Sarah DeClerk, Arkansas SPJ chapter president, email@example.com
Sonny Albarado, contest co-chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
LITTLE ROCK – Writers of the Mississippi Free Press and AY Magazine took top honors in the 2021 Diamond Journalism Awards, which were announced Friday (June 18) in a virtual ceremony.
The awards, a regional competition sponsored annually by the Arkansas Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, recognizes journalism excellence in Arkansas and six neighboring states.
Ashton Pittman, Donna Ladd and Christian Middleton won the Robert S. McCord Freedom of Information Award for a three-part investigative series and subsequent reporting for the Mississippi Free Press that exposed racist and sexist email exchanges between powerful, wealthy donors and top administrators and faculty at the University of Mississippi.
“A truly amazing series of reports,” the contest judges wrote. “The public had a right to know what was going on at the University of Mississippi, and the Mississippi Free Press delivered.”
Pittman and the Mississippi Free Press, a nonprofit online media outlet based in Jackson, also were recognized with the Public Service Award for “an extraordinary series of stories documenting efforts by Mississippi officials to change polling locations of thousands of voters with very little communication,” judges wrote.
Judges also named Pittman the Diamond Journalist of the Year for a portfolio of work that included samples from the other two winning entries.
“This is an amazing writer who knows how to get to the heart of a story and make it mean something to the reader,” judges said.
Dustin Jayroe of Little Rock-based AY Magazine was named the Outstanding New Journalist, a distinction that recognizes excellence by a journalist who has been working professionally for five years or fewer.
“The mark of a good writer and storyteller is when the reader can glide through a story without stopping,” judges wrote. “It’s hard to believe he’s only been in the profession for fewer than five years.”
Winners of these four categories receive an engraved clear-acrylic trophy in the shape of a diamond.
The 2021 Diamond Journalism Awards honored work published or broadcast in 2020 and drew a record 393 entries in 75 categories. Members of the Cincinnati Pro Chapter of SPJ served as judges.
This year’s contest featured a category specifically recognizing reporting on the covid-19 pandemic.
Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press took first place in the pandemic coverage category. Judges noted his “insightful coverage that shows that length is not a prerequisite for top-notch journalism.”
Student journalists with the Delta Digital News Service, based at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, took the top prize in another new category, Student Special Projects, for their coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Judges praised Christine Miyawa, Tristan Bennett, Chase Gage and Krishnan Collins, saying, “Despite the added barriers of the pandemic, the students were able to interview a variety of sources and cover issues and topics important to the local community.”
Below is the full list of winners:
Breaking News, Daily
1st place: “Tornado rips through Jonesboro,” Stephen Simpson, William Sanders, Jeanie Roberts, Joseph Flaherty and Thomas Metthe, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette displayed its outstanding deadline work in covering the devastating tornado that ripped through Jonesboro. The story was covered fully in words, photos and videos, giving readers a view of what can happen during such a violent storm. Not to be overlooked, the paper’s coverage of the protests and of the first execution in almost two decades were also extremely strong entries.
2nd place: Protest coverage, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
3rd place: Danny Lee execution, Tony Holt, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Breaking News, Non-Daily
1st: “Reopen Missouri,” Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, Richmond News (Richmond, Mo.)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Great work by the Richmond News in providing both sides of the COVID-19 lockdown debate, which raged across the country last year.
2nd: “Gov. Tate Reeves’ slow responses to COVID-19,” Nick Judin, Jackson Free Press (Jackson, MS)
3rd: Third place: “Mingues: Absolutely did it,” Bruce Guthrie, The Batesville Daily Guard (Batesville, AR)
Breaking News, Magazines
1st: “Waiting on empty,” Nathan Poppe, Curbside Chronicle (Oklahoma City, OK)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Readers can feel the frustration as they journey with the unemployed through their attempts to get jobless assistance. This category provided some great human-interest reporting.
2nd: “Behind the count,” Miguel Rios, Mollile Bryant, Nathan Poppe, Curbside Chronicle
3rd: “On hold,” Mollie Bryant, Nathan Poppe, Curbside Chronicle
Breaking News, Online
1st: “UM appoints acting ombuds” and “Mississippi nursing home employee tests positive for COVID-19,” Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Strong deadline writing from the Mississippi Free Press makes it the clear winner in this category.
2nd: “Searcy First Assembly burns down,” Greg Geary, The Daily Citizen (Searcy, AR)
Ongoing Coverage, Daily
1st: Covid coverage, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock and Springdale)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The coverage that you would expect from a large newsroom during a pandemic.
Ongoing Coverage, Non-Daily
1st: “Small business, big mission,” Jeff Jeffrey, Chris Mathews, Margaret Barrientos, Sara Samora, Laura Gillespie and Shafaq Patel, Houston Business Journal
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Strong look at a variety of groups/individuals with different stories of economic dislocation due to the pandemic.
2nd: “Digging Deep for COVID-19 solutions in Mississippi,” Nick Judin, Jackson Free Press
Ongoing Coverage, Magazines
1st: Covid-19 coverage, Nathan Poppe, Miguel Rios and Mollie Bryant, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Good use of storytelling to reveal the dramatic and moving real-world impact of the ongoing global pandemic. By highlighting different aspects of the pandemic’s effect on life for people living on the margins—employment, housing, mental health, etc.—the author is able to paint a robust picture of the issues these people face, detail the programs (or lack thereof) available to help them, and reveal the overall fragility of the system that has been put into place to aid their survival. This coverage is timely, important, and powerful.
2nd: Food/agriculture series, Tyler Hale, Arkansas Money & Politics (Little Rock)
3rd: Substance use, Dustin Jayroe and Dwain Hebda, AY Magazine (Little Rock)
Ongoing Coverage, Online
1st: “Mississippi’s long, ugly road to changing its state flag,” Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Solid reporting and writing on the long and complex journey to change the Mississippi state flag. Good historical perspective in the first few segments detailing the outright venom against those who wanted things to change. Additional stories detailed how times changed and the state wanted to move on. Fair, balanced and important. Nice work.
2nd: “Crime Watch with Kevin Kelly,” Kevin Kelly, FOX 16 News, KLRT-TV (Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is a good example of public service in reporting crime stories.
However, there’s more to reporting of this type than just a blotter. It should include potential solutions from law enforcers and the communities in which they serve.
Investigative Reporting, Daily
1st: “Lives Remembered,” an investigation into Arkansas covid-19 deaths, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Putting a face on the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for most journalists. Government officials haven’t made that task easier. The steps taken here went the extra miles to give human dimension to the story.
2nd: “Children in Peril,” Ginny Monk, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
3rd: Arkansas Human Development Centers series, Kat Stromquist, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Investigative Reporting, Non-Daily
1st: Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes, Rick Kron, The Leader (Jacksonville, AR)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Policing the police is always a good thing for journalists to do. So is following the money. These stories do that.
Investigative Reporting, Magazines
1st: “A Republican crusader takes on Oklahoma’s prison machine,” Bret Schulte, Politico Magazine (Arlington, VA)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This meticulously reported story put a human face (actually, many of them) on the incarceration problems in Oklahoma. The writer’s in-depth investigation and brilliant narrative framing made this a compelling read from start to finish.
2nd: “Crossing Schools,” Ben Felder and Kassie McClung, The Frontier and Curbside Chronicle
Investigative Reporting, Online
1st: “The fabric is torn in Oxford’: UM emails investigation,” Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: These stories present a troubling pattern at a major institution.
Explanatory Reporting, Daily
Explanatory Reporting, Non-Daily
1st: “Of water, heat and asphalt: the science of road paving,” Kayode Crown, Jackson Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: People care a great deal about their roads. This story does a terrific job of explaining how complicated a seemingly simple repaving project can be. Well done.
2nd: Eviction crisis, Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for The Daily Record (Little Rock)
3rd: Beyond opioids, Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for The Daily Record
Explanatory Reporting, Magazines
1st: “Bringing the dead home,” Amal Ahmed, Texas Observer and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (Austin, TX)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This entry rose to the top of a *very* competitive batch of contenders thanks to the writer’s highly effective approach to explanatory reporting. This story was written with a very compelling narrative approach and covered a neglected topic in a meaningful and impactful manner. I found the story fascinating from the get-go. Great, in-depth reporting and powerful storytelling.
2nd: Food/Agriculture series, Tyler Hale, Arkansas Money & Politics (Little Rock)
3rd: “A Republican crusader takes on Oklahoma’s prison machine,” Bret Schulte, Politico Magazine
Explanatory Reporting, Online
1st: “Farmers deal with pandemic conditions,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Nonprofit News Network (Little Rock)
NO JUDGE COMMENT
2nd: “Farmers markets struggle with Covid-19,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Nonprofit News Network
3rd: “The past isn’t dead: A fight over a statue and a cemetery,” Christian Middleton and Donna Ladd, Mississippi Free Press
1st: “Sharon Giovinazzo,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The truth of the matter is: Entrants in this category had little chance at besting reporter Dwain Hebda, who entered five feature articles and pretty much knocked out the competition. Dwain nabbed the No. 1 & No. 2 spots in this category and could lead a master class in feature writing — particularly profiles. Dwain’s stories are artfully rendered, compelling human-interest reads. Each one of them was a joy to read. I had trouble picking the best in the lot, but Sharon’s story had all of the elements of a perfect feature article.
2nd: “Healing waters,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
3rd: “State history books carried Rebel slant,” Bill Bowden, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
1st: “For Detective Sgt. Heather Taylor, SLMPD’s racism was her toughest case,” Danny Wicentowski, Riverfront Times (St. Louis)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: There aren’t enough words to proclaim the excellence of this story. The writer has a command of facts and a writing style that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish. You end the article feeling like you know the detective sergeant. Well-done!
2nd: Sister of Eagle Scouts is first girl in state with honor,” Tammy Keith, River Valley and Ozark Edition, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The mark of a good story is when the reader starts and finishes without ever noticing the time that has passed. That’s what happened in judging this excellent story. It showcases dedication, determination, family and all the values of Scouting. Good job!
3rd: “Pride in my ride,” Wendy Miller, The Trucker (Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: What a well-written story. Who would think that a story about a driver and his truck could be so interesting. But, it was. Well-written and thoroughly entertaining. The reader feels as though he or she is right there in the cab. Nice work!
1st: “A Republican crusader takes on Oklahoma’s prison machine,” Bret Schulte, Politico Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A great overview of Oklahoma’s imprisonment issue that uses people’s stories to illustrate the problem. Great job interweaving facts with human emotion.
2nd: “F is for fake,” Chris O’Connell and Savannah Maher, Texas Observer in collaboration with Wyoming Public Media, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the Nation
3rd: “Sprawl,” George Lang, Curbside Chronicle
1st: “ ‘Good Trouble’ in a white-flight suburb,” Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
NO JUDGES’ COMMENT
1st: “Tom Cotton’s byline,” David Barham and Walter E. Hussman Jr., Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This entry not only exemplified good writing and the importance of a good editorial, but also managed to educate its readers as to the role of the opinion section in civil discourse surrounding topics important to the community.
1st: “Now is the time to listen and take action,” Giselle Greenwood, Houston Business Journal
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A great editorial not only takes a stand but it also inspires action. This column does both beautifully. Well done.
2nd: “Tyranny wraps itself in secrecy,” Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, Richmond News
3rd: “No clear rules for spending virus money,” Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, Richmond News
1st: MHG Editor’s Letter, Dustin Jayroe, AY’s Mental Health Guide
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The writer brings his personal experience to an important topic to which the reader can relate. It draws you in and keeps your attention with an eye towards solutions. Well done.
2nd: AMP Editor’s Letters, Mark Carter, Arkansas Money & Politics
3rd: Editor’s Letter, Johnny Carrol Sain, ABOUT the River Valley Magazine (Russellville, AR)
1st: “Throwing leather,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The reader of this story feels like he or she is right there in the ring with the boxer and trainer. The descriptions of the training and the quotes from those involved are terrific. Nicely done.
2nd: “Maty Lincoln,” Sarah DeClerk, All Arkansas Preps, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Well-written story on a young lady who is going places. The piece captured her determination as a wrestler, but branched out to show how she made sure the program would continue after she graduated.
3rd: “Papa Bear,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Interesting story on a topic that most people would find unusual.
The journey from competitions to matching wits with a bear was a good read.
1st: “After-school ballet,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Catholic (Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The mark of a good story is when the reader can finish and not realize any time has passed. This one of those stories. From the great lead to the sentences which follow, you feel as if you’re right there with the students. Nicely done.
2nd: “Subiaco 8-man,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Catholic
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: It’s likely many people had not heard of eight-man football until this story came out. The writer focuses on the players and coaches adjusting to this style of play and it works well. A very readable and enjoyable story.
3rd: “Dawn Darter,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Catholic
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Every person needs a mentor to help discover their good qualities and develop them to the fullest. That’s what Dawn Carter has done
and Dwain Hebda’s strong and descriptive writing brings it right to the readers. Good story.
1st: “Brave New World,” Evin Demirel, Arkansas Money & Politics
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A well-written primer on one of the biggest issues to face college sports in years. The presentation is well-researched and easy to read. The importance of the topic shines through. Nicely done.
2nd: “Enjoying the ride,” Mark Carter, Arkansas Money & Politics
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The pandemic has given thousands of people the chance to explore the world of road biking and mountain biking. This story puts that into perspective to show how the activity is growing by leaps and bounds. And, it’s important to the state’s economy.
A good piece. A good read.
3rd: “A league of their own,” Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Do South Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: How many people knew there was a basketball team of this type. The answer — very few until Dwain Hebda’s story introduced the world to these energetic ladies. Good job.
1st: “Righting racism during COVID-19,” Donna Ladd, Jackson Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Columnists are at their best when they use history and facts to hold people, systems, and institutions to account. Ladd does it all and does it superbly. So well written. Thank you for the great read.
2nd: “Deserts for trees,” Dustin Jayroe, Arkansas Money & Politics
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: I loved the deep dive into history and understanding how it affects our policies today. It pulled me in and I have a better understanding now. Well done,
3rd: “Henderson State professor writes guide to caving in the South,” Morgan Acuff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This book review/profile of the caving community was a fantastic read.
Arts & Culture Writing, Print/Online
1st: “Blues, Resilience and the Black Experience,” Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Aliyah Veal is a strong writer who can tell a powerful story about black Mississippi culture that often flies under the media radar. Really loved her exhaustive story about the Blues Trail and the people keeping it alive today.
2nd: “Strength of American Motherhood,” Nazarene Harris, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Excellent “story behind the story” look at an iconic photograph and the woman who went unnamed for decades. Nazarene Harris treated the “migrant mother” with more respect than the original photographer.
3rd: Arts & Culture portfolio, Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Philip Martin is an excellent music writer with a full grasp of rock & roll history and context. Loved his take on Bob Dylan’s new song as a response to being the labeled the Sixties’ “jester” in “American Pie.”
Business Writing, Print/Online
1st: Business portfolio, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Strong newswriting propelled the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette series of stories to the top spot. The dicamba story was esepecially compelling. Overall, this category contained many good stories.
2nd: Pandemic and business, Mark Carter, Arkansas Money & Politics
3rd: Business survival, growth during covid-19, Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press
Education Reporting, Print/Online
1st: Education stories, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The reports on whether schools were ready to reopen and the lack of mental health support services were particularly encyclopedic.
2nd: “Ole Miss vs. New Miss as anti-racism struggles in higher-ed,” Christian Middleton and Donna Ladd, Mississippi Free Press
3rd: “Crossing Schools,” Ben Felder, Kassie McClung, Nate Ward, Katrina Ward, The Frontier and Curbside Chronicle
Health, Science & Environment Writing, Print/Online
1st: Solutions for food insecurity in Mississippi, Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This series of series of stories skillfully outlines a problem affecting Mississippi and many other areas of the country. The key is offering solutions that can be implemented. After all, what is more important to health than the right type of food. Well done!
2nd: Pandemic reporting, Dustin Jayroe, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Terrific writing that puts the human touch on the COVID-19 pandemic. Families had to make split second decisions about their health. Health care workers were on constant call to help save lives. Important stories where people can easily relate to them.
3rd: Coping with fear, stress & loneliness in covid era, Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: How does fear impact a person’s health? What about stress? Can isolation and loneliness become lead to medical problems? The answer to all three is yes and that’s the starting point for this important series of well-written stories. Very valuable for readers.
1st: “Big spending, PACS ‘succeeding’ from the union,” Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Well-researched and well-written series of stories which outline the problem of PACs and suggest ways to possibly solve them.
2nd: Political coverage, Frank Lockwood, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This entry is due recognition because the stories included aren’t just run-of-the-mill political rehashes. They’re stories broken through dedication and hard work with an eye toward letting citizens make up their own minds about them.
3rd: Voter Guide, Nathan Poppe, George Lang, Jacquelyn Walsh, Sydni Nasada, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Just the sheer volume of the great information in this voter guide
makes it impossible to ignore as an award winner. Any voter reading this primer will come away well-informed. Isn’t that the mission of journalism?
Special Section, Print/Online
1st: All Arkansas Preps, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is as thorough a presentation on high school sports stars as I have ever seen. Terrific vignettes. Great graphics. The overall impact is very impressive. Well done!
2nd: Arkansas Mental Health Guide 2020, Dustin Jayroe, Rebecca Robertson, Jamison Mosley, Lora Puls and Heather Baker, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This topic may not be front and center for many, but COVID-19 has brought the issue to a wider audience. These well-written stories document journeys that others may have had. Plus, there is a full listing of resources and help for anyone seeking aid. Good job.
3rd: Downtown Little Rock magazine, Sarah DeClerk and Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Guides like this are fun to read for the great information and well-done profiles of the people involved in making a community stand out. This is excellent work.
Community Journalism, Print/Online
!st: Latinx immigrants navigate covid-19 in Mississippi, Mauricio J. Quijano, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An important and well reported series of stories about people that we don’t hear enough about – especially during the pandemic.
2nd: Alpena, Bill Bowden, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: These are fun stories with fantastic quotes from the former mayor who was never mayor and great details about relationships in this small community.
3rd: “LC art alumnus turns unemployment into winning artwork in 2020,” Elizabeth Christian, Louisiana College (Pineville)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Lovely story about a family who made lemonade out of the lemons that the COVID-19 crisis handed them. Nicely written and well sourced.
1st: In LR, rally near Capitol turns violent, Stephen Swofford, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Fireworks thrown at police trying to clear a protest blocking a highway light up the night. Dramatic shot of post-George Floyd death. Excellent!
2nd: NLR police shooting injures man, Staton Breidenthal, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Raw emotions in this one. Police officer comforting a grieving woman near the open door of a vehicle blocked by crime scene tape. Nice filled screen.
3rd: Twister damage surveyed in Jonesboro, Tommy Metthe, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Overhead view of awesome damage from a tornado. Mother Nature showed her power. Photographer has it in focus.
1st: Driving Generosity, Ryan Magnani, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Excellent picture story. Good variety of shots provided sense of place and people. I especially liked the frame showing a workers tattooed hands with one mashed fingernail.
2nd: A Fight to End the Fight, Ebony Blevins, Jamison Mosley and Ian Lyle, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Dramatic black and white photo spread of a protest of mostly black young people. The eight pictures showed a lot of emotion. Special use of color in the flag draped around one young man’s shoulders really popped.
3rd: May 30 George Floyd Protests, Stephen Swofford, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Good mix of good pictures takes the viewer into the protest scene.
1st: Stephen Swofford, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Great sports pict and news pictures. The feature of the man walking with a cross on his shoulder is well framed against the tall building with the U.S. flag centered on one of the verticals. The ballerina is a lovely portrait.
2nd: Tommy Metthe, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Four of the five pictures are great people shots, including two sports pix. the overhead shot of a cul de sac after a tornado is striking.
3rd: Staton Breidenthal, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Five strong pictures. The funeral procession with the saluting EMTs on the bridge as the cars go under it shows great anticipation and timing,
1st: Tracking Coronavirus, Brian Smith and Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Excellent. A page with 15 charts and graphics showing Arkansas statistics by county and school districts in great detail, and the U.S. and world in summary. Page is updated daily.
2nd: Homicide Map, William Sanders, Yutao Chen and Maggie McNeary, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Really good. Homicides in 2020 are shown in Little Rock and North Little Rock by name, age, residence, location of killing and link to news story of reported homicide.
3rd: Voting and Confederate Memorial Infographics, William Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This chronicles voting places and relocations, active voters, absentee voter ballots requested, sent and caste. One graphic shows locations of Confederate memorials in the state with no explanation of relevance to voting — unless I missed it.
1st: Halloween’s Happening, Carrie Hill, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Everything about this well-executed entry says something about how COVID-19 affected the Halloween observance in a pandemic — especially the protective clothing and gas masks on the characters and long-handled pincher for delivering candy to the child’s bag. Even the Jack-o-Lanterns are wearing masks!
2nd: Thunder Watch, Joshua Boydston, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Coronavirus-headed pins piercing bubble holding basketball images and a player with Mickey Mouse ears address the NBA shutdown. Well done.
3rd: Fostering like a pro, Jayna Hadwiger, Curbside Chronicle
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Dogs, dogs in windows and on the street, cat on a ledge, two dog walkers nicely illustrate “Fostering a good boy…” Good job.
Video Journalism, Features
1st: Running the Rock: 2020 Little Rock Marathon, Yutao Chen, Staton Breidenthal, Tommy Metthe, Stephen Swofford, Justin Cunningham, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This two-minute presentation has four short videos that loop and are separated by stills with captions. Interviews with both female and male first-place finishers and ends with a series of close-up sweaty, smiling faces.
Video Journalism, Portfolio
1st: “Be Our Change,” Monica Quintero, KPEJ-TV (Odessa, TX)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is an extremely thorough and well-produced special that highlights the emotion of a tragic day. There’s great use of natural sound, great interview and great video to match a great script. The segment where the child was hit by a stray bullet was especially touching. There’s a tremendous amount of terrific work in this program. Nicely done!
1st: Style section, Stan Denman, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Clean modular design of interesting pieces. Photos used well. All three entries jump every P. 1 article, making P.1s very interesting.
2nd: Sports section, Joe Luciano, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
3rd: Page One, Terry Austin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
1st: Food and Home series, Rebecca Robertson, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This submission truly reflects the elements of modern magazine design. Large, beautifully composed and well-lit photographs are accompanied by nice page layouts and a combination of fonts and color palettes that fit the mood and theme of the stories, amplifying their messaging and overall storytelling power.
2nd: AMP series, Rebecca Robertson, Arkansas Money & Politics
3rd: “The One That Didn’t Get Away,” Sarah Knight, Tobias Pugsley, Adrienne Koehn, Chase Baker, Dwain Hebda and Jason Masters, Wheelhouse Publishing
1st: Arkansas Online/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Staff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is doing everything a modern news organization can and should be doing with its website and mobile products to enhance access to journalistic work, better audience experience and improve engagement. The news organization created an innovative and seemingly novel approach to adapt to the growing digital needs of its print subscribers through its iPad program, but it didn’t stop there. It has created countless pieces of deep-diving, top-notch journalism you’d expect from a top-tier newspaper like itself but published them with interactivity and a digital audience in mind—to seemingly appeal to both its traditional subscribers (now on iPads) and modern audience members across its readership. From its easy-to-use, robust coronavirus tracking projects to a covid-19 obituaries collection, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has taken the best of traditional print journalism and modernized it for a digital world to deliver important and powerful storytelling in a way that can best reach readers where they are.
Breaking News, Broadcast
1st: Hurricane Laura Aftermath, Staff, KATC-TV (Lafayette, LA)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Excellent live reports on wide range of damage. What stood out is the ability of the reporters to point out and show very specific things and get reaction from those affected. Good work under pressure.
2nd: Super Tuesday Tornado, Staff, WVLT-TV (Knoxville, TN)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Well done overview of the tornado damage throughout Nashville and suburban communities. Good video — good interviews — good sense of being right there.
3rd: Teen killed, 5-year-old shot in Killeen, Rosemond Crown, KWTX-TV (Waco, TX)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Tragic story of violence that’s becoming all too common in the U.S. Heartbreaking sound bites with little girls who wonder why someone their age would be shot. Good perspective.
1st: Giving back with backpacks, Ashley Bohle, WVLT
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: It’s shorter than the rest of the entries in this category, but it’s long on emotion. A young girl puts aside her own hardship to help others during the pandemic. Simply elegant.
2nd: Resilient, Andrew Clay, KATC
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Losing a child is never easy for a parent. When that child works with you each day as a college softball coach, it’s doubly hard. Yet, this father/coach and his team used their loss to gain confidence and emotion in their play. Well-told. Well-shot.
3rd: Layla’s Adventure, Gordon Collier and Clint Webb, KWTX
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: There are tons of good people waiting and willing to help a child living out her young years. Granting that last wish puts a smile on the face of the donors, the parents and especially the little girl.
1st: Be Our Change – West Texas Strong, Monica Quintero, KPEJ
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A joy to watch – motivational, inspiration, and thorough.
2nd: Prevent the Tragedy: Drowning Dangers, Brittany Tarwater and Keith Smith, WVLT
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Thorough, emotional and personal reporting on a topic that doesn’t get enough attention.
3rd: Covid-19 inside Arkansas prisons, Anna Stitt, KUAR-FM (Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The basics of what we do – give voice to the voiceless, and hold the powerful accountable.
Political Coverage, Broadcast
1st: The Mail-In Mission, Brian Calfano and Lissa Hamblen, KOLR-TV (Springfield, MO)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A clever and unique idea and way to tell this story – which affected so many people in this election.
2nd: Super Tuesday arrives in Arkansas, and so do Democratic presidential candidates, Daniel Breen, KUAR-FM
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The breadth of what you covered, while focusing on the volunteer, is impressive.
3rd: Campaigns shift to more pandemic-friendly voter outreach efforts, Sarah Kellogg, KUAR-FM
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Really smart use of natural sound.
Business Coverage, Broadcast
1st: Three small business adapt to survive pandemic, Megan Vanselow, Drake Lawsan and Bill Gowdy, KWTX
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Very nicely done packages on the COVID-19 impact on small businesses. Good use of natural sound to put the viewer on the scene. Good writing with matching video. Stories nicely delivered so the viewer can feel the impact. Solutions for solving the problems the businesses faced were always a major part of the story. Good work.
Education Coverage, Broadcast
1st: Racism at Westlake, Alex Capraniello, KXAN-TV (Austin, TX)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is an excellent story. It includes many student voices and portrays the students respectfully. It also gives the school officials a chance to explain themselves thoroughly. Really terrific journalism.
2nd: As school closures stretch on, business, nonprofits work to feed students, Daniel Breen, KUAR-FM
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This was a very strong entry. The story included a lot of voices with different perspectives on the problem and how to address it. Well done.
3rd: Kindergarten cancer outpatient starts school, Ashley Bohle, WVLT
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This story had strong, emotional sound from Noah’s mom and sweet comments and nat sound from Noah. Nicely done.
Health/Science Coverage, Broadcast
1st: Explaining Leap Year, Sean Bellafiore, KWTX
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Starts with a great question – and then cleverly uses the set, studios, and editing to help answer it thoroughly.
2nd: Challenges facing Arkansas healthcare workers testing for the coronavirus, Michael Hibblen, KUAR-FM
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Nice use of natural sound throughout.
Breaking News, Print/Online
1st: “Residents at risk: LSU requires mandatory covid-19 testing,” Katherine Manuel and Anna Jones, The Reveille and lsuresveille.com (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This story from The Reveille is comprised of reporting on an important and complex public health issue affecting students who live across the campus. Although university representatives were not forthcoming about the specificity of the COVID-19 testing occurring at dorms on campus, these student reporters went beyond the press release and figure heads to confirm with students and parents where testing occurred. Despite the ongoing pandemic and educational and health privacy issues, these students were able to speak with students and a parent in a brief amount of time to provide a clear picture of what was occurring on campus. It’s worth noting that quotes and/or information from a public health expert on the need for testing and overall effectiveness of this plan would have added an additional layer of credibility and context. Overall, this shows solid reporting on a complex topic during a difficult time.
Breaking News, Broadcast
1st: “A half-century ago in Jonesboro, armed black men fought back,” Bailey Williams, Alyssa Berry, Matthew C lark, Sydney McGovern and Karli Carpenter, LSU Manship News Service (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This four-part series demonstrated excellent narrative storytelling techniques grounded by in-depth archival/document research and interviews. Each story in the series was compelling to read, and the cold-case subject at the center of the project was both riveting and revealing — and incredibly relevant as our nation grapples with its history of racial prejudice, discrimination and injustices. This effort was by far the best in the category. Kudos to all of the student reporters and editors involved in this effort.
2nd: “Triage: Six volunteers,” Hannah Butler, ABOUT the River Valley Magazine
3rd: “The McElroy House,” Kenzie Sain, ABOUT the River Valley Magazine
1st: Neurodiversity, Ally Kadlubar, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Nice variety of shots and a good character.
2nd: The Interstate and Air Quality, Kendall Duncan, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An interesting story with a very solid standup.
3rd: “ As judge considers challenge to early Census deadline, Arkansas officials consider impact,” Alexandria Brown, KUAR-FM (University of Arkansas, Little Rock)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Straightforward and interesting.
1st: Good Journalism is Incorruptible, Alena Noakes, Wildcats Media (Louisiana College)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Great work! MENTAL HEALTH AND THE MODERN CHURCH in particular was superb. Columnists should confront controversial and important topics head on to help the public better empathize and care. You did just that. Thanks for the great read.
2nd: What the Democratic Party should learn from the 2020 election, Joel Thompson, Wildcats Media (Louisiana College)
3rd: Editorials from The Reveille, Caleb Greene, Bailey Chauvin, Reed Darcey, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
1st: “Myles Brennan after LSU vs. Miss. State: expect a leader, not a blamer” Jared Brodtmann, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Extremely well written piece that has good information and good analysis. Very mature work on a topic where readers have great passion for the team. Nicely done.
2nd: “ ‘Absolutely killed’: What went wrong for LSU and where to go from here?” Jared Brodtmann, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Another good example of good sentence construction, good game analysis. The tone was matter of fact and not finger-pointing. Credibility helps in cases like this and the writer apparently has that.
3rd: “No more concussions for the Pocahontas Redskins,” Christine Miyawa, Delta Digital News Service (Arkansas State University, Jonesboro)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Any time you talk about safety in sports, people are going to read what’s written. Getting football helmets with new technology isn’t cheap, but they’re valuable in preventing traumatic brain injuries. The piece, while good, needs work on sentence construction and grammar.
1st: Burrow Curtain Call, Luke Chevalier, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Good recap of the national championship game and how Joe Burrow set records, but heaped praise on his teammates. Nicely put together.
2nd: “Softball pitcher keeps pushing,” Kendall Duncan, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: You’ve gotta love a person who takes life’s challenges (lemons) and turns them into lemonade. It proves the adage that if someone keeps working hard enough, success will follow.
Business, All Platforms
1st: “Shuttered casinos impact economy,” Ally Kadlubar, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: When doing a business story like this, the key is to focus on how people are impacted. That’s what this story does very well. It includes a laid-off casino employee and people who are charged with keeping the economic vitality of a business going. Nicely done!
2nd: “Nurse practitioner fulfills dream with art gallery business,” Tristan Bennett, Delta Digital News Service (Arkansas State University, Jonesboro)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Well-written story on an entrepreneur who had a desire to help others economically impacted by COVID-19. Good character development and a nice writing style that makes it interesting and easy-to-read.
3rd: “More House, Less Money,” Ally Kadllubar, LSU Tiger TV (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Topical story focusing on the plight of realtors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Good inclusion of realtors and an umbrella organization to cover all sides of the issue. Good job.
Commentary, All Platforms
1st: Commentary portfolio, Marie Plunkett, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Great writing. Great topics, and the Middle Ages piece was just brilliant. Well done!
2nd: Columns, Evan Leonhard, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
3rd: Opinion, Cecile Girard, The Reveille and lsureveille.com (Louisiana State University)
Education, All Platforms
1st: “Nettleton School Board honors special member,” Tristan Bennett, Delta Digital News Service (Arkansas State University, Jonesboro)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Nicely written story on a trend schools are following across the country. Using the therapy dog angle as the lead is a great way of increasing interest in what might ordinarily be a rather routine story.
2nd: “Jonesboro public schools welcome nationally certified board teachers,” Krishnan Collins, Delta Digital News Service (Arkansas State University, Jonesboro)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Teachers continuing their education can only benefit students. This story nicely describes the rigorous process of becoming board certified.
3rd: “UCA Board of Trustees approve pedestrian bridge grant, discuss fall enrollment during meeting,” Ronak Patel, The Echo (University of Central Arkansas)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Good overall summary of the meeting. The story could have been stronger with further development of pedestrian bridge.
1st: A fight to end all fights,” Ian Lyle, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Good news police/protest package, showing one-to-one exchange, kneeling officers and a little black girl riding on a smiling officer’s shoulder surrounded by smiling protesters. Fifth pict is of a policewoman in a water balloon fight with mostly black and brown kids.
1st: “LC alum becomes award-winning artist,” Aaron Quartemont, Wildcats Media (Louisiana College)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is nice story about a man’s life challenges and the opportunity’s they present. It’s nicely written to reveal the change from unemployment to artist. As the student grows in news video production, there will be an expectation of including more video to help tell the story. But, this effort is a good starting point.
Breaking News, Audio
1st: Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, Sofia McKentry, KLSU-FM
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Nicely produced story on organ donations. There’s good information here that’s presented very well. The blending of narration and sound bites was done very well. The newscaster’s delivery shows that she has plenty of promise in broadcasting. Nice work.
1st: “The untold stories of the integration of UCA,” Lauren McLemore, Morgan Jenkins, Delaney Van Wilpe, Elvira Toddy, Megan Holder and Ronak Patel, The Echo (University of Central Arkansas)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: It’s hard to believe this podcast was put together by students.This is a program that’s well-produced, well-researched, well-written and very interesting. The historical progression of the integration efforts through the years was extremely well done.
Kudos to everyone involved.
1st: Coronavirus, Christine Miyawa, Tristan Bennett, Chase Gage and Krishnan Collins, Delta Digital News Service (Arkansas State University, Jonesboro)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: These student journalists covered the ongoing pandemic from a variety of angles—from school closings to the impact on local businesses. Despite the added barriers of the pandemic, the students were able to interview a variety of sources and cover issues and topics important to the local community.
1st: Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Insightful coverage that shows that length is not a prerequisite for top-notch journalism.
2nd: Wendy Miller, Linda Garner-Bunch, Lydon Finney, Sam Pierce and The Trucker Editorial Staff, The Trucker & The Trucker
3rd: Staff, Curbside Chronicle
1st: Mississippi Trusted Elections Project, Ashton Pittman, William Pittman, John McGee, Jarius Smith and team, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An extraordinary series of stories documenting efforts by Mississippi officials to change polling locations of thousands of voters with very little communication. Only when confronted by the truth from the newspaper’s reporters did state officials make any effort to correct problems. This is a great public service. Kudos to the team that obviously worked tirelessly to help guarantee the right to vote.
2nd: Children in Peril, Ginny Monk, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An important investigation into the growing gun problem in the U.S. — especially when children are involved. The two best parts about the effort were making sure the impact on people was front-and-center plus examining a myriad of solutions. It’s disappointing that so many public officials tried to stonewall this very important work. The reader has to wonder how much more effective the story and the database would have been if everyone had cooperated.
Outstanding New Journalist
1st: Dustin Jayroe, AY Magazine
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The mark of a good writer and storyteller is when the reader can glide through a story without stopping. That’s what you get from Dustin Jayroe. The research is spot-on, the writing is conversational. From topic to topic his work stands out. It’s hard to believe he’s only been in the professional for fewer than five years. Congratulations.
2nd: Tyler Hale, AY Media Group
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: When a reader picks up a newspaper, magazine or clicks to see an online story, the expectation is for work that connects to their everyday lives.
That’s the style of Tyler Hale. His writing is easy to understand and clear as a bell. Unanswered questions are rare. This young man has a good foothold on a solid career.
3rd: Kayode Crown, Jackson Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: The amount of detail Kayode Crown puts into his stories is impressive. That exemplifies a passion for reporting and writing that easily connects with readers.
Plus, there’s always context provided about what impact a story has on the community.
These important traits are evident now and will be well-used in the future.
Diamond Journalist of the Year
1st: Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is an amazing writer who knows how to get to the heart of a story and make it mean something to the reader. It doesn’t seem to matter that the topic is. Ashton tackles it with a keen eye for detail and dedication to holding those accountable when needed. Great work!
2nd: Dwain Hebda, Ya!Mule Wordsmiths
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is an extremely versatile journalist. Story after story demonstrates a terrific writing skill that is enjoyable to read. Dwain’s dedication to the profession is enviable. He cares and that comes out in his stories.
3rd: Monica Quintero, KPEJ/KMID
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: There’s no doubt that Monica has a great sense of what’s important to her viewers. She creates programs that make a difference. She mentors others to improve their skill level. And she cares about every detail of a production. There’s passion, professionalism and a pleasing style that come across here.
Robert S. McCord Freedom of Information Award
1st: Bringing racist, sexist UM emails, climate report to public view, Ashton Pittman, Donna Ladd and Christian Middleton, Mississippi Free Press
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A truly amazing series of reports.
There were so many back-stories that at times it was hard to know the players. Yet, in the end it all fit together. The public had a right to know what was going on at the University of Mississippi and the Mississippi Free Press delivered. Nicely done.
2nd: Fighting for basic information, Eric Besson, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A very important effort to secure information that should be public record. Reporters having to jump through hoops to try and get basic information is outrageous. Kudos to the newspaper and the reporters/editors for never giving up and making sure these important profiles were produced and read.