SDX 2001 Awards Gallery
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Over 100,000)
Newspaper/Wire Service (Circ. Under 100,000)
Follow the whole story
By Max Cacas
On the television show “M*A*S*H,” they called it “meatball surgery.” Fix up the wounded as best as you can, stabilize them for transport, and get them to a hospital as quickly as you can for more comprehensive treatment.
As a broadcast – and now online – journalist, I’m most familiar with what I euphemistically call “meatball journalism.” You cover the latest, breaking news, get it first and get it right, and move on to the next story. It’s something I’m most comfortable with, and something I’ve been doing for a long time.
At the same time, I often find myself envious of journalists who are able to practice a different – and very important – kind of reporting: those who find a good story, who work long and hard to pull the facts together, sometimes for years. And in the end, they paint a very compelling, often amazing, picture of the truth of one small part of our world.
More often than not, a good reporter finds a story like this simply by noticing something, even a small thing, that another reporter won’t – and then by chasing after the story. Other times, you don’t find the story; the story finds you.
In either case, it all depends on what you and your news organization choose to do with the story. The lucky ones have bosses and companies willing to back their search and provide the time and other resources necessary. Free-lancers often dip into their own finances to cover the cost of their search, hopeful for future professional satisfaction and financial reward for their sacrifice. Still others, as we know, pay for their search with their very lives.
That’s something that the cheap shot artists – and all the others who openly disparage and thumb their noses at what we proudly call “journalism” – will never understand: That your credibility as a journalist rests on that relentless search for the facts behind the truth (reporting); to sort out what is, and isn’t important (editing and placing things in context); and then to present that truth in a way that has meaning to the reader, the listener, and the viewer (delivering the news).
These are the journalists we honor for their “Continuous Coverage” in the past year.
Max Cacas is a newswriter for WTOP AM/FM in Washington, D.C., and its Web sites, wtopnews.com and federalnewsradio.com.
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Tim Barker and Mary Shanklin, Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel, One-Ticket Town: The Costs of a Tourism Economy
The people and economy of Orlando, Fla., do not count
the words “happily ever after” as part of the region’s
While theme parks such as Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World consume colossal amounts of tourist dollars, reporters Tim Barker and Mary Shanklin asked the question: How much of the income remains in the local economy?
“One-Ticket Town: The Costs of a Tourism Economy” was published in a five-part series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Disney World’s opening. The Sentinel covered its pages with analysis, tourist profiles and local reactions to the fairytale theme park and its effects on the Orlando-area economy:
The Sentinel analyzed how Central Florida stacks up against 20 other cities – 10 larger and 10 smaller – in everything from classroom sizes to wages. What is clear is this: The nation’s 27th-largest metropolitan area excels at little beyond one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and it lags behind most comparably sized U.S. cities in virtually every category studied.
The Orlando region is on an economic plateau it reached through three decades of tourism successes. This landscape is continually dotted with new theme parks, hotels and an expanding convention center. But with each new tourism endeavor, Orlando’s dependence on the industry grows.
Barker and Shanklin reported that Orlando employees
are the lowest paid of 20 cities of comparable size, such as Milwaukee,
Indianapolis and San Antonio. Compared to the other cities, Orlando
employees have also seen the fourth-smallest growth in income since
The series included a story on Disney’s World’s past – even before the park broke ground. Originally, Walt Disney visited small-town Ocala, Fla., to purchase land for his Magic Kingdom.
Barker and Shanklin added a personal tone to the stories by following a family of five on their vacation to Disney World. The stories examined the family’s spending and how those dollars impacted the Orlando economy.
The series also looked at the suffering conditions of Orlando schools, effects of low wages on home ownership and overwhelmingly high crime rates.
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T.J. Sullivan, Ventura (Calif.) County Star, The Man Behind the Money Pit
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Ventura County Star reporter T.J. Sullivan beat the bigger papers to the story of Donald Dayton Lukens.
Months before the story of Lukens, a financial adviser at the center of a financial corruption scandal that cost many their life savings, hit major newsstands, Sullivan wrote “The Man Behind the Money Pit.”
“This is the story of Donald Dayton Lukens, a local boy made good,” Sullivan said. “It’s the story of his enviable life enriched with the adornments of wealth. ... It’s about a man once described by his spouse as a financial wizard with a pedal-to-the-metal personality, a man who sought investments from the people closest to him – his friends, family, fellow church parishioners, his children’s teacher and even his pastor. It’s about the celebrities – models and professional athletes – who gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a tale of avarice and blind trust. And it’s about how one day, all the money was gone and everyone was left to wonder where it went.”
Sullivan was first introduced to the financial guru when the Star covered a bankruptcy hearing in which Lukens was arrested for outstanding casino debts in Las Vegas. Editors asked Sullivan to find out more on the man who claimed to owe $47 million in debt with less than $1 million in assets.
After repeated phone calls to Lukens’s attorneys, friends and family, one source told Sullivan that the Lukens story was “bigger than your paper.”
“I refused to accept that the size of a newspaper has anything to do with its ability to report a story,” Sullivan said.
Starting with local resources, Sullivan searched through late-1960s Channel Island High School yearbooks. He matched names mentioned in the bankruptcy investigation with Lukens’ baseball and basketball teammates, coaches, Key Club members and teachers.
Sullivan’s reporting details the extravagant lifestyle of Lukens down to the “golden, wall-mounted towel warmers in his master bathroom,” but quickly shifts to the candid words of former friends who trusted Lukens with their life savings:
“He was making it out that they didn’t have anything to eat, which was a bunch of stuff,” said Margaret “Peggy” Barnes, who may lose her home as a result of money she lost investing with Lukens.
While Sullivan spent about a month interviewing people
in the same situation as Barnes, he said the story is not necessarily
“This is really one of those stories where it’s difficult to find gratification,” Sullivan said. “There is no winner in this tale. People lost their retirement savings. ... I can’t say any part of this story made me feel good.
“We don’t do this for awards. We do it to give light and let people find their own way. I thought of that motto many times last year while writing this story.”
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Peter G. Gosselin, Los Angeles Times, Private Prosperities, Public Breakdowns
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In the Los Angeles Times’ two-part series “Private Prosperities, Public Breakdowns,” economist Peter G. Gosselin investigates the disparity Americans face when the private sector fails to adequately support public projects.
The reports look back to the 1990s, when the private sector was more concerned with purchasing fancy cars, luxurious homes and personal computers than making contributions to public systems that are now in disrepair and routinely disrupt the lives of American citizens.
In “Most of the West in the Same Power Jam as California,” Gosselin examines the population boom of the West and the control that California and southwest states play over smaller western states such as Montana and Utah.
For more than a century, California ran a simple account with the rest of the West: It demanded and the West supplied, most especially water and power.
But as the Western states have ballooned in the last decade – in no small part because of an outbound trek of Californians – this simple, supply-demand relationship had broken down. ...
“We don’t know how bad it’s going to be yet,” said Utah’s Republican governor, Mike Leavitt. “We won’t know that until May, June, July and August, when everyone in the Southwest turns on their swamp coolers.”
Gosselin presents the complicated world of economics
to readers in a clear tone – a product of years of experience.
“Peter Gosselin, who covers economics for the Los Angeles Times, defies the stereotype of his ilk: Yes, he knows how to think like an economist, but he doesn’t write like one,” said Dean P. Baquet, managing editor of the Times. “He is so fluent in his subject that he can make it clear – even interesting – to the rest of us. And he is without peer in showing how it is relevant to our lives.”
Gosselin continues the detailed series in “Amid Nationwide Prosperity, ERs See a Growing Emergency.” Paying special attention to the growing frustration of patients and medical workers, Gosselin examined the overwhelmingly crowded conditions of medical centers in American cities.
“Rich or poor, black or white, it doesn’t matter,” said Robert E. Maher Jr., who until recently was chief executive of Worcester Medical Center in Massachusetts. “The capacity simply isn’t out there anymore.”
Maher should know. When he had a heart attack in November while flying into Boston, he was turned away from the closest hospital, Massachusetts General, because of overcrowding and was forced to take an ambulance across town to find treatment.
Gosselin’s series reflects on the economic boom
that readers enjoyed in the 1990s and reminds them that their lifestyles
may have come with a greater price in the long term.
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This Award was rescinded by the SPJ Board of Directors on May 15, 2004.
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Carlos Gonzalez, San Francisco Chronicle, Circle of Friends
The fast-paced lives of Americans have spawned a
new genre of meeting and greeting people. Receiving an instant message
is, after all, quicker than a handshake. And typing “LOL”
(online slang for “Laugh Out Loud”) passes faster than
an episode of uncontrollable laughter.
When asked to capture the tone of online relationships, San Francisco Chronicle photographer Carlos Gonzales envisioned the casualness of a party scene wrapped with haphazard addresses of Web sites and ending the tail of the tornado with the minimalist scene of a monitor and a modem.
While capturing the simplicity of the partygoers proved easy, winding the links around the swirl of bodies was a different story.
“The shoot itself was relatively straightforward,” said Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. “The time-consuming work came afterward: Gonzalez used After Effects, a movie editing software program, to construct the URLs that linked the models together. That took three days to get right.”
The days of tweaking, however, paid off when Gonzalez’s “Circle of Friends” received unspoken compliments from coworkers and readers.
“I saw folks in the office and in coffee shops in my neighborhood lingering over it,” Gonzalez said. “It hit the mark.”
The vivid color and tone of “Circle of Friends” attracts readers to its presence as it encompasses the all-consuming role that technology plays on people’s lives. The whirlwind of communication blurs the not-so-fine lines of real life and e-life.
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Staff of the Orange County (Calif.) Register, Attack on America
While parents looked for ways to explain the death
and destruction of Sept. 11 to their children, newspaper staffs
also searched for ways to spell out the facts and figures of the
terrorist attacks that hit Americans that day.
Keeping in mind the writing adage of “show, don’t tell,” The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., used an array of graphics to detail the tragedy of the day and the aftermath of the days after.
“From the first day of coverage, we aimed to explain the complex web of events in a way which would not be overwhelming,” said Kris Viesselman, senior art director of The Register. “We used visual storytelling to convey this information to readers.”
The series of graphics begins with an illustration of Ground Zero – buildings lettered, planes numbered and people scattered about the plaza. Detailed information on the jets and the buildings’ collapses clarify the meticulous graphics.
Inside The Register, images of the inside of a cockpit are used to explain how hijackers were able to alter the flight patterns of the four jets.
The paper also published several images that illustrated the new security that was being considered for national airports and flights.
A blueprint of the Pentagon showed readers the collapsed areas with a small image of new reinforcements that replaced the damaged sections. A pictograph lies beside the blueprint, depicting the number of dead and missing as a result of the destruction of the Pentagon.
Appropriately titled “Grim Task,” a colored graphic examines the damage done to each of the World Trade Center towers. Accompanying copy explains the rescue tactics of workers and volunteers for sifting through the debris.
Later, graphics explain the process medical examiners go though while attempting to identify remains found at the site.
As the events of Sept. 11 became more clear, The Register ran a timeline that followed the attacks – the times and places of the four jets’ takeoffs, the course changes, the photos of the planes crashing into the buildings and the fire and dust that spread afterward.
The Register also used sidebars and infographics to explain the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and strategies the government would likely use to find him.
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Geraldine Sealey, ABCNEWS.com, How We’ve Changed
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When a major news story breaks, the initial reporting covers the basic facts – the who, what, where, when and why behind the event. On Sept. 11, it was a challenge for journalists to pull together even that basic information for such an expected tragedy.
In the days and weeks that followed, the coverage expanded to look at the broader implications of the attacks – and the personal impacts those attacks had on Americans.
In “How We’ve Changed,” ABCNEWS.com’s Geraldine Sealey tells about the experiences of everyday Americans in the wake of Sept. 11. The story is based on responses to an online invitation that ABCNEWS.com posted on its Web site, asking readers to share their stories and the impact of Sept. 11 on their lives.
Many respondents talked about major life changes they’d made. Some had changed careers or moved their family in the month since the attacks; others decided to reconsider their relationships:
For some, change is tangible – a marriage proposal, a resignation letter, a postponement of parenthood. For many others who haven’t reorganized their lives, Sept. 11 may have planted seeds of change to come. They are reevaluating priorities, rediscovering faith and patriotism, reconnecting with family and friends, and confronting fear and depression.
The story is filled with personal anecdotes from readers, and it gives those anecdotes context by talking with psychologists, therapists and spiritual advisers. Though many of the experts agreed that it was unwise to make major decisions in the immediate wake of such a catastrophe, many respondents said they could view their lives with a better focus:
Ty Gregory of Toledo, Ohio, has dated his girlfriend on and off for 15 years. He had long planned to propose marriage but never did. Then came Sept. 11.
Through tears and anguish watching news reports of the terror attacks, it became clear that life could not wait, Gregory says.
“It made me think, ‘Man, we don’t know how long we’ll be here,’” said Gregory, 32, an information systems specialist. “I really felt like I wasted a lot of time in my life and there isn’t a lot more to be wasted.” He popped the question, she said yes, and the couple will marry early next year.
The story provides a unique snapshot into the lives
of many Americans coping with the terrorist attacks. Sealey pulled
the story together in two weeks using more than 1,000 sources.
Judges were impressed that the staff of ABCNEWS.com used their site to attract such a wide range of sources.
“This was a very compelling entry showing the ‘back story’ of Sept. 11,” wrote the judges. “ABCNEWS.com leveraged the strengths of the Internet as a news storytelling tool to present a deep portrait of Americans trying to deal with the aftermath of a national tragedy.”
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MSN Money, Why Enron Investors Are Running for the Exits
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Last November, when Jon Markman wrote about Enron investors for MSN Money, his stories connected with readers in ways that other coverage had not.
Markman explained the complicated issue in terms that hit home with readers. He suggested a course of action, and he did it in a readable manner. He explained how Enron’s accounting methods were making institutional investors nervous, and how the company had much more outstanding debt than the public realized. While other outlets were still reporting that Enron would probably be saved by a merger, Markman’s report was one of the first to note that Enron shareholders were about to lose it all.
“This story is remarkable in its detail explaining the underpinnings of the Enron story,” said the judges. “The author did a fine job of explaining how this company edged into bankruptcy, and doing it in a clear, yet complete manner. While this entry did not make extensive use of multimedia components unique to the Web, it did do a good job of explaining a very complicated business story.”
Markman researched and reported the story in only two days, and his readers were appreciative. “Your report on Enron saved me from a huge loss!” wrote one reader.
“I try to always offer specific actions that readers can consider to take advantage of my ideas if they think they have merit, including specific stocks or indexes to buy or short,” said Markman. “In that way the columns tend to be more practical than those of my peers, and may account for much of their success. And when I look back, I am glad to see they were on the mark throughout a turbulent year.”