Nine President's Awards Honor Excellence by McClatchy Journalists
The Anchorage Daily News won two McClatchy Presidents Awards for work in the first half of 2007, and seven other entries were honored with prizes announced this week in Sacramento.
An innovative online news aggregator that assembles information from many sources -- the Alaska Newsreader -- was one Anchorage winner, and the other was a collection of newspaper stories examining the impact of Iraq war casualties in Alaska. Judges hailed the Newsreader as an innovation worth emulating by other newspapers and had high praise for the writing quality in the newspapers Iraq home front reporting.
Other winners from across the company included investigative projects, extensive website video reporting and photographic coverage of an epic disaster.
McClatchy's Washington bureau won an award for reporting that played a leading role in illuminating the unfolding story of U.S. attorney firings. Work by Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev was especially cited for helping advance the story with key findings about the reasons for the firings and about White House involvement.
In North Carolina, Charlotte Observer staffers, including Binyamin Appelbaum, were honored for an extensive report on widespread deceptive practices of a major regional homebuilder that led to federal, state and company investigations. In Raleigh, News & Observer reporters showed how speeding violations were routinely minimized or unpunished despite a deadly toll on the states highways. The project resulted in swift legislative action to close loopholes exposed by the series, which employed innovative participation by readers.
Two McClatchy President's Awards honored investigations that hit close to home by The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet and Eastern Washingtons Tri-City Herald. In Hilton Head, a reporter who learned of badly constructed roofs on new homes pursued the story until builders changed their practices and government regulators began enforcing codes. And in Eastern Washington, a Herald investigation exposed practices of an unlicensed ring that purchased abandoned and damaged cars to resell in cash-only transactions in local parking lots.
Two photo staffs won President's Awards: The Wichita Eagle for coverage of a devastating tornado; and The Kansas City Star, whose photographers have aggressively embraced video reporting and produced more than 650 video news reports for the paper's website. Judges praised the Kansas City video report for high quality and aggressive implementation. In Wichita, photos of damage from the Greensburg tornado were the worlds window onto the devastation.
Two judges from outside the company joined Howard Weaver, McClatchy vice president, news, in evaluating entries: Ronnie Ramos, senior editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Carroll Wilson, who recently left his position as editor of the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Here are the award winners, judges comments and related internet links, where available.
adn.com/Anchorage Daily News
Assistant Managing Editor David Hulen and Online Editor Scott Levin
David Hulen and Scott Levin were challenged to aggregate news from throughout Alaska, rewriting some stories, editing and cutting many and also pointing out to readers offbeat, humorous, particularly scary and just darned interesting tidbits from all over. The result is a prototype for other newspapers in McClatchy and elsewhere -- a way to become THE place online where readers or visitors can find not just what they want and need to know about their geographic region but also items that they might not otherwise but would like to see and read from blogs to videos to podcasts to photos and text. Weird things really do happen in Alaska. Above and beyond that, the online aggregator (a human being) also sends out an e-newsletter.
Anchorage Daily News
Iraq Home Front
Reporters Julia O'Malley and George Bryson; Photographer Marc Lester
Timely, well-reported and strongly written news stories gave readers an insight into local people dealing with the impact of the war. The stories are quick-hit enterprises -- one was off a live event -- filled with sophisticated writing and elevated by intensely emotional photographs. Stripped of politics, the stories capture everyday people struggling with extraordinary experiences.
McClatchy Washington Bureau
U.S. Attorneys Firings
Reporters Marisa Taylor, Margaret Talev, Greg Gordon and Ron Hutcheson
There was a time last spring when controversy about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys seemed destined to fade into obscurity -- but that was before the McClatchy Washington Bureau weighed in. Building on initial reports from prominent political blogs, bureau reporters brought the subject out into the limelight, demonstrating that many were not actually fired for cause, that prominent Republican officeholders had intervened, and that White House strategist Karl Rove was intimately involved. These and other outside the Beltway stories by bureau reporters -- especially Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev -- moved the story forward and commanded the attention even now being focused on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and looming constitutional confrontations between Congress and the White House. This was public-accountability reporting at its best.
The Charlotte Observer
"Sold a Nightmare"
Groundbreaking reporting revealed how the shoddy sales practices of a major homebuilder led to numerous foreclosures in starter-home neighborhoods. Reporters knocked on doors, used computer-assisted reporting to analyze data, and created strong graphics to show where and how the homebuilder was taking advantage of people trying to buy a house. As a result of the papers work, the FBI, IRS and (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) have launched an investigation, new laws have been passed and the builders chief accounting officer was fired when he was caught shredding documents.
The News & Observer
Reporters Pat Stith, Mandy Locke and David Raynor
Reporters revealed how thousands of drivers are using massive loopholes in the state law to repeatedly get away with speeding. In-depth, computer-assisted reporting coupled with strong interviews -- including a sitting judge who is the state's most lenient on speeders -- documented how the system is broken. The package also tackled the skepticism surrounding the dangers of speeding with additional analysis and input from readers, inviting readers to participate in surveying speeding conditions and sharing personal stories.
The Island Packet
Sun City Trusses
Reporter Ginny Skalski
When Ginny Skalski found out that Sun City Hilton Head builders in her community might be cutting corners when constructing homes, she took after them like a heat-seeking missile. Very quickly, she had to learn what a truss was and how roofs are supposed to be built correctly. That meant, among other things, climbing into hot attics to verify reports of shoddy workmanship. Ultimately, the county was forced to hire private inspectors to examine trusses in as many as 2,000 homes. Had Skalski not been persistent and had her editors not used her reports to call for government action, high winds might have meant death for hundreds of residents. Public-service reporting can take many forms. Skalski used shoe leather and smarts to sweat out the truth.
Reporter John Trumbo and Photographer Bob Brawdy
A few years ago Northwestern University's Readership Institute reminded us that one of the key drivers of reader interest is journalism that looks out for the interests of the average citizen. Few newspaper investigations can have hit that target more squarely than John Trumbo's "Dubious Deals" series. Initially tipped by a 22-year-old caller who felt cheated on a used car purchase, Trumbo launched an exhaustive investigation that tracked a local duo who bought abandoned and damaged cars at auction and sold them duplicitously via cash-only deals in parking lots. Trumbo and Bob Brawdy worked incognito to track the sellers, nail down their prior criminal records and expose a ring that dozens of callers said had stung them, too. Consumers in Washington and Oregon are better prepared to be smart buyers as a result.
The Wichita Eagle
The photo staff of The Wichita Eagle was an award winner for coverage of the Greensburg, Kan., tornado. While the entire staff of the newspaper jumped onto the story about the devastation of a whole community, the photographers' images were particularly adept in capturing the impact on the lives of 1,400 people, their grief and horror and their courage in the face of ruination. When they needed to get in close, they were in close, and when they needed to help the reader stand back and assess the situation, they did that, too. Their photos surely exceeded readers expectations.
The Kansas City Star
When Kansas City Star editor Mark Zieman challenged staffers to adapt to the demands of web platforms, none responded with greater alacrity than the paper's photo staff. Tasked with what the papers publisher described as "launching a robust video operation from scratch on a shoestring budget against entrenched competition," the staff proved more than equal to the occasion. Today, the paper presents an average of more than 30 staff-produced videos per week, helping drive traffic that in June was five times greater than a year ago. Most staff photojournalists (and many others) have been trained to shoot and edit video, including some who regularly file cell phone video from the field as a "rough draft" that ensures the paper is first online with breaking news.
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