off, and even readers uninterested in politics won’t put it down. Masterful.

Honorable mention: Jeff Klinkenberg, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “The Last Martin of Gilchrist County”

Judge’s comments: Like Dickens, Klinkenberg weaves a story with remarkable characters and masterful prose. You get it from the minute you read the first words. It’s like opening a door to a distinctly different world and discovering it with your eyes.

 

Arts & Entertainment Feature

Feature treatment of an arts and entertainment topic.

First place: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, GQ, “Nicki Minaj: Cheeky Genius

Judge’s comments: The writer takes what appears to be a bust of an interview with an exhausted Nicki Minaj and turns it into an engaging, funny, thoughtful and enlightening recounting of the experience. The piece is honest but never mean or snarky. OK, so maybe there is a bit of snark. But it’s snark done so well that it’s almost a sneaky snark attack.

Second place: Geoff Edgers, Washington Post, “Stand-up Guy: Mark Twain Prize Recipient Jay Leno Returns to His Comedy Roots”

Judge’s comments: Here comes a fresh look at the maligned comedian Jay Leno. Through good use of sources, video, photography and solid writing, the reader gets what feels like a true picture of Leno: a hardworking comedian who’s a really nice guy. How nice? He even provides the writer with the perfect anecdote to wrap up the story.

Third place: Michael Cavna, Washington Post, “Riffing With Richad Linklater: The Director Illuminates His Brilliant New ‘Boyhood’”

Judge’s comments: Cartoons and caption-esque writing combine for a clever approach to a story about a unique movie. The piece delivers flashes of emotional connection for readers.

Honorable mention: Chris Riemenschneider, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune News, “Trampled by Turtles”

Judge’s comments: In the days of tight budgets, it’s nice to see that immersive feature writing still exists. Bright writing and nice touches of humor make readers feel connected to Trampled by Turtles. Checking the group out is made convenient with online links to video.

 

Short Feature

Tight, bright writing of fewer than 1,000 words.

First place: Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News, “The Reverse Role Model”

Judge’s comments: This is a wonderful piece of first-person writing. It’s honest and simple, yet it neither sugarcoats the writer’s own failings or overstates the writer’s difficult relationship with his father. A great read that is a lesson in simple personal storytelling.

Second place: Laura T. Coffey, Today.com, “Match Made in Heaven: Elderly Nuns Adopt Aging Pit Bull”

Judge’s comments: Who doesn’t love a story about a trio of old nuns adopting an old dog? It could have been sappy and overwritten, but this story features tight writing, great quotes and just enough information about a serious topic ­– the likelihood of older dogs in shelters being euthanized because no one wants them.

Third place: Michael Cavna, Washington Post, “RIP, Ben Bradlee: Drawing on My Favorite Conversation With The Post Legend”

Judge’s comments: This remarkable entry is an unusual combination of words and illustrations that offer a personal tribute to the Post’s iconic Ben Bradlee. What a wonderful way to get to know a legend.

 

Features Series or Project

Feature treatment of any lifestyle, A&E or news topic that has multiple parts.

First place: Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times, “The Drought

Judge’s comments: A remarkable series that puts a face on the drought and holds readers’ interests from installment to installment.

Second place: Ben Montgomery, Edmund Fountain, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “The Lost Bones”

Judge’s comments: Intrigue. Opposition. Suspense. Compassion. This series has it all. But most remarkable is how it came about: An Associated Press short and a reporter with two nagging questions.

Third place: Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, “Grand Ambition”

Judge’s comments: Every person in the city has to be talking about the New Wilshire Grand Tower. This project looks at it with a brilliant approach. It has strong, fascinating storytelling, along with great photos, videos and graphics.

Honorable mention: Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times, “Sting in the Desert”

Judge’s comments: Wow, what an incredible read, with compelling video. Gripping – to the last word.

 

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: Jeff Klinkenberg, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “The Last Martin of Gilchrist County

Judge’s comments: Through the perfect combination of quote selection, descriptive scene setting and story construction, the writer makes you feel as though both Nathan Martin and a time long-gone-by has sprung fully to life. The effect of this piece is almost mystical: It was as though, when it was over, I had awakened from some sort of dreamlike state – the kind of state one half-remembers from childhood and bedtime stories read aloud.

Second place: Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Murray’s Problem”

Judge’s comments: The writer does a stellar job of capturing the essence of Murray Blackmore, the research scientist, and Murray Blackmore, the human being. The writer’s ability to translate scientific and medical terminology into lay-friendly prose is masterful. I found myself feeling oddly bereft when the story ended. I wanted it to keep going, and I wanted Johnson to be the one to continue telling it.

Third place: Lane DeGregory, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “Beverly, By Herself”

Judge’s comments: The writer paints a vivid portrait of Beverly Young and evokes feelings for her subject of equal parts pity, exasperation and empathy. It’s no easy task to present a balanced portrayal, when it would be easy to mock or make a martyr of the subject, but the writer certainly accomplishes that. And, oh, my, that ending. That ending! Perfect.

Honorable mention: Christopher Wynn, The Dallas Morning News, “Dear God: Are the Park Cities Ready for Pastor Ed and Lisa?”

Judge’s comments: This is a strong, fact-based narrative with reporting of substance, excellent quote selection and phrase turning. Of particular note is the writer’s/wisdom to use an SMU theology expert to provide context of a much broader issue.

 

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: Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

Judge’s comments: Incredibly detailed travel articles that magically transport readers to the destinations being written about.

Second place: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Matter, “Profiles in Fringe America”

Judge’s comments: Fun, insightful reads about the subjects and their surroundings.

Third place: Wright Thompson, ESPN The Magazine

Honorable mention: Anna Kuchment, The Dallas Morning News

 

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: Sally Jenkins, Washington Post

Judge’s comments: Masterful writing and topical knowledge takes the reader on a journey in each of these columns.

Second place: Jason Whitlock, ESPN.com

Third place: Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times

Honorable mention: Jim Stingl, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

 

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: Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Judge’s comments: Vivid, accessible writing that features smart subtext and insights. And humor, blessed.”

Humor. So many writers strain for the effects that McNamara offers up with seeming ease. Her commentaries on television – and so much more – are not only a delight to read but also serve as an example of how the art of cultural criticism should be practiced.

Second place: Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times

Judge’s comments: These commentaries on the intersection of architecture and the Los Angeles lifestyle are dazzlingly original, thought-provoking and written with a deft touch. By the necessity of rules, this is a second-place award, but this is absolutely first-rate work.

Third place: Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle

Judge’s comments: These restaurant reviews are simply sublime. She knows her subject and makes well-reasoned points. Even better: Her smart phrasing and word choices pop out to readers like hidden ingredients in a tasty dish.

Honorable mention: Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed.com

Judge’s comments: The writer has a historian’s talent for mining the connections between Hollywood’s classic era and today’s scandals and social chatter, especially when it comes to female stars. The pieces also are compulsively readable. Excellent, informative work with sharp insights.

 

Sports Feature

Feature treatment of any sports topic.

First place: Joel Anderson, Buzzfeed.com, “The Two Michael Sams

Judge’s comments: Extraordinary reporting of a multifaceted story. Well told.

Second place: Mike Fish, Chris Buckle, Willie Weinbaum, ESPN.com, “Enduring Guilt”

Judge’s comments: A rare glimpse into the forgotten side of an important story.

Third place: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Matter, “Girls Fight Out”

Judge’s comments: Great writing.

Honorable mention: Tom Hallman, The (Portland) Oregonian, “Chasing Bill Walton, the Biggest Man in Trail Blazers History”

 

Blog Portfolio

Three blog posts by the same writer on any feature topic, including commentary and reviews.

First place: Michael Cavna, Washington Post, “Comic Riffs

Judge’s comments: This blog is an extraordinary example of compelling visual storytelling by a gifted reporter and writer. Even if you haven’t seen the film “Boyhood,” you’ll want to read the piece on that topic all the way to the end. It’s that good.

Second place: Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post, “The Intersect”

Judge’s comments: This exploration of Internet culture is nuanced, thoughtful and thought-provoking. It’s likely that all Internet users, whatever their opinions, could find something to respect and ponder in any of these blog entries.

Third place: Carolina Miranda, Los Angeles Times

Judge’s comments: This blog provides a fresh look at the arts and manages to be engaging, humorous, well-reported and deep at the same time.

 

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: Michael Cavna, Tom Racine, Washington Post, “Lafayette, Our Most American Square: A Year in the Park Sparks an Illustrated Meditation on History, Hope – and the Homeless

Judge’s comments: An unconventional video that offers a shining example of well-researched, community-focused advocacy journalism and a lovely reimagining of editorial cartooning.

Second place: Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner, Rebecca Davis, Today.com, “96-Year-Old Yoga Teacher: ‘I Don’t Believe in Age’”

Judge’s comments: This video combines excellent storytelling and interesting visuals to paint a loving portrait of a vital woman.

Third place: James Borchuck, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, “Man with Cerebral Palsy Celebrates 20th Anniversary Working at Home Depot”

Judge’s comments: Tim Dutka’s story is told lovingly through the eyes of his mother and in his own words as viewers see his life at work and the respect he gets from co-workers.

Honorable mention: Thomas A. Ferrara, Newsday, “The Double Lives of Derby Girls”

 

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: Jill Vejnoska, Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Forgotten Memories

Judge’s comments: Excellent integrated storytelling with a well-written piece and top quality videos. Smart use of the voices and faces of three generations of women to tell this story and how it affects each generation. Nice work.

Second place: Mark Johnson, Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Murray’s Problem”

Judge’s comments: Nice job of telling the story of one determined researcher and the motivation behind his work. Good story and video.

Third place: Gabe Silverman, Pamela Kirkland, Washington Post, “The N-Word”

Judge’s comments: A bold effort to prompt civil discussions about the super-charged N-word. Nice interactivity and videos.

Honorable mention: Casey Parks, Beth Nakamura, The (Portland) Oregonian, “Straight Outta St. Johns – Rap from the City’s Edge”

Judge’s comments: Terrific photography for this story. Well done.

 

Digital Innovation

New or improved online ventures, including websites, apps, social-media experiments or other ways to share information in the digital world.

First place: Staff, Washington Post, “The N-Word

Judge’s comments: Such fascinating content here, all presented in a fantastically digital-friendly way. Short videos, which together have quite an impact. An inventive approach to a difficult topic.

Second place: Hank Stuever, Washington Post, “Fall TV Preview”

Judge’s comments: An elegant presentation, chock full of useful information. It was easy to love.

Third place: Chris Richards, Washington Post, “Best Albums of 2014”

Honorable mention: Nancy J. Stohs, Alison Sherwood, Bill Schulz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The Cookie Show”

 

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: FD Luxe, Staff, The Dallas Morning News

Judge’s comments: This is the gold standard for magazines produced by newspapers. Compelling covers and photography, interesting topics and top-notch execution, with exquisite design on each page.

Second place: Image and Travel Magazine, Staff, Los Angeles Times

Third place: Spring and Fall Dining Guides, Tom Sietsema, Washington Post

Honorable mention: Bay, Staff, Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times

 

ALL DIVISIONS

 

Headline Writing Portfolio

A collection of three headlines and accompanying decks by the same writer for feature stories or columns.

First place: Jim Webster, Washington Post

Judge’s comments: Well-crafted headlines that sacrifice cleverness for clarity, but they make you smile or cock your head in curiosity. That’s a win!

Second place: Rick Schindler, Today.com

Judge’s comments: Headlines that are clear, concise and clever without going too far. Cocoa Channel? Terrific.

Third place: Joe Stalvey, (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union

Judge’s comments: Heads with a twist and fun puns.

Honorable mention: Michelle Deal-Zimmerman, Baltimore Sun

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