The 2020 Excellence in Features award winners—Division I

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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/NOLA.com
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, austin360.com
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 | NOLA.com, “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 | NOLA.com
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 | NOLA.com
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 | NOLA.com
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 | NOLA.com “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 | NOLA.com, “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.

Notice an error on this page? Email Margaret Myers, mmyers@atlantic57.com, for a correction.

2020 conference canceled—and other updates from our president

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Hello everyone. I want to share some updates for SFJ 2020, but first, I want to say thank you.

THANK YOU.

For all the hard work you’re doing to keep your newsrooms together, even while apart, to inform readers, to take care of yourselves and your families.

What we do is more important than ever—and our industry is more fragile than ever, it seems. But we persist, and we do it together.

Earlier this month, the board met (via Zoom, of course) and voted to cancel this year’s conference in October. We are sad that we won’t get to gather in person—there is such power in our group and its energy. We don’t know what the world is going to look like in the next few months, or what newsroom budgets will look like by October, and it was the best decision we could make with what we know right now.

But that doesn’t mean 2020 is a wash for SFJ. As we navigate the new working remotely realities and the challenges and stress of covering the pandemic, we’ll be holding virtual seminars, training sessions, and happy hours. We’ll also use our members listserv to continue to list available journalism jobs and continue our mission to connect people—which is more important than ever.

So, there’s never been a more important time to be a member—and now it’s free! Here are the details:

ICYMI: We are making membership free for 2020.

Usually March and April are membership drive months. If you’re a current member, you will remain one for another year without renewing, and new members can join. We will spread the word—our organization is not just for features journalists. We are to open everyone, again, at no cost for 2020. (We will take membership donations if anyone wants to give something.) Please share the link from our website with others who might want to join: https://featuresjournalism.org/membership/how-to-join/

We will meet virtually.

We’re planning a series of Zoom/Google Hangouts/webinars. Some will have speakers and topics; some will be more casual, chances to connect with no agenda beyond hanging with people who get it. We hosted our first one with Poynter’s Al Tompkins, who shared 20 pandemic ideas in 20 minutes. We’ll send out announcements on the listserv and via our social media, so fund us and follow us.

We want to know what you want.

Look for a Google form in the next few weeks. We want to know what topics you are interested in, and we want to share your successes and good ideas.

Contest judging started April 1. 

Thanks to Jim Haag for all his hard work organizing this year’s Excellence-in-Features Awards. So many great entries! Judges have about a month, and winners will be announced in June.

— Sharon Chapman, Features editor at the Austin American-Statesman

Save the date for SFJ 2020 in St. Petersburg, Florida!

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We scoped out St. Pete’s finest during our winter board meeting in February. Come join us Oct. 21-24 for another epic installment. (From the left: Sue Campbell’s toasting arm, Mesfin Fekadu, Christopher Wynn, Emily Spicer, and Madam President Sharon Chapman.)

Hello SFJ-ers!

The SFJ board is just back from two days of brainstorming and planning for our 2020 conference, and, y’all, I am excited.

This year’s conference will be Oct. 21-24 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Our sessions will be at the Poynter Institute.

We have ideas for a few new events—including a book-themed brunch by the pool—and updating some old favorites.

Our core mission remains the same: The conference is a time to gather to celebrate what we do and support each other in doing it. You’ll leave both inspired and with practical take-home tips, as well as new and strengthened connections.

I hope to see you there. More details TK!

—Sharon Chapman, SFJ 2020 board president

Deadline extended! SFJ Excellence-in-Features contest knows you need more time

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Update: The new deadline for the contest is March 7, our final extension!

———————

The 32nd annual Society for Features Journalism Excellence-in-Features contest, which honors the craft of feature storytelling and the people who do it for a living, is taking entries for 2020.

All entries – other than those in the Best Features Digital Presence category – must have been published in print or online between Jan. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2019.

First-place winners in each category will receive $300. Winners will be announced in June and honored at SFJ’s national conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., in October.

The cost of each entry is $45 for all professional writing, online and video entries, and $60 in the Niche Product, Features Digital Presence and Best Section categories.

To enter, go to https://betternewspapercontest.com. The deadline for entries is Feb. 22, 2020.

For questions, contact the contest co-chairs:
* Jim Haag, retired features editor at The Virginian-Pilot, 757.639.2675, visitwithjim@gmail.com.
* Sharon Chapman, features editor at the Austin American-Statesman, 512.445.3647, schapman@statesman.com

CATEGORIES

001 General Feature
Feature treatment of any A&E, lifestyles or news topic. Entries can be a single trend story, profile, interview, news feature or general feature of 1,000 words or more. Sidebars accepted. Each entry consists of one story. Multiple bylines accepted.

002 Arts & Entertainment Feature
Feature treatment of an arts and entertainment topic – such as architecture, art, books, dance, movies, music, opera, television or theater. NOTE: Food stories should be entered in one of the food categories.
Entries can be a single trend story, interview or feature story. Each entry consists of one story.

003 Short Feature
Tight, bright writing of fewer than 1,000 words. A word count is required with each entry; entries exceeding the limit will be disqualified. Enter the word count in the “Comments, Credits & Other Info” field on the entry form. Each entry consists of one story.

004 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. Each entry consists of on story.

005 Food Criticism
A single story, such as a restaurant review, that offers opinions about a topic or restaurant in the food industry. Each entry consists of one story.

006 Features Series or Project
Feature treatment of any lifestyle, A&E or news topic that has multiple parts. Sidebars accepted. Can include a written explanation of not more than 250 words on how the story was reported. Each entry consists of the stories that comprise the series or project. Multiple bylines accepted.

007 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. Each entry consists of one story.

008 Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio
Three stories by the same writer on one features specialty topic, such as arts and entertainment, fashion, health, religion, technology or travel. NOTE: Food writing entries should be entered in the Food Writing
Portfolio category. Entries can be trend stories, profiles, interviews, news features, general features or narratives covering the same topic. Columns and commentary are excluded. Each entry consists of three stories from the same writer.

009 Food Writing Portfolio
Three stories by the same writer on any food topic. Entries can be stories, columns or reviews. Each entry consists of three stories from the same writer.

010 General Commentary Portfolio
A collection of three columns or essays by the same writer on any human interest or specialty topic, excluding editorials. NOTE: Food writing entries should be entered in the Food Writing Portfolio category.
Each entry consists of three examples of the writer’s work, showing a range of reporting styles.

011 Arts & Entertainment Commentary Portfolio
A collection of three columns, essays or reviews by the same writer on any arts and entertainment topic, excluding editorials. NOTE: Food writing entries should be entered in the Food Writing Portfolio category.
Each entry consists of three examples of the writer’s work.

012 Sports Feature
Feature treatment of any sports topic. Entries can be a trend story, interview or feature story. Each entry consists of one story.

013 Headline Writing Portfolio
A collection of three headlines and accompanying decks by the same writer for feature stories or columns. Headlines must be attached to the stories or columns and can be accompanied by related visuals. Entries will be judged on clarity, accuracy and creativity. One entry consists of three headlines and accompanying decks and stories. NOTE: All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.

014 Video Storytelling
The coverage of any A&E, lifestyle or specialty topic using a single video of not more than 8 minutes in length. One entry consists of one video.

015 Integrated Storytelling
The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic told through the integrated use of print, digital, social media, video and any other platform. One entry consists of the package of stories and other elements used to cover the topic.

016 Features Podcast
The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic told through a podcast. One entry consists of links to three podcast episodes by the same person or persons. NOTE: All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.

017 Diversity in Digital Features
The coverage of any A&E, features or lifestyle topic that highlights the diversity within a publication’s audience. Diversity can include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age,
physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. One entry consists of a story or a series of stories on the same diversity topic. Multiple bylines accepted.

018 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. Entries will be judged on creativity
and impact. Must include a description of no more than 250 words on how the innovation came about, its goals and its success. Submit explanation as a Word document attachment or enter explanation in the
“Comments, Credits & Other Info” field on the entry form. One entry consists of one innovation, such as an app or a website. NOTE: All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.

019 Special Section
A special section published in 2019 either in print and/or online once a year. (For sections published two or more times, enter Niche Product.) Submit one hard copy or PDFs of the entire or provide the URL (if it’s
an online-only entry) in the comments section on the entry.

Each entry must also include a PDF of the cover or homepage of the section. On the back of each hard-copy issue, attach a printed entry label, which automatically appears after each entry is submitted. Mail entries to Jim Haag, SPJ-SFJ Contest 2019, 4967 Cinder Cone Drive, Victor, ID 83455. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 15, 2020.

020 Niche Product
The best examples of a niche product – such as a magazine or special section – published at least two times a year. Submit two hard copies of each niche product or PDFs of the entire product of the same niche product.

Each entry must also include PDFs of the covers from both of the submitted entries. One entry consists of one copy of each of the two issues and the two PDFs. On the back of each hard-copy issue, attach a printed entry label, which automatically appears after each entry is submitted. Mail entries
to Jim Haag, SPJ-SFJ Contest 2019, 4967 Cinder Cone Drive, Victor, ID 83455. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 15, 2020.

021 Features Digital Presence
The best your publication has to offer in digital A&E, features and lifestyle coverage. Submit links to a website; features channel; app; and/or social-media page such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter. Entries are judged on content, which includes timeliness, depth of coverage, voice and style. One entry consists of links to a website, features channel, social-media pages or app.

022 Best Section
The best your publication has to offer in printed A&E, features and lifestyle coverage. Submit five sections, either hard copies or PDFs of the entire sections, from the 2019 calendar year. One must be an arts-and-entertainment-themed section, and one must be a Sunday section. (If your publication doesn’t print on Sunday, submit one section from Saturday or from your premiere weekly section and add a note of explanation).

The other three are the editor’s choice from regularly appearing features sections. Entries are judged on content, which includes the range of topics, depth, voice and style; service, which includes the inclusion of everyday people, useful information and the level of reader interaction; and design, which includes the use of photos and illustrations, headlines, navigational tools and the “wow” factor.

One hard copy of each section or PDFs of the entire section is required. One entry consists of one copy or PDFs of each of the five sections and PDFs of three of the submitted section fronts (PDFs of the section fronts only). On the back of each section, attached a printed version of the entry label, which automatically appears after each entry is submitted. Mail entries to Jim Haag, SPJ-SFJ Contest 2019, 4967 Cinder Cone Drive, Victor, ID 83455. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 15, 2020.

023 Finest in Features Sweepstakes Awards
This award honors three publications in each circulation category that garner the most awards in the other 22 categories. No entry is necessary. Instead, points are assigned for each of the other winning entries, and the publications with the highest number of points receive the sweepstakes awards.

SFJ19 conference schedule (including VENUE UPDATE): Renaissance Revival in Detroit

Featured

Spirit of Detroit

ESPN’s Kelley Carter to kick off Society for Features Journalism’s 2019 conference

VENUE UPDATE FOR THURSDAY: We will now meet at St. Andrews, a decommissioned church on Wayne State’s campus, right next to the Communications building, Manoogian Hall. (Not to be confused with St. Andrews Hall on E. Congress, which is a downtown music venue.) If you’re staying at the hotel, the shuttle driver will drop you at Manoogian Hall, and you will see the church just next door.

If you’re coming on your own, we’re at the corner of Warren Ave. and the Lodge service drive. If you’re driving, Garage #2 is just behind the church on W. Kirby and the Lodge service drive. It’s a public, pay parking garage.

ORIGINAL POST: The Society for Features Journalism announces its 2019 conference schedule, starting with its keynote speaker, a Detroit native who’s reporting on the national stage for ESPN’s The Undefeated. Check out the full schedule of sessions below, plus everything you need to know to plan your visit:

WEDNESDAY | 09.18.19

Tour Downtown Detroit | 2 to 4 p.m.
Pick-up and drop-off, Element Detroit at the Metropolitan
Never been to Detroit before? Jump on this tour bus, provided by The Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. A seasoned guide will show off some of the city’s most beautiful architecture, from Art Deco masterpieces to mid-century modern standards. Register here for the free tour.

Opening reception and registration | 7 to 9 p.m.
Pendant Room, Element Detroit at the Metropolitan
Meet your fellow features creatures, register for the conference and relax. Enjoy a glass—or two—of wine, some hors d’oeuvres and good conversation. SFJ President Margaret Myers and other officers will welcome guests and introduce some special folks, such as our Diversity fellows and panelists in attendance.

THURSDAY | 09.19.19

9-9:30 a.m. | Coffee and registration, St. Andrews, Wayne State
The Element hotel provides free breakfast for guests. We will provide a shuttle from the Element to Wayne State.

9:30 a.m. | Keynote with Kelley Carter from ESPN’s The Undefeated
We are thrilled to feature Detroit’s very own Kelley L. Carter! Kelley is an Emmy-winning journalist and the Senior Entertainment reporter for ESPN’s The Undefeated. She got her start at the Detroit Free Press, and since then has written for some of the most recognized news outlets in the business, including USA Today, Vibe, BuzzFeed, Ebony, Essence, ESPN.com, MTV News, and the Chicago Tribune. At The Undefeated, Kelley’s developed a beat that draws from the intersection of entertainment, pop culture, and race.

10:30-11:30 a.m. | The future of Detroit (and who gets to write it)
Reporters—and headline writers—like Detroit. There are news stories: “Five years after bankruptcy, Detroit’s comeback still has a long way to go.” There are stories that use Detroit as a metaphor: “Russia’s Detroit falls on hard times.” And there are stories that target potential visitors: “Detroit: The most exciting city in America?”

But how can we get a real sense of Detroit and its future? For starters, you can listen to the experts—people who live or have lived here and have made time for thoughtful observation. We have four of them on our panel: Nicole Avery Nichols, Urban Affairs Editor at the Detroit Free Press; Candice Fortman of Outlier Media; Martina Guzman, a local features reporter; and Ron Fournier, the former publisher and editor of Crain’s Detroit Business.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. | Parenting coverage: What works, what falls flat, and why?
Some parenting stories resonate with readers so profoundly that they break traffic records for their publications and spark meaningful, important discussions. Other parenting stories garner almost no traffic at all. Why the disparity? What works and what doesn’t? Is there a magic sauce?

This panel can help you decide whether your publication should have a parenting beat and, if so, how that beat might work best in your part of the country. With Rebecca Dube, head of TODAY Parents Digital for the TODAY show; Ron Fournier, author of “Love That Boy,” a book about his relationship with his son with autism; and Amy Joyce, On Parenting editor for The Washington Post.

12:30- 2 p.m. | Lunch and Show & Steal part I
Back by popular demand! Just as writer’s block is real, so is editor’s block. Get inspiration from some of the best work by SFJ members from around the country. Laura Coffey of TODAY.com and Sharon Chapman of the Austin American-Statesman will guide this highly visual ideas bonanza.

2-3 p.m. | Freelancer AMA
Editors, how strong—and how diverse—is your freelance roster? With shrinking staffs and audiences’ demand for authenticity, now is the perfect opportunity to cultivate your bench and uncover deeper levels of storytelling. And writers, do you know how to develop your niche and do you even need one? How do you manage the business side of things while staying focused on the creative work?

In this frank discussion, we will hear from veteran freelancers who are all in different stages in their careers, with different backgrounds and goals for the future. They will share advice with the editors and the writers in the room on everything from pitching to pricing. With Daniel Hernandez of the New York Times, Janelle Harris of AARP’s Sisters, and Evan F. Moore of Chicago Sun-Times.

3-4 p.m. | Innovation and on-demand audio
Why the podcast and on-demand audio space is so ripe for innovation. But first, what even is innovation? And how do you know if you’re doing it? A look at The Washington Post’s approach to podcasting, with a focus on smart approaches to innovation in any medium. With Jessica Stahl, the head of audio for The Washington Post.

4-5 p.m. | How to Cover the Arts on Any Beat
For years, local news organizations under financial strain have cut back on arts coverage or eliminated their arts staff altogether. Features writers and beat reporters are asked to pick up the coverage in newsrooms, while writers dedicated to covering the arts are left to navigate the freelance world.

Our panel will give resource-strapped reporters and editors creative and sustainable approaches to incorporating arts coverage in business, features and breaking news stories. With Christopher Wynn, arts and entertainment editor of The Dallas Morning News; and Joshua Barajas, deputy online editor at PBS NewsHour.

5:15-5:45 p.m. | Features 911
We’ll have a 911 box available throughout the conference, and we’ll ask conference attendees to ask questions, both big and small. Jim Haag and Sharon Chapman will lead this quick and lively session.

Dinner on your own tonight. Check out these lists for recommendations: the Free Press’s top 10 and Eater’s 38 Essential.

FRIDAY | 09.20.19

8:30 a.m. | Coffee, African Room, Department of Communication, Wayne State University
We will provide a shuttle from the Element to Wayne State.

9-10 a.m. | Soul for the Food
Telling the stories of a community by writing about its food. Regional cuisines are a product of the area’s history, native ingredients, colonial influences and more. So writing about Tex-Mex, Frogmore Stew, scrapple or other regional dishes gives us opportunities to write about the communities themselves.

This panel will explore how to mine an area’s food scene for the community stories that lie just beyond. With Emily Spicer, features editor at the San Antonio Express-News; Daniel Hernandez formerly of LA Taco; Jamila Robinson of the James Beard Awards Journalism Committee; and Paul Stephen, food writer San Antonio Express-News.

10-11:30 a.m. | Are features stories endangered species? 
At a time when the industry is focused on investigative, project and data journalism, we ignore—at our own peril—the kinds of feature stories that resonate with our readers. Tom Hallman Jr. will lead a workshop drawn from the real world of storytelling, discussing what’s needed to find, report and write feature stories with impact. More than a class on theory, Hallman will examine his stories, and the stories of other writers, to break down what is required to bring stories to life.

Participants will learn skills they can use immediately. While Hallman has written series and stores as long as 6,000 words, he believes a story does not have to be long, nor does it require months of reporting and writing. Hallman, a senior reporter at The Oregonian, won the 2001 Pulitzer in Feature Writing.

12-1:30 p.m. | SFJ award winners luncheon, Italian Room
We laud the winners of the 2019 Excellence-in-Features Awards.

2-3 p.m. | A new beat for an old magazine 
Why on earth would someone spend $50 on a water bottle? What does it say about you if you do? “If you can understand why so many people would spend 50 bucks on a water bottle, you can understand a lot about America in 2019,” writes Amanda Mull, a staff writer at The Atlantic. From why we obsess over fancy S’well bottles to the reason that young Americans are so sick of booze, Mull is carving out a fresh approach to examining contemporary culture, while developing a brand new audience for a 163-year-old publication.

3-4 p.m. |Write the Power: Community stories as told through music writing
Music culture coverage isn’t just cool, bringing dismissive hipsters to the fold or sending Boomers into nostalgic overloads. This arts beats is an essential part of journalism because it often tells us the stories of the overlooked and ignored. Whether it’s using a feature on a hip-hop group to showcase how people are powering pride in a crumbling part of town or examining cultural ties by explaining how K-Pop connects a second generation of Americans to their ancestral homeland, these stories unite us through art while bringing different faces and stories to news sites. In a time of representative reporting and diversity course correcting, the music beat can look on point. But the truth is music writers have been reporting on diversity and representation for years by simply finding the best stories about the best art.

We talk with a panel of veteran music and culture writers to explain how music coverage is more than snide album reviews or fawning Q&As; it’s a highly effective way to get diverse people on the front page and timely issues into the news sites. With Mesfin Fekadu, AP Music writer; Imani Mixon, freelance culture writer in Detroit; and Jim DeRogatis, author and former Chicago Sun-Times music critic; and Robert Morast, Senior Arts & Entertainment Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.

4-5 p.m. |Breaking down R. Kelly
In 2000, The Chicago Sun-Times was the first news outlet to publish a report that alleged R. Kelly had engaged in sex with minors. Veteran music reporter Jim DeRogatis has been reporting on this tragic story from Day 1. Now, as the pop singer awaits arraignment on federal sex crimes, we have this special opportunity to sit with DeRogatis and discuss this 20-some-year tragedy.

5:15-5:45 p.m. | Features 911
We’ll have a 911 box available throughout the conference, and we’ll ask conference attendees to ask questions, both big and small. Jim Haag and Sharon Chapman will lead this quick and lively session.

7-9 p.m. | The SFJ Foundation Auction, The Detroit Writing Room 
Meet us two blocks from the hotel at Detroit’s only co-working space for writers! And it was co-founded by a former features reporter for the Detroit News. We’ll have an open bar and apps. We hope you will bid big to help support the SFJ Foundation’s Diversity Fellowship program. Emily Spicer and Jim Haag will lead the craziness, with able assistance from those in the crowd.

SATURDAY | 09.21.19

Stevie Wonder Room, michigan.com

9 a.m. | Coffee and doughnuts

9:30-10:30 p.m. | Digital storytelling—10 things digital editors wished you knew
Barbara Allen
and Kristen Hare from Poynter will lead this session. Come with questions!

10:30-11:30 a.m. | Show & Steal part II
Laura Coffey of TODAY.com and Sue Campbell of Star Tribune Magazine showcase more great feature ideas from SFJ members.

11:30 a.m.-noon | Changing of the guard
It’s a time-honored tradition: The current SFJ president, Margaret Myers turns over the gavel – and few surprising pieces of clothing – to the incoming president, Sharon Chapman of the Austin American-Statesman. Then, sadly, it’s time to wrap it up.

Editor’s note: We have updated this post to reflect a few changes from the original. Namely, Detroit’s Aaron Foley will not be joining us due to a scheduling conflict. We will miss him! Also, Sue Campbell from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune will be joining Show & Steal this year.