JUNE 7, 2016



Lisa Glowinski, SFJ president, 217.816.3343
Andrew Nynka, SFJ executive director, 347.260.3874

The Society for Features Journalism has honored three Pulitzer Prize winners and a host of other journalists as part of its 2016 Excellence-in-Features Awards contest.

Three newspapers also were recognized with the inaugural Finest in Features Sweepstakes Awards, which goes to those publications that received the most honors in the annual contest. The first-ever Best College Features Journalist in the Country also was named. Winners in the 19 categories were announced today.

More than 700 entries were judged in the contest, which honors the craft of feature storytelling and the people who do it for a living at news organizations in the United States and Canada. Winners will be recognized at SFJ’s national conference Aug. 10-13 in Austin, Texas.

SFJ President Lisa Glowinski said, “I am beyond impressed with the variety of winners this year. Excellent features journalism is truly alive and well – in print, online, on social media and in our readers’ lives.”

Pulitzer Prize winners who received SFJ awards included:

  • Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, who placed third in General Feature of the large-newspaper division for “Dear Birth Mother.” She won a Pulitzer for Feature Writing in 2009.
  • Tom Hallman Jr. of The (Portland) Oregonian, who received an honorable mention in Short Feature in the large-newspaper division for “Trying to Make a Hood River Girl’s Last Birthday Party Special.” He won the Pulitzer in Feature Writing in 2001.
  • Alison Sherwood of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who placed first in Best Features Website, Digital Channel or App in the large-newspaper division for the newspaper’s Fresh channel. The Pulitzer board honored her in 2011 for Explanatory Reporting.

Several journalists won multiple awards in SFJ’s contest, including:

  • Michael Cavna of the Washington Post, who received a first place and honorable mention in Digital Innovation and a second place in Feature Writing Specialty Portfolio.
  • Carlos Frias, who was recognized in three categories – Best Features Website, Digital Channel or App; General Feature and Video Storytelling – for his work at the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post. Frias now is the food writer at The Miami Herald.

Winning the first-ever Finest in Features Sweepstakes Awards in the small-newspaper category (circulation of 90,000 or less) was The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post. The Post won seven honors, including three-first place awards. The (Nashville) Tennessean was second, and the (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union was third.

In the medium-size category (circulation of 90,001 to 199,999), the Finest in Features Sweepstakes winner was The Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, which garnered 11 awards. Tied for second were the Baltimore Sun and The Kansas City Star.

The Finest in Features Sweepstakes honor in the large-newspaper category (circulation of 200,000 and above) went to The Washington Post, which won 16 awards, including six first-place honors. Second was the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, and third was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Cody Stavenhagen of Oklahoma State University was named the Best College Features Journalist in the Country. The judges lauded him for a strong voice and said, “His stories were compelling and drew us from the lede to the end.” Other honored college journalists were Corey Williams of Auburn University, second; Matthew Lieberson of Vanderbilt University, third; and Baxter Barrowcliff of Columbia College in Chicago, honorable mention.


For a complete list of this year’s winners, visit this link:


Jim Haag, contest co-chair, 757-639-2675
Suzy Fleming Leonard, contest co-chair, 321-242-3614

Meet 2016 SFJ diversity fellows from Bradenton Herald, Washington Post, UT-Austin

We are excited to introduce our 2016 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows! They each will receive an expense-paid trip to attend our annual conference, happening in Aug. 10-13 in Austin, Texas.

Get to know them a little here.

Jenny Abella, The Washington Post

AAJA VOICES 2014 mugs

Jenny Abella

Jennifer Abella has been a copy editor at The Washington Post since 2000, when she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Currently the copy chief for Washington Post Magazine, she has held several positions at the paper, including features copy chief and deputy

copy chief of the universal news desk. In her spare time she is a pop culture junkie and Anglophile who blogs and manages social media for UNC’s annual Jane Austen Summer Program.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

I oversee copy editing and production for The Washington Post Magazine: I slot copy, oversee proofing, manage production deadlines, publish stories to the Web and compile our entertainment calendar.

Q: What are some of the favorites stories you covered?

We’ve done some great stories recently, including a mascot boot camp and an infographic about black superheroes going mainstream.

Q: How do you use social media?

I am on social media every day mostly for personal use, but also to support my volunteer work for the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. My work with JASP allows me to experiment —  on a small scale —  with concepts I’ve gleaned from working at The Post.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

I love learning about the personal angles of stories — not just policies or politics, but also the way they affect people’s lives.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”

It applies to anything you love, really — you don’t even feel it happening; it just happens.

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

I am thoroughly addicted to Twitter, particularly news accounts that have a geeky/entertainment bent: The Mary Sue, Hitfix, IGN, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter.

For fun, I read young adult literature as well as pop culture-centric nonfiction.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I’d like to get back in touch with the roots of editing and working with writers to craft a strong narrative without losing the writer’s voice. I’m also really interested in the impact of social media on features stories. I’d love to learn more about crafting compelling social headlines for our content and how other publications enhance their long reads for the web in an age when readers have such short attention spans.

 Amaris Castillo, Bradenton Herald

Amaris Castillo Photo

Amaris Castillo

Amaris Castillo is a law enforcement/island reporter for the Bradenton Herald, where she has worked since 2014.

Castillo has a multimedia series called Bodega Stories, where she publishes stories and portraits of people who frequent her parents’ Latin market in Saint Petersburg, Fla. The project is her small way of preserving language and culture, which means a lot to her as a first-generation American.

Castillo was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Dominican parents and has a master’s from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from the University of South Florida.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

As the law enforcement/island reporter for the Bradenton Herald, I am regularly sent out to cover breaking news situations such as shootings, fires and crashes. I also report on Anna Maria Island, a 7-mile barrier island that’s filled with challenges related to tourism and all that it brings to residents and business owners. There are three cities on the island, so my job is to keep track of what’s going on in each city. As the night reporter at my newspaper, I’m also called on to cover general assignment stories that range from graduation ceremonies to animal rights protests.

Though law enforcement and the island are my primary beats, I am always searching for interesting feature stories, as well as stories on the immigrant experience — one of my interests.

Q: What are some of the favorite stories you covered?

One is a series on a Honduran boy who crossed the border to reunite with his parents in Bradenton and the challenges he now faces as he seeks asylum. Another story I enjoyed working on was the historic and absolutely bizarre election tie-breaker in Bradenton Beach between an ousted mayor and current-mayor/former- vice mayor — it was one of those “only in Florida” stories where I witnessed an election tie broken through a deck of cards.

Though interviewing people who are grieving after losing a loved one is extremely difficult, I feel it is an honor to tell their stories. Some of my favorite stories have been about grieving and loss; I wrote a story about a grieving mother who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose just days prior to our interview, and I also recently sat down with a local family who lost four relatives in the Ecuador earthquake. It means a lot to have people willing to speak to me despite their overwhelming grief — I do not take this lightly and always do my best to treat what they tell me with great care.

Q: How do you use social media?

I use social media to share my work, as well as the work of my colleagues and other journalists I admire.

I also use social media as a reporting tool; there have been times where these networks have helped me reach a new source. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I am able to dig and dig and dig until I am able to reach someone I need to speak to for a story.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

Features journalism is important to me because it stretches beyond the formulaic and cut-and-dried story. It allows journalists to expand and try to incorporate feeling and the essence of a source in the story — the exhausted eyes of a grieving mother, the nervous face of a graduate about to step onto the stage and receive his diploma. I am drawn to feature stories because they bring me in and make me feel as if I am a witness to what’s being done and what’s being said.

Features journalism not only informs the public, but it engages the public.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“Nothing happens unless first we dream” by the late poet/writer Carl Sandburg.

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

For news, I read the Bradenton Herald, Tampa Bay Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NPR, to name a few. I also listen to NPR and different podcasts on my commute to and from work.

For fun, I enjoy watching Buzzfeed videos and I enjoy reading cultural sites such as Remezcla. I also really enjoy reading independent media like The Mash-Up Americans and La Galeria Magazine.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I hope to leave the SFJ conference inspired, rejuvenated and with tools on how to become a better storyteller. My newspaper is smaller compared to other area newspapers, and so I hope to learn and soak in as much as I can to bring this knowledge back to my colleagues.

I look forward to meeting features editors from all over the U.S. and asking them what makes a great feature story to them personally — what are some do’s and, most importantly, what are some don’ts? I am so excited to be in the same space as others who are passionate about features journalism and look forward to productive discussions and workshops that will be both challenging and stimulating.

Emily Gibson, The University of Texas at Austin


Emily Gibson

I was born in Baltimore, Md., and grew up reading preteen tabloids such as Tiger Beat and J-14. Thankfully, my taste in magazines and journalism evolved, but my appetite for it didn’t.

I measure my lifetime in what blog or project I was writing at the time (my first “novel” was written when I was in grade school and was called Lobster Face, my first middle school blog was about music and was called CantBeatIt, I currently co-run a magazine, etc.)

When I got to high school, I took a newspaper course and that small taste of newsroom experience confirmed what I already knew: that I was going to give this journalism thing a shot.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

I currently intern for The Austin Chronicle, I am the communications assistant for the UT School of Biomedical Engineering and I run my own magazine, SMEAR Magazine, which published online and in print (we are currently working on our second print issue.)

Q: What are some of the favorites stories you covered?

I wrote a story about Texas’ first theatrical wrestling league run completely by female-identified people, which was a really awesome experience. I also worked on a story about the Austin Music Census citing a lack of gender diversity in the Austin scene, and how women musicians in Austin responded to that.

Most recently, I did a story about front man John Pelant from a band called Night Moves, which was a good experience because I had wanted to do a long form music feature for some time.

Q: How do you use social media?

I use social media to start conversations. Whether it is a joke status I post on Facebook or a questioning tweet about a policy or a news event, my main goal is always to get people talking and comfortable talking to each other. I think that, at its core, that is the purpose of social media: to be able to talk to people and bring people from different backgrounds and perspectives together.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

Features journalism is what attracted me to the field. Being able to meet people from different backgrounds and tell their stories seems like such an ideal job that I often have to remind myself that it is something I am really working toward. I think it’s important to use these platforms to tell stories that make people think – to represent the unrepresented voices and to provide a different perspective on issues. The fact that I am pursuing a job where I can tell people’s stories that could possibly incite some sort of change is exciting to me, and it is important to me to become the best features journalist I can be so I can better represent these people and their stories.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

For news, I read The Austin Chronicle, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and Texas Monthly. For fun, I typically like to read memoirs – the most memorable one I have read in the past year was “Slave: My True Story” by Mende Nazer, and I am currently reading “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise” by Ruth Reichl. I also like to read music magazines, specifically Impose and Pitchfork. And fiction-wise, I typically enjoy books that are a little strange or dystopian – Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood, for example.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I am extremely excited to attend the SFJ conference. I hope to learn about the industry from people working in the field and hear the stories of how they decided to pursue features journalism and their favorite stories they’ve worked on.

Digital tools: Line, Peach and Kik are all names you should know


Today we’re talking about three messaging apps that are being used in different ways.



What is Peach? You might have heard about the new social app called Peach. It’s either the hottest app going, or the app that’s already been declared dead on arrival.

What’s different about Peach? It seems to have more of an emotional component, allowing your words to be enhanced by media that speaks to the mood of your post, using a “magical words” tool.

In other words, it’s like Oprah. It is designed to evoke feelings. As the New Republic writes, “Advertisers have known this for decades. It isn’t enough for a thing to be useful or good; the thing has to fulfill some more unconscious need. So in other words, successful apps build structures that reward our pleasure centers. They compel you to click.”


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What is Line? A messaging app that’s popular in Asia. Much like Facebook, it builds around a community. 60 percent of its user base are in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan.

One advantage is that is was created with a mobile-first mentality, and, while it’s a messaging app, it has evolved into a network in which publications can share news and links to their followers.

It also has some intuitive functions, like a “digital butler” service that will deliver goods and services on demand. And it’s got virtual stickers, which are like emojis. Future plans are to add payments and other mobile services onto the platform.

The Wall Street Journal has harnessed it to share targeted stories to its followers, mostly in Asia. One disadvantage? It doesn’t have accompanying analytics, so it’s probably a hard sell to use in a wide sense.



What is Kik? Kik is a messaging platform that is being used by young people. It works like a messaging service, but the conversation can be among several people, much like a chat room. Messages disappear quickly.

Kik doesn’t require a link to a “real” profile like Facebook, which is why it’s being used by 40 percent of young people, by one estimation. And it’s why it’s been targeted by criminals and linked to cyber-bullying. Kik conversations between 13-year-old Nicole Lovell and an 18-year-old Virginia Tech student led to kidnapping and murder of the girl, and subsequent stories to parents and teens about the app.

Have a Digital Tool question or idea? Email Betsey Guzior at



Apply now for 2016 Diversity Fellowship

Apply now for 2016 Diversity Fellowship

SFJ is now taking applications for its 2016 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship for journalists of color.

The fellowship covers all costs to attend our 2016 conference in Austin, Texas, from Aug. 9-14. Conference programming will focus on storytelling on all platforms.

Applicants should have a high interest in features journalism.

Deadline for applying is May 5.

SFJ diversity fellow

Digital Tool Tuesday: Round ’em up


A roundup of news on digital tools:

Live feeds in the Twitter timeline: Periscope is inching closer to being a great live news tool as Twitter now can let live feeds run in the app. It can be useful for journalists covering live and unfolding events. It will show up in the Twitter feed, but not in support apps such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.

To use it, open Periscope. Write something about the broadcast before you begin, so followers can understand what’s going on.

As a precaution, have someone with an open Twitter feed checking to make sure your orientation is correct. I have seen many folks using a landscape orientation, which, in Twitter land, isn’t necessary.

And, if viewers want to add live comments or “heart” a broadcast, they still will have to open the Periscope app.

New features on Playbuzz. I’ve written about Playbuzz, the easy quiz generator. If have not used it lately, check it out again. Playbuzz has added several new quiz and poll forms, including a swiper.

The swiper is a Tinder-like function that allows viewers to vote a photo up or down. It’s already being used in awards season the red carpet. It’s ideal for a mobile audience that you can’t get with traditional photo galleries.

Here’s how it’s used for a quick election poll.

We’re waiting with bated breath for a bracket tool; please, Playbuzz?


Digital Tool Tuesday: Genius annotation


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Genius began as a way to annotate song lyrics, and it still serves this function. But more and more, it’s being used by news organizations to add context to speeches, transcripts or even live events.

It’s super easy to use. Sign up for Genius; once it is activated you can highlight a piece of text, click on a pop-up button, add text, links, embeds from social media.

The Washington Post used Genius to annotate President Obama’s speech Tuesday announcing new executive measures on gun control. It included links to background stories, tweets from the Post’s columnists and experts, and fact-checking.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.51.43 AM Just think of how you can use it. For speeches during awards season, or your political leaders’ major addresses. You can use it to fill in the blanks while covering a live event.

It also serves as a social network, so you can connect with other publications to share Genius annotations.

Learn more by clicking here.