Seven repeat winners in November DFMies and ToutBout awards

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Seven Digital First journalists repeated as winners of DFMies and ToutBout awards in November.

The November DFMies represent a variety of journalism excellence: Breaking news, storytelling, enterprise reporting, community engagement and sports.

The Los Angeles News Group and Adriana Chavez and Ruben Ramirez of the El Paso Times won for their coverage of breaking news stories. Brandie Kessler and Jason Plotkin of the York Daily Record won for a touching human interest story. Esteban L. Hernandez and Isaac Avilucea of the Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., and Aaron Kinney and John Green of the Bay Area News Group won for enterprise projects. Cheryl Sadler of the News-Herald and Morning Journal in Ohio and Lanz Christian Bañes and Chris Riley of the Times-Herald in Vallejo, Calif., won for engagement projects. JJ Fiddler and Mike Guardabascio of the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Gazettes and David Wilson of the Journal-Advocate in Sterling, Colo., won for sports coverage.

In addition, Dai Sugano of the Bay Area News Group and Janis Mara of the Marin Independent Journal won the November ToutBout awards.

Ramirez, Kessler, Plotkin, Green, Mara and Sugano are previous DFMie winners, and Sadler was a key contributor to earlier staff DFMie awards.

Watch for rules for the 2014 Annual DFMies, covering the company’s best work in 2013, coming soon on Inside Thunderdome.

Metro DFMie: LANG coverage of LAX shooting

Los Angeles News Group coverage of LAX shootingThe Los Angeles News Group’s team coverage of the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport won the Metro DFMie.

The nomination explains:

The news broke on Twitter that something was amiss at LAX during our morning budget meeting. By the end of the call, we had a story online, launched a live blog and began to cover what would be a daylong breaking news situation. One of the world’s biggest airports was shutdown, and we deployed reporters and photographers from across LANG to cover it. We also called in resources from Thunderdome to handle a story about the shooter’s hometown in New Jersey, as well as social media monitoring. In the days and weeks following the shooting, LANG wrote more than 50 stories covering various angles. In all, the work generated more than 170,000 page views and helped feed national coverage for Thunderdome.

Judges applauded the LANG team response:

LANG’s breathtakingly comprehensive coverage of the LAX shooting and its aftermath showcases what a digital first news organization is and should be doing, not only by exceeding on the quality of their reporting during a major breaking news situation, but by partnering with other parts of the company on the right ways, so that its prioritization of local resources allow the group of journalists to excel at their craft while enhancing their excellent local coverage on a national scale.

And it showed. The up-to-the-minute updates. The numerous images and videos from the scene and sources. The follow up stories and the follow up to those.

Great journalism. Great efforts. Great collaboration. An example to highlight and emulate.

Another judge:

This was rock solid breaking news and thoughtful follow-up reporting.

Texas-New Mexico DFMie: El Paso Times coverage of baby’s death


Chavez and Ramirez win the DFMie in the Texas/New Mexico cluster for their coverage of the death of 5-month-old Jackson Farrey.

The nomination explains:

El Paso’s big story for much of November was the disappearance of a family of four, and their eventual location in Michigan, minus their 5-month-old baby. The Times broke the story of the baby’s body being found in the desert. We got unique photos and videos by renting an airplane (TV stations across the country called us for permission to use the video.)

Judges’ praised the Times coverage:

This web package represents excellent breaking news coverage and news presentation. Adriana Chavez and Ruben Ramirez effectively used video, galleries and journalism to tell the story of the missing family, and the subsequent story of the youngest baby’s death and hidden desert grave. By going the extra step of renting an airplane, the team was able to provide exclusive photos, video and perspective.

Another judge:

The written article was comprehensive and yet all that information and extended timeline was presented in an understandable manner which flowed well.

Chavez explains:

My main focus as I was writing the story was answering the common reader question, ‘What next?’ Luckily, in my four years covering the court beat, I’ve gotten to know the judicial process fairly well. I think that knowledge helped me gear my questions towards what people wanted to know most, such as why wasn’t the father charged with Jackson’s death, where is Jackson’s brother Blake, what is Jackson’s mother charged with, etc.

With stories like this, newspaper journalists need to keep in mind we need to report accurate information as quickly as possible, unlike the television stations that tend to first report information that may not necessarily be accurate.

Ramirez also shared the October DFMie with Bill Knight for their coverage of the announcement of the name of the new minor league baseball team, the El Paso Chihuahuas.

Pennsylvania DFMie: Brandie Kessler and Jason Plotkin’s story of illness and faith


Kessler and Plotkin teamed up for their second DFMie of 2013. In text, photos and video, they told the emotional story of Paul and Shelly Miller.

The nomination explains:

Somewhere along the way, the subject told the photographer, “This is a feel-good story, my friend.”

Months earlier, the subject — Paul Miller of York County, Pa. — nearly died when a bacterial infection suffocated his body tissue. He lived, but at the cost of amputated hands and feet.

But he and his wife, Shelly, had a deep faith, and they had each other.

Over the course of a few months, Jason Plotkin and Brandie Kessler spent significant time with Paul and Shelly. The connection they made with the couple brought the Millers’ story out, resulting in a moving profile story and an inspirational short documentary about the Millers’ “feel-good story.”

Judges were moved by the story:

It’s clear from the story and video that they spent a lot of time with the Miller family and told their story brilliantly. I was left feeling the connection between Paul and Shelly like I had gotten to know them myself. It’s refreshing to see journalists take the time to do long-form storytelling in this age of quick-hitting posts.

Another judge:

Beautiful story and well told.

Kessler and Plotkin won a July DFMie for their story of a transgender re-enactor at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Plotkin also shared an August DFMie with Teresa Boeckel for a story on survivors of a machete attack. He is the only three-time winner of monthly DFMies in 2013.

Northeast DFMie: Esteban L. Hernandez and Isaac Avilucea’s heroin coverage

Register Citizen coverage of heroin deathsAfter four Torrington-area deaths tied to heroin abuse, Hernandez and Avilucea took a closer look, winning the DFMie for the Northeast cluster.

The nomination explains:

A rash of deaths within a few days caused reporters to take a deeper look at what was happening with the increase of heroin problems in the region, allegations of a “tainted batch” floated but were not confirmed to be connected to these deaths. Profiles of some of the victims brought an intense personal side to a story that many see as a statistic that hits other people, but the reporters did a great job of putting a human face on the problem.

Judges praised the reporters’ work:

Reporters in Torrington spotted a possible trend in a routine police statistic that would often go unnoticed. The reporters wrote profiles of the victims, putting human faces on a tragic, but all too common occurrence that wouldn’t get more than a passing mention in may papers. I applaud their efforts to find the humanity in the much maligned victims of addiction.

Another judge:

Esteban L. Hernandez and Isaac Avilucea’s work for the Torrington Register Citizen documenting heroin deaths in town is the kind of journalism we need to see more of. Not only does it go beyond the surface assumed understanding of what a “heroin death” means, but the paper also did what was surely controversial before the stories hit the paper and talked about victims and addicts as human beings, not as statistics or caricatures.

Both the reporters and the paper should be applauded for putting in the hard work on a story that many would rather not be told. And they brought solid reporting and writing skills to the subject. Well done.

Hernandez discusses the project:

One of the most unexpected things about writing the story was the backlash I received. People were angry, upset and lashed out at me. Maybe it was because of my inexperience, but it wasn’t something I was expecting.

It felt good to know my editors supported me and trusted me with the work I did. Thanks to them and the teamwork Isaac and I contributed to this story, we were able to reveal and uncomfortable truth about the city we cover that many had been talking about for years. It’s necessary journalism, but it’s not easy. I’m proud of the work we did and looking forward to the work we still have to do for this story.

Avilucea discussed the project:

I learned ignorance might be incurable, but it’s treatable. While we were reporting those stories, I’d explain to the victims’ families we were trying to humanize, not demonize, their loved ones.

I didn’t completely understand their apprehension in publicly discussing their loves ones’ addiction until I saw the vitriol leveled at them on The Register Citizen’s Facebook page and website comments section. I understand people weaponize anonymity, and that may not be an accurate reflection of the larger community’s understanding of drug addiction. But it was sobering to realize that type of ignorance and complete lack of empathy still exists, even if just in pockets.

Hopefully, in bringing these heroin users back to life in our stories, we won over a few people who would otherwise demonize drug users because they didn’t understand all the factors in play.

This is the third DFMie for a heroin project. The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., won in March and Jason Henry of the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, won last January for coverage of local heroin problems. In addition, Dave Boucher of the Charleston Daily Mail won a DFMie for his coverage of oxycodone, which, like heroin, is an opiate. A Denver Post project on heroin won national awards from the American Society of News Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Press Photographers Association.

Bay Area News Group DFMie: Aaron Kinney and John Green’s prison project

San Quentin prison storyKinney and Green win the DFMie for the Bay Area News Group for their coverage of a program for California murderers.

The nomination explains:

Reporter Aaron Kinney and photographer John Green offered readers an inside look at KidCAT, a group of inmates at San Quentin who committed murder while they were juveniles and are seeking to demonstrate they are worthy of redemption. It took months of working with prison officials to gain the access needed to do the story — happily, the prison appointed a new, more publicity minded PIO just as Green was about to think he’d never get the photos he wanted. Kinney used the group’s story — the name signifies that they committed their crimes as kids and now are Creating Awareness Together — to explore the recent legal pendulum swing in federal courts and California state law toward giving youthful offenders more opportunity for parole. But he also went back to the families of murder victims to note that for many, some crimes are so heinous that the notion of rehabilitation should be off the table.

Judges praised the project:

This package covers a California state law change in a very personal (and fairly presented) way, using storytelling and photos to present the members of KidCAT. Kinney and Green’s careful depiction of the inmates took months of perseverance to capture and was very much worth the effort — the web package of related stories and the photogallery make up a cohesive and compelling internet piece of journalism.

Kinney explained the project:

Reporting this story required a lot of patience and persistence: Things at San Quentin move slowly, and once inside I had to work within its institutional restraints — i.e. I had to fit my reporting into the routines of the prison and the group. And: no smartphones allowed. It also required me to push past my own perceived limitations. After I got there the first time, I learned I would have to conduct group interviews, rather than one-on-one discussions, with the men of Kid CAT, which I felt ill-equipped for and a bit intimidated by. But I had no choice but to plunge ahead. The resulting conversations were rewarding and challenged my preconceptions about prisoners and prison life (though admittedly I was meeting a small number of prisoners in a controlled environment) in many ways.

I also learned that parole hearing transcripts are a wonderful resource that in California are quickly and easily obtained. I didn’t have enough time inside to learn all the men’s stories. So in the cases of the inmates who had already gone before the parole board, the transcripts provided lots of factual background about their upbringing and crime.

Green added:

Even though I have covered execution protest at SQ in the past this was the first time I was ever inside the walls of the institution and it was very interesting to say the least. I’ve watched all the prison shows but this is serious and the real deal for sure. Meeting these men and hearing their stories of where they came from and where they are not was special. Just being inside this prison was an experience I will never forget.

Green shared the July DFMie with Aric Crabb for their photo coverage of the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport.

NorCal DFMie: Lanz Bañes and Chris Riley win for Generation Snaps

Generation Snaps, Vallejo Times-HeraldBañes and Riley won the Northern California DFMie for their Generation Snaps project, a community photography project that involved old-fashioned film and iPads.

The nomination explains:

The Generation Snaps project is a Times-Herald photo engagement question that asks the question, “How do we see the world as we get older?” To answer that, we recruited 10 people whose ages ended in a 0 (at least at the start of the project), from a 10-year-old school boy
to a 100-year-old retiree living in a nursing home. We gave each person a disposable Kodak film camera with 36 exposures and about two and a half weeks at the end of October/beginning of November to produce images. The only criterion we gave them was they had to use the cameras we provided, and only those cameras. After our photographers returned their cameras, we developed the film and placed the digitized images on an iPad. As they saw their photos for the first time, we videotaped their reactions and had them explain their process and what they thought of the project.

This is a multi-platform project. Each person had an article written about them, with the Generation Snaps project running twice a week (in Arts on Friday and in the Sunday Outlook). We also created a landing page on our website. Originally, the grid was in black and white, but as the stories became live on the website, we changed the images to color as a visual reference for our readers. The community response has been fairly positive, and we have had good engagement on our social media sites, particularly Facebook. We hope
to eventually have a gallery reception for the 10 participants.

Judges praised the project as a “good concept that engaged the community in both words and imagery.”

Bañes and Riley discussed Generation Snaps at regional engagement workshops in Vacaville and Santa Cruz last month and in the Tout below:

Midwest DFMie: Cheryl Sadler’s JFK anniversary project

JFK anniversary coverage in Morning JournalSadler wins the DFMie for the Midwest cluster with an engagement project curating community memories for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The nomination explains:

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, The News-Herald and The Morning Journal asked readers to call in and share their memories of where they were when they heard, Cheryl Sadler edited those calls over a slideshow of photos from that day. Then, via Thinglink, we used historical front pages from that day as the backdrop to house links to commentaries, photo galleries, TV listings, re-creation events, analyses and bios of key players and more on our own sites as well as elsewhere. Leaf pages were created for each site (News-Herald and Morning Journal) and those were referred to from the sites’ Hot Topics bars.

Judges praised the project:

The use of voices from folks and where they were 50 years ago was a very nice touch to the Photo Gallery/Slideshow that the newspaper put together, as well as the choice of historical photos, gave it a very nice transition from person to person during the slideshow. I really enjoyed the “roll-call” at the end with the all the participants names and hometowns. (Only criticism here is I would have liked to have seen photos of the folks that submitted their voice clips. Putting a face to the clip.)

The use of the front pages with bullets on them that allowed the reader to scroll over them to pick and choose what details they wanted to either watch or read next was a “very strong” selling point for me.

In closing a very good story telling piece, great use of social media with the voices included in the slideshow, the community was engaged through the voice clips as well as the inter-active front pages with more data available including more stories, videos etc.

Another judge:

The web package cohesively and creatively covers the national event on a local level and presents it gracefully. Cheryl Sadler and the team used slideshows, galleries, user-generated content and more to pull together the piece, making effective use of digital tools. The package also centrally features community engagement with the user storytelling, and community service with the various links, listings and analyses.

Sadler explained the project:

I’ve put together video slideshows featuring reader memories before, but this was the first time I layered them together. That style, and the names and hometowns at the end, was inspired by Karen Workman’s project on Sept. 11 memories. Editing the voicemails together in that way really helped me cut it down to get to the meat of the content.

This is the third straight DFMie for the News-Herald and Morning Journal. Sadler was also involved in the September football liveblogging winner and the October DFMie-winning project to gather information and videos of local candidates.

Colorado/Utah DFMie: David Wilson’s story on NCAA rules change

Journal-Advocate story on NCAA basketball rule changeWilson wins the DFMie for the Colorado/Utah cluster with a story examining the impact of changes in NCAA basketball rules on Northeastern Junior College.

The nomination explains:

David Wilson’s article on the impact the NCAA basketball rule changes are having at the junior college level showed great enterprise in turning a national issue local and adding a new dimension to our sports coverage. It is a wonderful example of the initiative this young reporter has shown and the great ideas he has generated to take our sports page to the next level.

Judges praised the story:

Taking the national trend and localizing it was a great idea.

Another judge:

The rule change impacts a large number of people who both play and enjoy basketball as spectators.

Wilson explained the story:

The idea for the story was prompted by discussions I had with the NJC coaching staff, off the record, a few times over the previous weeks about their thoughts on the NCAA basketball rule change. That is when I started to find out the impact it was having on junior college basketball and the part-time, less experienced officials that work those ranks. The interviews with the current NJC head coach Eddie Trenkle and Lowell Roumph, a retired NJCAA Hall of Fame coach at NJC, provided great insight to the story. Their interviews illustrated how former and current coaches alike feel that not only are the current rule changes starting to make the game of basketball soft, but the new rules have also been a nightmare adjustment for the officials that try to uphold them.

Los Angeles News Group DFMie: JJ Fiddler and Mike Guardabascio’s sports highlight videos

Fiddler and Guardabascio of the daily Long Beach Press-Telegram and weekly Gazettes win the DFMie for the Los Angeles News Group for their weekly sports-highlight videos.

The nomination explains:

Weekly sports video highlights are a huge part of the daily coverage and long-run planning for the PT sports staff, especially led by JJ Fiddler and Mike Guardabascio.

On most occasions, the reporters are live tweeting, filming every play, deleting clips that won’t be used, keeping stats, filing stories on deadline, then immediately editing and posting video embedded in the story. The editing includes voice-over description of every play.

The YouTube channel, for the fall sports season, has received more than 560,000 views and 1.4 million minutes watched.

Here are several links to the best work on the video channel, which also includes a weekly show, and a top-10 highlights of the week segment: Norwalk CIF Football win, Long Beach State University men’s basketball homecomingPoly CIF football win. Links are direct to YouTube, but videos are always part of the coverage package on the Press-Telegram and Gazettes sports sites.

Fiddler explains the videos:

The videos have built a following that has always given us something over our local counterparts. Production of the work just happens to be a lot of fun and rewarding.

It’s a big ask for a reporter to cover the game, produce a deadline article, Tweet live updates while also producing a highlight video. But we have a talented group of reporters who are willing to work after filing a story. We’ve been doing it for awhile and in the busy winter months we produce more than one highlight a day, but we’re always getting better and upgrading the coverage every day.

I think the thing we keep learning is that you can never say too many names. Kids still like to see their names in the paper, but there is a different reaction to having their name called out in a highlight video and we always keep it positive at the high school level.

LANG and BANG each enter one nomination in the Metro division DFMie competition and also nominate three finalists to compete for the DFMie for the cluster. The Denver Post, Salt Lake Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press and Thunderdome compete only in the Metro division.

ToutBout (Tout distributed): Dai Sugano’s video of food bank recipient

Dai Sugano of the Bay Area News Group wins the ToutBout award for a video imported into Tout for this video of a woman whose family gets help from a food bank:

Judges praised the video:

it’s pretty incredible how much is packed in to a 45-second clip. In addition to telling this family’s story in an emotionally-engaging way, it touches on issues of income inequality and access to healthy food and how those national issues are being addressed on a local leve.

On the technical side, it’s a powerful interview captured with excellent sound, not just of the interview, but of the background as well. I also really like the use of still photos as B-roll, something I think people forget about a lot when it comes the web video.

Another judge:

The photos are beautiful and they help tell a complete story of a family who are trying to make ends meet in a very short period of time. I think Dai illustrates how Tout can be used as a vehicle for post-production.

Sugano explains how he did the video:

The short interview was shot with iPhone 5 at her home. It’s important to remember to avoid noisy environment to capture her voice clearly but not to completely eliminate the natural sound around the house to give the sense of place. You could have shot this interview in a DSLR too. Stills were shot with my DSLR. In editing with Final Cut Pro 7, I used stills but not many, in order to give enough time to show each photo. (at least 3 sec each, but could have been longer) and the mother’s footage.

In order to edit iPhone footage with FCP or iMovie or other editing programs, you’ll need to convert file codec type: (But if you have Adobe Premier Pro or FCP X, you don’t have to do this.)

A Step-by-Step

wondershare_screenshotConnect iPhone to your computer and import your iPhone video footage to iPhoto. Drag the video file to save it on the desktop. Next, the file needs to be processed with a desktop app called Wondershare Video Converter (MAC or PC) — to convert iPhone’s H.264 codec files to Apple Pro Res codec files, which is easier to work in Final Cut Pro. In Wondershare app, pictured, there are pre-set options, in this case, you want to select “Final Cut Pro 7″ or “iMovie” if you use iMovie (in which case, the codec should be Apple Intermediate codec).

Then the footage was imported to FCP 7, the interview was edited, stills were added, audio level was adjusted (you want to target the audio level of the main voice to about -6 DB) and a title (her name) was added. Then the final piece was exported to desktop. Now you have a .MOV file. Import that file to Wondershare Video Converter, so that you can convert the file to a .MP4 file, (Choose Pre-set option “iPhone 5″) which you can now import it to iPhoto, sync that to your iPhone. and import the file to TOUT.

In Summary:

  • iphone file is H.264 file
  • Convert it (Using Wondershare) to Apple Pro Res codec or to Apple Intermediate Codec (for iMovie users)
  • Edit it in FCP (Using FCP, or iMovie)
  • Export as .MOV (Using FCP, or iMovie)
  • Convert it to MP4 (Using Wondershare)
  • Import that to iPhoto
  • Sync to your iPhone
  • Import it to TOUT

Sugano is the first DFM staff member to win a ToutBout, a monthly DFMie and an annual DFMie.

ToutBout (shot in Tout): Janis Mara wins ToutBout for barbershop chorus video

Mara won the ToutBout award for videos shot in the Tout app for her musical video:

Judges praised her work:

This tout had personality, good sound, and told the story well. What a clever idea to sing their roles … and in harmony! In the 45 seconds, I learned a little about a barbershop chorus and got to listen to some nice harmony! Kudos to you for your creativity!

Another judge:

I have to go with Janis, who surprised me with how well-crafted her mini piece was. I really like that it was a great story in a bite-sized package.

Mara explained her video:

I’ve always been fascinated by harmony and how the voices combine to make such an amazing whole. When I was assigned a story about a barbershop chorus performance, this was a chance to get the singers to literally show how it’s done. I buttonholed the group backstage and asked if one singer of each part would follow my directions, and they complied.

Mara also supplied a Tout about her Tout.

Mara also won a February DFMie for her investigative reporting on the sudden “retirement” of a local fire chief.

Judges for November

Judges for the November DFMies and ToutBout were the October winners: Ivan Lajara, Paula Mitchell, Tania Baricklo, Caroline Sweeney, Rosemarie Ross, John Bertosa, Rick Payerchin, Devon Turchan, Jessica Maher, Ruben Ramirez, Bill Knight, Beau Yarbrough, Mike Rosenberg, Travis Souders, Roger Aylworth, Michael Booth, Craig Walker, R.J. Sangosti, AAron Ontiveroz, Severiano Galvan and Laura Oda. In order to wrap up the judging before the holidays, we also got some help from some Thunderdome staff: Dan Lewis, Amy Schlein, Chris Hopkins, Tom Meagher, Pat Hogan and Jeremy Binckes.

Steve Buttry

By Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry is Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media. He oversees our efforts to transform newsroom operations and culture to more effectively pursue our digital goals. His duties include responsibility for social media and community engagement. He has visited most DFM newsrooms personally, leading workshops and coaching editors and other journalists in following the Digital First approach.