Announcing the winners of the 2016 news writing contest, statewide (updated)

The Arizona Press Club is proud to announce the statewide winners of the 2016 Writing Awards.

The Don Bolles Award for Investigative Reporting

Judge Dee Hall is the co-founder of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

First: Caitlin Schmidt, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “This story involved true shoe leather investigative reporting. It started out as a tip that the Pima County Sheriff’s Office had given a sweetheart deal to the niece of a high level official. Through digging by the Arizona Daily Star, what appeared to be small case of wrongdoing ballooned into criminal charges alleging that Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke and others in the sheriff’s office had illegally misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in money seized from criminals for non-law enforcement purposes. This is classic investigative journalism at its finest!”

Second: Craig Harris, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Like the winner in this category, this investigation began as a story of state employee fired under egregious circumstances as she struggled to recover from cancer treatment. Several public records requests later, the Arizona Republic uncovered a major scandal in the firing of state employees without cause in several agencies, most particularly the Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Department of Economic Security. Gov. Doug Ducey,
who had ordered officials to whittle down the state workforce, ended up firing secretaries of both agencies and instituting new safeguards for employees targeted for termination.”

Third: Hank Stephenson, Arizona Capitol Times

Comments: “This investigation made great use of public records, including calendars and mileage reimbursements along with Internet searches to show the high-spending ways of Arizona’s House speaker David Gowan. It brought about real change, including new policies at the Capitol and thousands in reimbursements from Gowan, whom the Capitol Times showed clearly misused taxpayer-funded vehicles, staff and his own position to enrich himself and to support his run for Congress. No doubt the digging by the Arizona Capitol Times contributed to the candidate’s low favorability among voters, which forced him to abandon his campaign.”

Statewide public service journalism

Judge Jennifer Berry Hawes is a projects writer for The Post and Courier who worked on a Pulitzer Prize-winning team. She also has won a George Polk Award, National Headliner Award and an ASNE Award for Local Accountability Reporting and is a past South Carolina Journalist of the Year.

First: Dennis Wagner, Michael Clow and Craig Harris, Arizona Republic

“This impressive investigation reveals the shameful mismanagement of housing funds that should be helping people in need.  To Build A Home provides readers impressive breadth of reporting and includes compelling personal portraits that round out the numbers nicely.”

Second: Ricardo Cano and Caitlin McGlade, Arizona Republic

“This user-friendly investigation raises important red flags for parents who rely on their school system to transport children safely. The searchable database is especially helpful and engages readers so they understand the project’s methodology and how to use the data themselves.”

Third: Staff, Arizona Daily Star

“After hearing so much about Trump’s wall, this project provided very helpful explanations of what exists along the border, in terms of man-man or natural impediments, to curb illegal crossings. It makes great use of state-by-state information and interactive graphics that break down information by sector.”

Statewide breaking news

Judge Jack Leonard is editor for police, courts and crime at the Los Angeles Times.

First: Emily Bregel, Arizona Daily Star; “Officials look into reports of Pima County voting problems.”

Comments: “Bregel put together a superb election day story that raised serious questions about whether many Pima County voters had been prevented from casting ballots in the presidential primary. The fact she was able to do the necessary reporting on a daily deadline to simply explain how this could have happened was hugely impressive.”

Second: Craig Harris, Robert Anglen and Anne Ryman, Arizona Republic; “Navy SEAL Charlie Keating, Arcadia grad and grandson of Charles Keating, killed in Iraq.”

Comments: “The story was a beautifully written and comprehensive tribute to a young man killed while serving in Iraq in the war against Islamic State. The profile managed to capture Keating’s personality and chronicle his accomplishments while also sensitively handling his family link to his notorious grandfather.”

Third: Megan Cassidy and Kaila White, Arizona Republic; “2 girls who died in murder-suicide at Independence High School were friends.”

Comments: “Despite authorities releasing little information about the deaths, Cassidy and White captured the heartbreak of a teenage couple killed in a murder-suicide on campus, using interviews with the aunt of one victim and friends of the pair to paint a vivid portrait of one of the victims as well as the impact on fellow students while on a tight deadline.”

Statewide public safety reporting

Judge Shoshana Walter covers human trafficking and public safety for Reveal, part of the Center for Investigative Reporting. She won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism.

First: Megan Cassidy, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Cassidy’s cogent reporting went beyond typical crime coverage to examine a system that has failed many. In a series of stories, she explained in clear and convincing detail how bail, court and traffic fines disproportionately impact the poor. In another story, she also raised important questions about the ties between a county attorney’s anti-marijuana activism and a court diversion program that was funneling millions back into his office. A fascinating read with good use of public records and data.”

Second: Perla Trevizo, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “Excellent reporting on the illegal trafficking and use of fentanyl. Trevizo wrote clearly and concisely about this poorly understood problem, peppering her story with helpful data and human tragedies that made the problem palpable.”

Third: Yihyun Jeong, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Meticulous beat reporting on a high profile police shooting and the background of the officer involved. Jeong made good use of public records and public records law, pushing the department to release records they had incorrectly withheld.”

Statewide political reporting

Judge Allison Wisk is the California politics editor for the Los Angeles Times.

First: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Sanchez’s coverage of the controversy surrounding work done by the governor’s administration to garner support for Proposition 123, the measure’s squeaker of a victory at the ballot box and how it all unfolded is the type of compelling storytelling that is desperately needed in state political journalism. It’s accountability journalism at its best — and it gives readers a real sense of what a lack of transparency in government looks like.”

Second: Evan Wyloge, Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting

Comments: “Wyloge’s work tracking the flow of dark money in Arizona campaigns is an invaluable service to voters in the state. With the Dark Money bot and its accompanying stories, he showed how central data reporting is to journalism by cracking open and simplifying access to campaign finance information for readers.”

Third: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Ruelas’ coverage sends up a chill. It’s a cautionary tale of what could happen if state political reporters don’t keep a watchful eye on government officials’ compliance with open records, open meeting laws and other transparency issues. Without reporting of this kind, the ability to hold those in power accountable is in question and press freedom is at risk.

Statewide government reporting

Judge Chris Megerian covers Gov. Jerry Brown, the budget, climate change legislation and state government for the Los Angeles Times.

First: Paul Giblin, Arizona Republic

Comments: “This investigation checked all the boxes, with an eye-opening look at one councilman’s malfeasance that was grounded in a broad analysis of the issue. The story was impressive in its level of detail and the clarity of its presentation.”

Second: Erica L. Lang, Cronkite News

Comments: “This was a comprehensive examination of a serious problem that had gone unaddressed by government officials. It fulfills an important watchdog role with a solid mix of anecdote and data.”

Third: Dustin Gardiner, Arizona Republic

Comments:”This was an interesting look at a surprising problem, spotlighting ineffective city management that is having a negative effect on residents and businesses.”

Statewide health reporting

Judge Jordan Rau, a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, was honored for beat reporting by the Association of Healthcare Journalists. His stories have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, and on and, among other media outlets.

First: Emily Bregel, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “When the for-profit company Cenpatico took over the administration of Medicaid behavioral health cases in Southern Arizona, residential treatment placements—even for the most troubled children— became a rarity. With thoroughness and tenacity, Emily Bregel of the Arizona Daily Star explored the repercussions to children, families and taxpayers. She found that the company’s denials were so extreme that courts were ordering the funding of residential treatment. Meanwhile, under Cenpatico’s oversight, pharmacy spending grew rapidly even as the number of prescriptions declined. Bregel’s coverage of the company’s resistance to institutionalization was fair and nuanced while never losing sight of how the profit motive was influencing critical treatment decisions.”

Second: Stephanie Innes, Arizona Daily Star

Comments:“Innes offered compelling, multigenerational portraits of families affected by Alzheimer’s, including profiles of the toll the disease takes on people and the conundrums created by tests to identify the presence of the mutation in younger people. Each story nicely framed a different challenge posted by the disease”.

Third: Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic

Comments:“Wagner embarked on a nationwide tour of Veterans Affairs centers two years after the systems’ cover-ups of long wait times and other shortcomings led to reform legislation in Congress. Wagner solicited and examined stories not only of shortcomings but also successes through site visits and interviews with people in all levels of the system.”

Statewide environmental reporting

Judge Josephine Marcotty, environmental reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, was honored for beat reporting in 2016 by the Society of Environmental Journalists.

First: Ron Dungan, Arizona Republic

Comments: ”A fascinating tale of the uneasy relationship between a beloved national icon and the community that put it where it might not belong.”

Second: Jimmy Magahern, Phoenix Magazine

Comments: ” A critically important explanation of how water and food ties nations together – whether we like it or not.”

Third: Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “He takes on the challenge of laying bare the inner workings the government’s permit and environmental review process for mining. It’s the kind of reporting that is difficult because it requires a understanding of the internecine regulatory process, good sources, aggressive use of public information, and a strong public service mission.”

Statewide science reporting

Judge Colin Woodard of Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram Was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for a compelling account of dramatic ecological changes occurring in the warming ocean region from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod.

First: Tom Beal, Arizona Daily Star
Comments: “Beal provided readers with  comprehensive, extensive, well-written and carefully reported coverage of the Osiris-REx mission, a local research project to the outer reaches of the inner solar system.”

Second: Weldon Johnson, Arizona Republic
Comments: “Succinct, engaging, and relevant, Johnson summarizes a discrete research project with efficient clarity.”

Third: Miquel Otarola, Cronkite News
Comments: “A solid, on-the-scene profile of a local research project with global implications.”

Statewide social issues reporting

Judge Halle Stockton, managing editor of PublicSource, was a 2016 finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists for a series on psychotropic drugs prescribed to juvenile offenders. She also won a 2015 Sigma Delta Chi award for a story about a couple who both have cerebral palsy.

First: Robrt Pela, Phoenix New Times

Comments: “This is an incredible piece. It makes accessible and deeply personal a topic of great import for our society. The author did not shy away from the realities of being a family caregiver, and his authenticity while exploring the true potential of a new local program sets his writing apart.”

Second: Karina Bland, Arizona Republic
Comments: “This is a beautifully written story. The reporter was able to effectively explore complicated interpersonal relationships while also sharing about organ donation, both its rewards and the perils.”

Third: John Washington, Edible Baja Arizona
Comments: “John Washington’s Sweat Vinaigrette piece not only paints a picture with vivid writing but touches on extremely pertinent issues of agriculture, labor, automation and immigration in a way that never gets wonky. I love that it takes readers to a place where they would never normally get to go either.”

Statewide education reporting

Judge Cara Fitzpatrick, a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times, was part of a team that won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for exposing a local school board’s culpability in turning some county schools into failure factories, with tragic consequences for the community.

First: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Rob O’Dell, Arizona Republic
Comments: “An important analysis and ongoing coverage of a state voucher program that has had unintended consequences.”

SecondRob O’Dell and Anne Ryman, Arizona Republic
Comments: “A compelling investigation into how crime statistics are formed at universities – and how misleading they can be.”

Third: Megan Kimble, Edible Baja Arizona
Comments: “It was an interesting window into the world of getting ‘Farm-to-School’ food into school cafeterias.”

Statewide  immigration reporting

Judge Mark Fazlollah, immigration reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, has won national awards including a George Polk Award and the National Association of Black Journalists’ award for investigative reporting. He has been a reporter in Mexico for United Press International and a Latin America correspondent for the Daily Telegraph of London.

Note: Judges from decided opted to give the first place award to three separate reporters.

First (tie): John M. Glionna, Phoenix New Times
Comments: “Writer John M. Glionna did an exception job in detailing the work of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office to identify migrants who have died while trying to enter the United States illegally. He first focusing on men who drowned while crossing from Nogales, Sonora through a drainage tunnel running under the border, and then he skillfully widened the lens to view many issues of U.S. immigration policies.”

First (tie): Alberto Rios, Phoenix New Times
Comments: “Author Alberto Rios captured the essence of cities on the Arizona-Mexican border and a culture that is too-often unappreciated by those who don’t know the region. His article gave readers a view of what it is like to have grown up in a border town. Personal, yet not overblown, his story put us in shoes that we don’t often get to wear. The Phoenix New Times provided attractive on-in presentations in both English and Spanish.”

First (tie): Daniel González, Arizona Republic
Comments: “The story by Daniel González on Sioux Center, Iowa is a gem. It provided insight into a key role that immigration issues played in the 2016 presidential campaign, capturing real-life complexities that were often ignored in campaign rhetoric.”

Statewide business reporting

Judge Kimi Yoshino is the business editor of the Los Angeles Times. At the Times, she helped to report on the Bell corruption scandal, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service.

First: Megan Kimble, Edible Baja Arizona

Comments: “First person is difficult to pull off, but Megan Kimble nails it in this Edible Baja Arizona piece that actually tells two stories. It’s both an explainer on equity crowdfunding and a profile of a local brewery. This was an effective way to get people interested in equity crowdfunding – as a potential investor and as a business owner. There’s a lot of reporting and detail packed into this story, but the lively writing had me about ready to whip out my checkbook.”

Second:Robrt Pela, Phoenix New Times

Comments: Robrt Pela’s profile of mattress company Tuft & Needle captures the spirit and ethos of Silicon Valley — in Phoenix. Again, first person is hard to pull off, but the experience of shopping at a traditional mattress store vs. Tuft & Needle is extremely effective. Don’t be fooled by the conversational tone of this story. It’s pack full of solid business reporting about the mattress industry, Tuft & Needle’s revenue and how competitors are responding.”

ThirdDawn Gilbertson, Arizona Republic

Comments: “All the bases — and then some — were covered in the ambitious story by the Arizona Republic’s Dawn Gilbertson on American Airline’s shrinking footprint in Phoenix and how that’s impacting Sky Harbor International Airport. Smart to unpack the story in chapters — with a nice use of both graphics and video. Very thoroughly reported piece.” 

Statewide  sports beat reporting

Judge Angel Rodriguez is the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.

First: Jeff Metcalfe, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Very well-rounded selection of stories on the Olympics beat. Good mix of news and features with special emphasis on the Arizona newsmakers.” 

Second: Jon Gold, Arizona Daily Star

No comments submitted.

Third: Zach Rosenblatt, Arizona Daily Star

No comments submitted.

Statewide sports feature reporting

Judge Angel Rodriguez is the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.

First: Christoper Boan, Sahuarita Sun

Comments: Deeply reported feature that brought to life the protagonist. The story never dragged and was compelling throughout. Well done.” 

Second: Jon Gold, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: Compelling feature on the near-death of an athlete. Great access and great detail in Gold’s feature. Kept you reading until the end.” 

Third: Tom Blodgett, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Originality tough to come by in Arizona high school mascot names.”

Statewide  sports investigative reporting

Judge Angel Rodriguez is the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times.

First: Emily Bregel, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “Great investigative work exposing the troubled Tucson Tech prep school. Bregel did a good job of tracking down students and parents that were hurt by the closure of the school. Well done set of stories.” 

Statewide sports column writing

Judge Geoff Calkins writes columns and opinion for Memphis and the Mid-South for The Commercial Appeal.

First: Jon Gold, Arizona Daily Star

No comments submitted.

Second: Timothy Gassen, Arizona Daily Star

No comments submitted.

Statewide column writing

Judge David Cook, metro columnist with the Chattanooga Times, won the 2016 ASNE Mike Royko Award for Commentary Writing.

First: Karina Bland, Arizona Republic

Comments: “First place for Bland’s  elegantly, powerfully and compassionately telling the everyday stories – of smoking, dying fathers, of a family destroyed by suicide, and the insidious power of hate, Karina Bland writes columns that are accessible, inviting, poetic and, best of all, profoundly instructive. She deserves a standing ovation from Arizona readers.”

Second  Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “For doing what columnists should always do – holding the powers that be to accountability, and writing truth to power, and doing so with style, humor, grace and clarity.” 

Third: Greg Hansen, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “For Hansen’s beautiful and insight commentary on sports, culture and why we cheer.”

Statewide editorial writing

Judge Andrew Green is part of the Baltimore Sun team that was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing.

First: Staff, Arizona Republic

Comments: “An absolute masterwork that we at The Sun quoted in our own endorsement of Ms. Clinton. It does not fall into the trap that many newspapers did last year in simply presenting a damning case against Donald Trump and some hold-your-nose praise of Ms. Clinton. Rather, it articulates the reasons why principled conservatives should actually prefer Ms. Clinton. It has punchy lines and a deeply detailed argument. It is everything a good endorsement should be.”

Second: Staff, Arizona Republic

Comments: It reflects a deep institutional knowledge about immigration and presents a convincing case, even for conservatives who might be inclined to support the president, that the type of hard-line tactics he has previously endorsed simply don’t work. It takes an emotional issue and strips it down to pragmatic terms.”

Third: Jonathan Clark, Nogales International

Comments:  The editorial argues an essential point – the need for diligence and transparency in the investigation of police-involved shootings – and marshals as evidence both some well known cases from around the country but also a detailed examination of several in Arizona. Particularly commendable is the author’s use of the NI’s original reporting on the topic but also that of other newspapers in the region to make his points.”

Statewide personality profile

Judge Carrie Seidman is a 2016 winner of the Society for Features Journalism Award for Features Series or Project Award and took second place in Feature Writing Specialty Portfolio. She is a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and just wrapped up a Carter Center fellowship focusing on mental illness.

First: John Glionna, Phoenix New Times

Comments: “Given a subject like Doug Stanhope, you’d be hard pressed to write a boring profile. But this was by far and away the best entry I read in this category — vivid language, wonderful weaving of the story, and impact that lasted long after my first, second and third read.”

Second: Brian Smith, Tucson Weekly

Comments: “Full of arresting details, colorful language and nuance. A fascinating subject, intricately revealed.”

Third: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Great storytelling, masterfully walking the line between whether the subject is a con artist or a committed activist.”

Statewide human interest writing

Judge Staci Sturrock is a senior content editor and copywriter for the ad agency Ideabar. She previously worked as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post and won first place in the Society for Feature Journalism Awards 2016 for Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio and third place in Short Feature.

First: Scott Craven, Arizona Republic

Comments: “An absorbing portfolio of work that explores the Grand Canyon State at a variety of latitudes and even altitudes. I felt like I was riding shotgun around Arizona with the author, and listening in as he encouraged his subjects to talk about themselves. I would guess that this reporter develops a nice rapport with whomever he interviews. The stories were full of detail and left no question unanswered. There’s an “easiness” to the way these are written that belies the time and talent it takes to regularly produce this level of work. Well done!”

Second: Alden Woods, Arizona Republic

Comments: “This is consummate storytelling. What trust the writer built with his source. I felt like he really got inside Julie’s head and heart, and was able to relate her thoughts in an intimate, almost conversational way (love the choice to refer to her as “Julie” as opposed to “Jones”). Wonderful eye for detail and ear for quotes. This is an important story, sensitively and beautifully told.”

Third: Debbie Weingarten, Edible Baja Arizona

Comments: “Right out of the gate, this lovingly tended story is a winner. The first several paragraphs read like the opening of a good novel. The reporter writes with an impressive authority. And while the story is packed with facts of how these women are changing the face of farming, it’s the personal stories of the farmers that sing. Great storytelling.”  

Statewide short-form writing

The judge opted no to give out any awards in this category.

Statewide arts criticism

Judge Amy Biancolli is the arts writer and columnist for The Times Union in Albany, NY. She won first place in the Arts and Entertainment Commentary Portfolio category in the 2016 Society for Features Journalism awards and has published two books.

First: Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly

Comments: “Authoritative and terrifically written with lively, sexy cheek. She praises the artists for portraying the nude in a manner ‘clear-eyed and without apology,’ and she does the same.” 

Second: Becky Bartkowski, Phoenix New Times

Comments: “Engagingly written, and quite funny — great example of a story that I wouldn’t have guessed was a story until it swept me in, right from its killer lede.” 

Third: Dominic Armato, Arizona Republic

Comments: “Excellent piece of food writing — packed with delicious turns of phrase and insights into both the Italian-cuisine ethos and the restaurateur himself.

Statewide arts reporting

Judge Rashod Ollison is a reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, covering entertainment, music, pop culture and other features. He won first place in the Arts and Entertainment Feature category in the 2015 Society for Features Journalism awards and third place in Arts and Entertainment Commentary Portfolio.

First: Becky Bartkowski, Phoenix News Times 

Comments: “Informative and lively coverage of the art scene. “The 100 Creatives You Should Know …” piece was smart and essential.”

Second: Ed Masley, Arizona Republic 

Comments: “It’s clear the writer knows what he’s covering, offering historical context and perspective.” 

No third place awards were given.

Statewide food and beverage reporting

Judge Hanna Raskin is the food editor and chief critic for The Post & Courier in South Carolina.

First: Patricia Escarcega, Phoenix New Times
Comments: “To understand the greatness of this piece, it’s worth Googling “Mexican sushi” – which I only did because Escarcega’s crisply-written story made me want to learn more about the subject. The top hit is a snarky three-year-old blog post from the same paper, noting and mocking the trend. Maybe it made a few people laugh for a minute. By contrast, the curiosity, respect and strong journalistic skills which Escarcega brought to the topic resulted in a story which will forever change Valley residents’ understanding of how foodways evolve and change. Bravo.”

Second: Shelby Moore, Phoenix New Times
Comments: “Great example of contextualizing a restaurant opening in a way that deepens readers’ appreciation of their hometown’s cocktail culture. This is a very well-structured story with plenty of vivid details to make the history stick.”

Third: John Washington, Edible Baja Arizona
Comments: “Well-researched and comprehensive survey of state’s craft beer scene, with enough specific details and humanity to engage readers.”

Statewide headline writing

Judge Sara Ziegler is the treasurer of the American Copy Editors Society and deputy features editor for the Omaha World-Herald

First: Jim Wambold, Arizona Republic

Comments:: “This entry shows off a mix of news and feature styles. My favorite headline of the day: “In a redraw, Apple replaces revolver emoji with squirt gun,” which uses “redraw” to perfection. The ripples of the Brexit vote and laughing until you cry over comedian Garry Shandling’s death round out a very nice entry.”   

Second: Dave Ord, Arizona Daily Star

Comments: “After years of squeamishness, it’s time to bleed by example,” on a story about donating blood, is my kind of wordplay. I also really enjoyed the “skeleton crew” headline, which proved that sports stories are ripe for fun, smart treatments.”

ThirdLee Shappell, Scottsdale Airpark News 

Comments: “This entry uses wordplay in a clever way that ultimately serves the story. These aren’t puns for puns’ sake. “Hundred-buck ground chuck” is the kind of headline that doesn’t just make you want to read the story — it makes you feel like you’ll be missing out if you don’t.”

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