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APME announces the 2017 awards honoring excellence and innovation in journalism

Tuesday, May 30, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
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May 31, 2017


New York — Watchdog journalism that saved lives, exposed bias, held government officials accountable and shed light on hidden practices earned top honors in the 2017 Associated Press Media Editors Awards.


The Chicago Tribune earned the grand prize in Public Service for “Dangerous Doses,” which exposed pharmacies that were dispensing drug combinations that could cause harm or death, APME announced Wednesday. “This high-impact project wins first place because of its journalistic sophistication, its novel approach and because it changed rules and laws governing pharmacists and their training,” judges said.


The Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register also received top honors in Public Service. The Herald-Tribune documented significant racial inequities across Florida in sentencing; the State Journal-Register led a collaborative statewide effort to show the impact of the state budget stalemate.


The Charleston Post and Courier won the grand prize for work advancing the principles of the First Amendment. The newspaper found that police across the United States have stockpiled huge databases with personal information from millions of Americans who simply crossed paths with officers.


Other First Amendment winners were the Quad-City Times, which successfully pushed city leaders to stop doing the public’s business in small groups behind closed doors, and the Peoria Journal Star, which battled to obtain a police officer’s report about her colleagues’ and supervisors’ misuse of on-the-clock time.


The annual APME contest honors excellence and innovation in journalism, and reflects the Associated Press Media Editors’ mission of fostering newsroom leaders, empowering journalists to succeed, and cultivating ideas that work. Teams of judges are comprised of APME national board members and top editors at the Associated Press.


Winners will be recognized at the ASNE-APME-APPM News Leadership Conference October 8-11 in Washington, D.C.


A highlight of the conference: Finalists for one of the APME’s most prestigious awards – Innovator of the Year – will make presentations, and the winner will be selected live by conference attendees. This year’s finalists: the Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and WBUR in Boston. The live judging by industry peers is unique among journalism awards.

The Times also won two awards, in Storytelling and International Perspective. The only other double winner was the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star.

In other top honors announced Friday, The Baltimore Sun and Flint (Mich.) Journal each won an Al Neuharth Award for Investigative Reporting in their respective size categories. The Sun won for “Shocking Force,” which revealed that police mostly used Tasers against suspects who pose no threat. The Journal won for “All the Governor's Men,” which judges praised as “way ahead of the national media on the investigative work, and finding the faces and voices of those who were affected as contaminated water put the population at risk.”

The Dallas Morning News, Portland Oregonian and, and St. Cloud Times were recognized for deadline news reporting. The Morning News coverage of the July ambush of Dallas police officers “provided the model for owning a big breaking news story.” The Oregonian and staff “provided unbiased context” in reporting on the 41-day Oregon Militia standoff. The St. Cloud Times brought “nuance, context and humanity” to coverage of a stabbing spree by a Somali refugee.

Judges selected “Framed,” by The Los Angeles Times for best storytelling in its size category. They compared it to a crime novel “rich in details that expose the evil committed by a wealthy couple bent on the destruction of a less-well-off member of the community.” They also honored the exceptional storytelling in “Life on a Ledge,” from the Chicago Sun-Times, and “Border Bodies: The Grim Mysteries of Southern California,” from The (Palm Spring, CA) Desert Sun.

The two winners in the Sally Jacobsen International Perspective category were Los Angeles Times staff for “Dairy of Terror,” and Jamie McGee and Larry McCormack of The (Nashville) Tennessean for “Rethink Haiti.” Judges said Murphy’s “well-chronicled account of one month’s tally of terror demonstrates the failings of ignoring small incidents of terror in places where terrorism seems commonplace.” They applauded McGee and McCormack for including “insights into how their readers could shift their missionary and aid-based efforts to perhaps more effective economic efforts.” won for Mobile Platform, which judges applauded for its ability to increase reader traffic. And the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Peoria Journal Star won in the Community Engagement category. The Star Tribune produced engaging and forthright coverage of the Somali experience in Minnesota – even enlisting a Somali journalist who eventually was hired. The Journal Star’s effort, “City of Disparity,” “shows what can be accomplished by a small local staff with deep commitment to community engagement,” judges said.

Finally, APME has a tradition of working closely with college programs and recognizing their best work. This year’s winner of Innovator of the Year for College Students was Ball State University for “Unmasked: The Stigma of Meth,” a multi-media series produced by the university's Unified Media program. Judges called the work “a tour de force on all platforms.”

A full listing of winners with judges’ comments is below.


Honoring Excellence and Innovation in Journalism


Grand Prize winner, sponsored by Gatehouse Media ($1,000)

Winner: “Dangerous Doses,” Chicago Tribune

150,000 and up circulation:

Winner: “Dangerous Doses,” Chicago Tribune

The initial reporting was as remarkably basic as walking into one pharmacy after another seeking at least two prescriptions that pharmacists should have known would be dangerous when taken together. The failure rate for pharmacists was astounding. "Dangerous Doses" by the Chicago Tribune's Karisa King, Ray Long and Sam Roe went far beyond that, however, and involved collaboration with the Columbia University Medical Center to search for potentially fatal drug interactions. This high-impact project wins first place because of its journalistic sophistication, its novel approach and because it changed rules and laws governing pharmacists and their training. In short, judges said, this is journalism that undoubtedly has saved lives and will continue to do so. 

Honorable Mention: “The Price of Being Wrong,” Ellen Gabler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The project explores the failings in the nation’s newborn screening system, which sets thresholds too low for identifying serious, yet treatable genetic conditions. Reporter Ellen Gabler showed the devastating effects for children because labs cling to an outdated system and refuse to use simple, free software that has been proven more effective. So long as the medical community takes heed, judges said, this project will save children from the devastating effects of preventable health problems.

40,000 to 149,999 circulation:

Winner: “Bias on the Bench,” Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune

For its outstanding work documenting significant racial inequities across Florida in sentencing, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is the winner in a strong category of entries.  “Bias on the Bench” analyzed sentencing patterns of trial judges, revealing that blacks frequently received far longer sentences than whites convicted of similar crimes. Sarasota dug into data, documenting discrepancies across the state and looking at some individual judges whose sentencing was fraught with racial injustice.

Honorable Mention: “Toxic Armories,” The (Portland) Oregonian

The Oregonian found significant lead contamination at hundreds of National Guard armories across the United States.

Honorable Mention: “No Culture of Thrift,” Henry J. Cordes, Omaha World-Herald

The World-Herald documented highly inflated salaries among executives of Goodwill Omaha. The story resulted in the resignation of the group’s CEO and an investigation by the Nebraska attorney general.

Up to 39,999 circulation:

Winner: “Enough,” Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register

Illinois lawmakers' inability to agree on a state budget has become a national example of political inertia. The State Journal-Register led a collaborative statewide effort to show the impact of the budget stalemate. Newspapers across Illinois decried the legislative inaction through stories, editorials and columns, prompting tens of thousands citizens to respond. The State Journal-Register's leadership was particularly impressive and unique since editorials drove their call for action. This was a strong example of leadership, determination and ingenuity.

Honorable Mention: “Growing Up Hungry,” The Press of Atlantic City

A haunting and impressive series on the issues facing residents struggling with poverty and the subsequent impact of hunger.

Honorable Mention: “Minds that Matter,” Jessica Priest, Victoria (TX) Advocate

A well-reported and written series on how residents are affected in mental health courts.


Grand Prize winner, sponsored by the APME Foundation ($1,000)

Watched,” Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp, The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier

150,000 and up circulation

Winner:  Watched,” Glenn Smith and Andrew Knapp, The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier

After discovering that police in Charleston, South Carolina, had conducted nearly 100,000 field interviews with “suspicious” citizens that didn’t result in arrests, Post and Courier reporters Andrew Knapp and Glenn Smith requested records from departments across the state and from the nation’s 50 largest police agencies to determine how widespread the practice was. They found that police forces across the United States have stockpiled huge databases with personal information from millions of Americans who simply crossed paths with officers. Their three-part series, “Watched,” produced results in Charleston, where the police chief announced an initiative to purge innocent people from the department’s database, and won praise from civil libertarians and police alike for shedding light on surveillance techniques often hidden from public view.

40,000 to 149,999 circulation

Winner: “Steady Drumbeat,” Quad-City (IA) Times

In Davenport, Iowa, the Quad-City Times used aggressive news reporting and strong editorials to change a political culture in which the business of the people was conducted in informal closed meetings of small groups of aldermen that didn’t constitute a quorum. The City Council called it “reaching consensus.”  The newspaper saw it for what it was: a cynical means of bypassing open government laws. After a steady drumbeat from the newspaper, the new mayor relented and opened the meetings to the public. The Quad-City Times’ efforts epitomized the goals of First Amendment journalism and brought about change in the public interest.

Up to 39,999 circulation

Winner: “Police Report Unmasked,” Peoria (IL) Journal Star

By waging a 2 ½-year battle with the city of Peoria to obtain a police officer’s report about her colleagues’ and supervisors’ misuse of on-the-clock time, the Journal Star proved it had the moxie — and was willing to commit to resources — to fight hard for records that properly belong to the public. The Journal Star litigated the case to the appellate level, winning at every turn, and produced an investigative report — “Police Report Unmasked” — that revealed how officers went home or did other personal activities while they were on the taxpayer-funded clock. The police chief and many other department leaders ultimately left the city or were reassigned.


(Winner to be selected at the ASNE-APME-APPM convention in October in Washington, D.C.)

Sponsored by an anonymous donor ($1,000 for the eventual winner)

Finalist: “SNAP” (Simple News Assembly Platform), Los Angeles Times

Many newsrooms struggle with outdated, complicated digital publishing systems, and newsrooms often have two separate workflows for digital and print. This system appears pretty revolutionary. Anything that makes the user experience better and also creates efficiency in the newsroom is a success.

Finalist: “Just the FAQs,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

This is a great idea on several levels. Not only does it work for the short attention spans of readers in the era of social media and the smartphone, but it repurposes existing content. Very clever to have a tool that cuts down on the production and editing time; it appears simple enough for just about anyone in the newsroom to use. This is certainly an idea that could be used by other news organizations.

Finalist: “Making Audio a First-Class Citizen,” WBUR, Boston

The layout is very easy to use compared to most radio stations, and very intuitive. The format of the station's website is more like a story list, similar to newspaper websites. The station also offers a model in audience engagement in the process it used to roll out the new site and engage its audience in testing and feedback.


Winner: “Unmasked: The Stigma of Meth,” Ball State University

Terrific multi-media series produced by Ball State University's Unified Media program. Their work clearly and dramatically demonstrated the impact that meth had in Indiana’s Muncie and Delaware County, and dug deep to put a face on drug addiction. Stories about how one gent caught fire cooking meth, and others that explored the number of babies born addicted were particularly compelling. No doubt why their work was picked up by public television and radio, and even the Associated Press. A tour de force on all platforms.


Sponsored by the Gannett Foundation ($1,250 for each winner)

75,000 and up circulation

Winner: “Shocking Force,” Mark Puente and Doug Donovan, The (Baltimore) Sun

The Baltimore Sun combined database reporting, outstanding storytelling and clear delivery in this report, which has resulted in changes in Maryland and, likely, elsewhere around the country. Exemplary use of graphics and interactives that allowed readers to easily explore the data on their own. Doug Donovan and Mark Puente expertly applied a combination of data and shoe-leather reporting, plus smart analysis and accessible delivery.

Honorable Mention: “Suffering in Secret,” Michael Berens and Patricia Callahan, Chicago Tribune

Powerful public interest reporting that shined a light on how some of the most vulnerable people in society were abused by their own caregivers – and perhaps more remarkably, revealed how the state essentially allowed these caregivers to police themselves. Readers can't help but be outraged by the findings. 

Up to 74,999 circulation

Winner: “All the Governor’s Men,” The Flint Journal
Dogged watchdog work from a staff that wouldn’t accept what they were hearing from the governor’s office. This team was way ahead of the national media on the investigative work and finding the faces and voices of those who were affected as contaminated water put the population at risk.

Honorable Mention: “Bias on the Bench,” Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune

At the heart of this entry was impressive analysis of tens of millions of records. That analysis and the study and reporting that surrounded it were presented in a sophisticated package that was as effective on digital platforms as it was in print. It’s no wonder it went viral, and no wonder state lawmakers were quick to act. 


Grand Prize winner, sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University ($1,000)

Winner: “Oregon Militia Standoff and subsequent shooting,” Oregonian/

150,000 and up circulation

Winner: “Covering the Chaos of the Dallas Police Shooting,” Dallas Morning News

The Dallas Morning News provided the model for owning a big breaking news story. The staff did a first-rate job of making sense of events that created chaos in the streets and left police, marchers and readers unsure what would happen next. Reporters, photographers and other staffers provided ongoing updates and dispatches in text, video and on various social media platforms. They captured important moments that helped tell the larger story. Who can forget the photo of the crying police officer hugging a woman at the hospital door? The real-time digital presence was extremely impressive, using both staff- and reader-generated video and photos. We heard the gun battle and screams of fear and shock. The writing was superlative, capturing both the action and emotion in a manner that was never overwrought. Because the News was the go-to site as the drama was unfolding, its web server was in danger of crashing. The editor decided to allow traffic to flow to a beta site, unsure if it would handle all the traffic coming from across the country and the world. Thankfully it did. It was a risk worth taking.

Honorable Mention: “Air Bridge,” Alfred Lubrano, Philadelphia Media Network

Alfred Lubrano did a terrific job finding a compelling and surprising story, and then following it all the way to Puerto Rico. He kept people at the center of this grim story and introduced us to the Puerto Rican officials behind the effort to rid their streets of drug addicts by sending them to Philadelphia with false promises of treatment. We also met the addicts and the so-called pastors who profit from the addicts’ misery. The story, photos and video about Camp Heroin were well done, and moved the story forward on several fronts. In what are challenging financial times for the news industry, PMN sent a reporter and photographer to the source, which added an important layer to the story. This story also spurred politicians and others to address the problem and look for solutions.

40,000 to 149,999 circulation

Winner: “Oregon Militia Standoff and subsequent shooting,” Oregonian/

From the moment out-of-state militia members seized a wildlife refuge in rural eastern Oregon, the staff owned this story. Despite competition from national news outlets, OregonLive was the go-to source during the 41-day standoff and subsequent shooting, providing constant updates on all platforms. The coverage kept people at the center of the story and provided unbiased context that helped readers understand the motivations of  those involved. The staff also conveyed an understanding of the economic and cultural history of the region – reporting that helped readers far from the action relate to the dynamics that fueled both the refuge takeover and the local backlash. The digital engagement was impressive. The staff used video, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect readers in real time with breaking news, updates and features. The animated video of the shooting provided important information about a controversial event. The coverage was all the more impressive because of the sheer logistical challenges involved: The refuge was five hours from the newsroom in Portland, was miles from the nearest town and was in a place so remote that cell service was rarely available. OregonLive, fresh off a round of layoffs, also had to rotate staff in and out of the region as the drama played out for nearly a month-and-a-half.

Honorable Mention: “Tragedy on Verruckt,” Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Star could have covered this tragedy – the death of a boy riding on a 17-story waterslide – as a big spot story and then moved on. Instead, the Star kept at it, asking questions and looking ahead. The staff’s dogged reporting revealed that marketing was largely behind the creation of the world’s tallest water slide and that ensuring the ride was safe was left up to the park itself. They followed readers’ tips about unsafe conditions on the ride prior to the boy’s death and used video graphics to explain the physics behind the ride in a clear and engaging way.

Up to 39,999 circulation

Winner: “Mall Stabbings,” St. Cloud (MN) Times

The staff of the St. Cloud Times preserved nuance, context and humanity in covering a major breaking news story that had potential for dividing the community. We hear from all sides in quick order after 10 people were stabbed at a mall by a 20-year-old Somali refugee. The digital engagement, with constant updates on the paper’s website and on social media – Facebook Live, Facebook, Twitter, kept readers informed, gave a voice to the immigrant community and likely allayed fears.

Honorable Mention: “Sub Nation,” Corina Curry, Rockford (IL) Register Star

Education reporter Corina Curry identified a potentially problematic trend and decided to find out the impact, not only on the region she covers but in other communities across the country. The breadth of her reporting on this important issue, which included filing dozens of records requests in myriad states, was impressive, especially coming from a smaller media outlet. That broader context was essential to giving Curry’s readers a full understanding of the increasing use of substitute teachers. The database is an added bonus. The graphics were attractive and informative.


150,000 and up circulation:

Winner: “Framed,” Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times

This is beat reporting at its finest, a great example of what happens when a diligent reporter with sharp news judgment realizes he has struck gold. The result is a story that reads like a crime novel, rich in details that expose the evil committed by a wealthy couple bent on the destruction of a less-well-off member of the community. The audio embeds comparing the 911 caller and the police confronting the suspect by the matching "ums" was a great detail. This story compelled you to read it, and felt like binge-watching where you had to keep reading to find out what happened.

Honorable Mention: “Diary of Terror,” Los Angeles Times

The Times team blended traditional reporting with data visualization and other digital tools to explain terrorism’s bloody toll over a single month. The project is remarkable for its scope, but easily explored by the reader thanks to thoughtful digital presentation. Great explainer about the reporting process.

40,000 to 149,999 circulation:

Winner: “Life on the Ledge,” Frank Main, Chicago Sun-Times

This is storytelling at its best. We were drawn through every word by great writing, smart organization, thoughtful interviews and great reporting. Reporter Frank Main made it his mission to tell the story of Kendra Smith, the woman who jumped to her death in his neighborhood. His story revealed a woman who overcame significant challenges yet couldn’t outrun the mental illness that drove her to take her own life. Effortless online story form complements the spare writing, moving the story forward. 

Honorable Mention: “Burned,” Laura Gunderson and Ted Sickinger, The (Portland) Oregonian

Important reporting instead of relying on the official record, which can be opaque and culturally tainted. The chronology presented in the video graphic was so clear, an easy-on-the-reader presentation of a lot of detail on which the rest of the story depended. Terrific.

Up to 39,999 circulation:

Winner: “Border Bodies: The Grim Mysteries of Southern California,” Brett Kelman and Gustavo Solis, The (Palm Spring, CA) Desert Sun

There was so much to admire in this project. This was a unique approach to covering problems on the border. The project presentation included good integration of video tools into the vertical progression of the story and made for a riveting experience.


75,000 and up circulation

Winner: “Diary of Terror,” Los Angeles Times.

This well-chronicled account of one month’s tally of terror demonstrates the failings of ignoring small incidents of terror in places where terrorism seems commonplace. An ambitious enterprise project, “Diary of Terror” went beyond cataloguing statistics to put human faces and stories behind underreported terror attacks. The judges were just as impressed by the novel idea as the exhaustive reporting.

Up to 74,999 circulation

Winner: “Rethink Haiti,” Jamie McGee and Larry McCormack, The (Nashville) Tennessean.

For an innovative tale that demonstrates that those groups that parachute in to help the beleaguered country of Haiti might do better to avoid their cocoon of safety. While aid may be well-intentioned, the biggest boost to this country may well be for all these aid groups to mix it up with the local populous and actually spend money. We liked that the reporting team told this important story through the lens of their audience – and included insights into how their readers could shift their missionary and aid-based efforts to perhaps more effective economic efforts.



The redesign of the was a success. The site provided fast load time, easy access and operation and the slide out menu made it extremely easy to navigate. It was visually attractive with the big photos and headlines.  The redesign made the site a nice way to increase readership and reader traffic.  Nicely done!

Honorable Mention: WBUR, Boston

For folks who are podcast fanatics, this app proves to be a winner. It is easy to find shows and listen to them. Plus they offer a huge variety of news programs, features and entertainment. It is not only informational but also educational.


75,000 and up circulation

Winner: “Somalis in Minnesota,” (Minneapolis) Star Tribune

In a category of outstanding entries, the Star Tribune’s series on the struggles of the city’s Somali Americans, some labeled unfairly as extremists, rises to the top as the best example of engaging a community on a complex topic. The newspaper gained the trust of this community and told the hard, honest truth that, while most Somali Americans live normal lives, there are some whose singular goal is to join terrorist organizations. The work was impressive for its storytelling across platforms and for its planning and scope. The newspaper not only produced content that engaged with the community, but deepened its credibility by enlisting a Somali journalist who eventually was hired. Further, the Legislature appropriated millions of dollars for Somali youth, funded community centers and took additional steps. Great work. 

Honorable mention: “Collateral Damage,” The (Baltimore) Sun

The staff should be commended for its dedication to serving the community in the strongest way possible – empowering people to tell their own stories. Watching the videos was a powerful reminder of how infrequently the voices of young black men are heard. The staff took a tragic event and didn't leave it to be covered by basic reporting. Convening a forum clearly was what the community needed and wanted, and the circle was closed with solutions from people who live there. Great work on serving the community.

Up to 74,999 circulation

Winner: “City of Disparity,” Peoria (IL) Journal Star

The City of Disparity project shows what can be accomplished by a small local staff with deep commitment to community engagement. An impressive turnaround for the paper’s image and meaning to the local community. The most meaningful part is the engagement is ongoing with agencies, city officials and the community. The project’s success rests in the community learning troubling facts about itself. This project was sure to spark conversation.

Associated Press Media Editors

APME is a professional network, a resource for helping editors and broadcasters improve their news coverage and newsroom operations.

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