Excerpt of an email sent by Digital First Media editor-in-chief Jim Brady to all newsrooms:
To those not familiar with the DFMies, we will be awarding one winner every month in each of our eight groups of papers — Bay Area News Group, Los Angeles News Group, Northern California, Texas/New Mexico, Colorado/Utah, Midwest (MN/MI/OH), New York/New England and Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia. The winners will receive $250 net. If you want to know more about the DFMies, feel free to contact Steve Buttry, who is managing the DFMies, or one of the regional editors, who are responsible for gathering entries and picking finalists. For this first effort, the contest judges were Thunderdome staffers. Going forward, the judges will be the winners from the previous month.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the winners for the inaugural DFMies:
Larry Altman of the Daily Breeze won in LANG, our Southern California cluster, for a story that was three years in the making, the murder conviction of restaurant owner David Viens. The story started in November 2009, but counts as a September story because that was when Viens was convicted, after which the prosecutor thanked Larry for his dogged reporting that prompted the investigation that led to Viens’ murder conviction. Investigating a missing person report, Larry followed his suspicions, worked sources and stayed on the story, confronting Viens at his restaurant six months after his wife disappeared. Eventually his reporting prompted the killer to confess to his girlfriend and attempt suicide. When word came out in the September trial that Viens had confessed to police that he had boiled his wife’s entire body in water in his restaurant and disposed of her liquefied remains, Larry broke the news in a tweet from the courtroom.
Other LANG finalists were Paul Penzella and Philip Lawrence for the design of LANG’s 2012 College Football iPad app and Brian Charles for reporting into alleged malfeasance in the Pasadena Police Department.
Evan Brandt of the Pottstown Mercury won the DFMie for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster for his reporting that forced the resignation of Pottstown School Superintendent Reed Lindley. Evan’s reporting on the “Think and Grow Rich” assembly speaker grew from noticing some community buzz on Facebook, crowdsourcing on Facebook to learn what was said at the assembly and documenting costs to the taxpayers of $28,000. Lindley resigned the next day.
Other finalists from the PA/NJ/WV cluster were Brian Hall and Marcus Rauhut of the Chambersburg Public Opinion for multimedia coverage of a school dress code controversy and Kathleen Carey of the Delaware County Daily Times for a series on the closing of two oil refineries.
In the Northern California cluster, J.M. Brown and Kevin Johnson of the Santa Cruz Sentinel won for a six-month investigation of a seawater desalination facility in Santa Cruz. J.M. interviewed more than 60 water officials, scientists, utility customers and others to provide a deep look inside the financial, environmental and political implications of the city’s plan. Brown and Johnson traveled throughout California’s Central Coast to capture the impacts of desalination, travels that produced four online videos that further illustrate what’s at stake. The three-day series included 12 stories and a host of photographs, documenting the numerous risks associated with building the controversial plant and weighing alternatives.
Other NorCal finalists were James Herrera and Clark Coleman of the Monterey Herald for their videos as part of “The Seven Wonders of Monterey County” and Lanz Christian Bañes for initiating and leading the Vallejo Times-Herald’s daily Our Town photo contest.
Paul Kirby and Ivan Lajara of the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y., shared the New York/New England cluster’s DFMie for their live coverage of a hospital merger hearing. The controversial proposal — to merge to non-profit hospitals, one secular and one Catholic, and close one of the campuses — had generated years of conflict centering on abortion. Paul and Ivan covered the evening forum (with a 9:15 deadline for last print page) with a package of live-stream video, separate wrap-up video, live tweets, community participation via Twitter and Storify.
Other New York/New England finalists were Robert Mills of the Lowell Sun for his coverage of a quadruple shooting and Daniela Forte of the Litchfield County Times for her story on an unsolved murder.
Julia Lyon and Trent Nelson of the Salt Lake Tribune won the DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster for Bittersweet Surrender, a project on Utah families surrendering custody of children with autism so the state would pay for their care (Utah doesn’t require insurance companies to cover treatment). Julia spent months reporting, starting with the challenge of locating families willing to tell their stories and give her access to to their child welfare files. Her stories, with photography by Trent, introduced readers to two young boys surrendered by their families and showed the impact of a lack of affordable care.
Chris Magan and Jean Pieri of the St. Paul Pioneer Press won the Midwest DFMie for their coverage of a deadly Minneapolis workplace attack. The contest is limited to work by just one or two journalists, but Chris’s story and Jean’s photos were part of a larger package that included outstanding digital and print coverage by a team of Pioneer Press and TwinCities.com staffers. The nomination from Editor Mike Burbach said, “It was a lesson in everyone taking part in the information gathering and sharing so we could work more quickly than our competition, which relies on reporters alone to do such things.”
Other Midwest finalists were Macomb Daily stringer Harry Arnold, who used a remote-control drone with a camera to cover the unsuccessful search for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains and the Monica Drake of the Oakland Press, who used community engagement to tell how 9/11 affected readers.
Tom Peele won the Bay Area News Group DFMie for building a database of public employee salaries and benefits, a two-year project. As the state considered reform of public employee pensions, Tom showed the impact and identified the officials who received pensions topping $200,000. With the local police chief announcing his retirement, Tom showed how he and others were able to double-dip, taking a second public job while collecting pensions from their first jobs. The double-dip story drew 17,000 page views and the interactive databases of public pensions and salaries got another 10,000.
Other BANG finalists were Julia Prodis Sulik and Erin Ivie for their coverage of the space shuttle Endeavor’s flyover in the San Francisco Bay area and business columnist Mike Cassidy’s “Made in the Bay Area” series.
El Paso Times reporter Marty Schladen won the Texas/New Mexico DFMie for his coverage of a controversial plan for the city to buy the El Paso Times building as a new location for City Hall. The purchase is part of a broader controversial effort to demolish City Hall to clear the way for a Triple A baseball stadium. As the City Council was preparing to finalize the purchase of the Times building for $14 million, Times journalists obtained the city’s appraisal of the building and discovered the appraised value was $3.7 million below the purchase price. City officials hadn’t really read the appraisal until Times reporter started asking about it. Although the discovery risked costing the company several million dollars, the Times broke the story and has continued to follow the issue.
Other Tex/Mex finalists were Steve Ramirez and Diana Alba of the Las Cruces Sun-News for their coverage of the Endeavour flyover and Jim Kavelage of the Ruidoso News for the bizarre story of a woman who was killed when a golf cart driven by a 5-year-old boy flipped over.