The Times' Editorial Awards for 2013, handed out in a ceremony Thursday night, honored both accountability journalism and what Editor Davan Maharaj called “the ever-growing types of journalism we produce in this Digital Age.”
“This age has required we formerly ink-stained wretches to master many new disciplines,” Maharaj said. “And I am proud of what you've all accomplished:
“Our new website, which I consider the best news site out there. The groundbreaking journalism being produced out of the data desk. The mastery of digital breaking news on display on our various 'Now' blogs. The miraculous lede-alls our rewrite reporters construct out of the chaos of a huge story. The risks our reporters are taking in global war zones. And the intelligence, guts and playfulness our entertainment team brings to our hometown industry.”
Beat reporting: Raja Abdulrahim and Patrick McDonnell. As the Syrian civil war has become more politically complex and morally murky, covering the conflict has grown dangerously difficult. No single reporter can get the whole story. But Abdulrahim and McDonnell have teamed up to provide a ground’s-eye view from rebel bastions and President Bashar Assad’s center of power, offering countering perspectives of a multidimensional story. With an eye for telling details and a voice of authority, Abdulrahim illuminated the terrible toll the war has taken on ordinary Syrians, like the mother who has refused to join the exodus of refugees just so she can ensure that her son, imprisoned by Assad’s government, has a home to return to — if he is still alive. McDonnell’s striking account of a “street-by-street, building-by-building conflict” in the Damascus suburb of Yarmouk showed just how finely gains and losses are measured between a government determined to maintain its redoubt and rebels bent on breaching it.
Investigations: Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston for “Behind the Badge.” Faturechi and Poston’s dogged pursuit of confidential Sheriff’s Department files produced a blockbuster: Dozens of officers were hired despite records of assault, excessive force and other serious misconduct. The stories found that of 280 officers hired, 188 had been rejected previously by other law enforcement agencies. Ninety-two had been disciplined for serious misconduct at other police agencies. Experts agreed these deplorable hiring practices undermined public trust in officers who are responsible for enforcing the law. The stories led to swift changes in government policy and ultimately forced Sheriff Lee Baca into early retirement.
Explanatory journalism: Chad Terhune, for healthcare. In 2013, Obamacare finally moved from a distant idea to serious reality as Californians coped with cranky computers, deadlines, insurance jargon and political wrangling. Terhune offered plain-spoken explanations and real-life examples of how people were being affected, the glitches they faced and the progress being made. Along the way, he told us about the steep prices at Cedars-Sinai, the man running the Covered California insurance exchange and the sticker shock that comes with insurance bills.
Opinion Journalism (two winners):
Christopher Knight, for art criticism. Our readers have long appreciated Knight’s keen insight and exemplary writing on art. Last year, along with his lucid and compelling art reviews, he took on a story that had intrigued him for years: Whatever happened to a cache of Cezanne paintings donated to the White House in the 1930s by an expatriate collector? The story was a window into the often intrigue-ridden art and museum world. Knight also weighed in on museum ethics, procedures governing art stolen by the Nazis during World War II and the impact of a famously violent photograph from South Africa’s apartheid years.
Mary McNamara, for television criticism. With so much on television these days, critics have a key role to play in guiding viewers to what should be watched, and what can be missed. No one does it better than McNamara. Whether blog posts, daily reviews, Sunday Calendar essays or her weekly online show, McNamara’s work is always smart, and insightful, as well as frequently humorous and even provocative. She is as fearless in taking down an overblown network show as she is gracious in raising up what might have been an overlooked gem on cable. A Pulitzer finalist for two years running, McNamara is simply the best TV critic in the country.
Feature writing (two winners):
Elaine Woo, for obituaries. News obituaries don’t fit into neat categories like “beat reporting,” “breaking news,” “explanatory” or “feature writing.” On one level they serve as news stories, reporting the death of a prominent person. But, at their best, they stand out as examples of feature profiles of the recently deceased. These are stories that illuminate a life. Some of these subjects are well known to many of our readers, and our stories put their lives in context. Others are more obscure figures, and the reporter aims to convey the compelling back story. Since 1998, Woo has been dazzling readers with her top-notch news obituaries. In 2013, these included Linda Pugach, who was disfigured by lye and married the man who hired her assailant; Roy Brown, designer of Ford’s Edsel; and Wanda Coleman, L.A.’s unofficial poet laureate.
Christopher Goffard for “Private Wars.” The scars of our war in Afghanistan are not always visible to the naked eye. They can be seen in the eyes of a woman who tries to understand her husband’s demons. In the deepest, unreachable recesses of a young sergeant’s memory. In a soldier’s heart after enduring years of humiliation. Goffard's series highlighted the scars — and courage — of this nation’s war veterans and their families.
Breaking news: National staff. In the span of five months in 2013, the National staff covered some of the biggest stories of the year. Two makeshift bombs brought terror and chaos to the Boston Marathon. Two days later, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, exploded. The following month, a devastating tornado leveled the town of Moore, Okla., killing 24 people. Next came the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters battling a wildfire at Yarnell Hill in Arizona. Later that summer, jurors reached a verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, and The Times' story led Google News throughout the day. And in September, a gunman went on a two-hour rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Through it all, the relatively small staff, with important assists from D.C. and Metro, filed a flood of blog posts, stories, photos, videos and analysis, perfecting a template for marrying classic on-the-ground reporting with highly skilled work by reporters in L.A. on the phone and online.
Sports reporting: Gary Klein. Klein’s ability to write thoughtful analysis pieces, lively features and comprehensive news stories is surpassed only by a work ethic that almost defies description. Nothing happens with the USC football program that he isn’t on top of. He thinks creatively, finds out-of-the-mainstream features and produces elegantly written copy despite operating under the most demanding deadlines at the paper. He is tenacious, regularly breaks stories and is considered the ultimate authority on USC football. He broke the story of Lane Kiffin’s middle-of-the-night firing, and his deep dive into potential recruiting violations by a Washington coach who was being considered for a position at USC resulted in an NCAA investigation.
Blog (two winners):
Daily Dish: Noelle Carter, Betty Hallock, Jenn Harris, Jonathan Gold, Russ Parsons, Tenny Tatusian, S. Irene Virbila. The Daily Dish blog has become a must-read in the food world, not only in Los Angeles, but around the country. Its restaurant coverage offers Angelenos and visitors a sweet and savory look at one of the greatest dining cities in the world. The blog also features extensive recipe collections; full coverage of craft beer, wine and cocktails; and a fair share of fun, quirky food-related tidbits. The Daily Dish team changed its strategy in 2013 and embraced digital writing. As a result, readership skyrocketed, increasing by more than 400% — the highest of any blog on the site.
Science Now: Melissa Healy, Karen Kaplan, Amina Khan, Mary MacVean, Geoffrey Mohan, Monte Morin, Deborah Netburn. Though science can be an intimidating subject, Science Now makes it easy for readers to understand how research is done and why it’s important. A report on a whale’s earwax offers insight into the staying power of pollutants that are washed into the ocean. A study on the discovery of five types of boredom may seem like a joke, but it has implications for treating people with depression. A NASA experiment that launched smart phones into space (lede: “Talk about roaming charges.”) could lead to smaller, cheaper satellites. Science Now both breaks news (Voyager 1 enters interstellar space) and explains it (how forensic scientists could recover Christopher Dorner’s DNA to identify his body. Hint: maggots.)
Blogging by an individual: Michael Hiltzik. Since launching the Economy Hub on Oct. 1, Hiltzik has established the blog as a leading voice of analysis and breaking reporting on business, finance, the economy, public policy and a host of other topics. He has provided readers with a unique mix of deeply researched and sharply written posts.
Social media: Nita Lelyveld. Twitter is much more than a collection of characters and links. Nita Lelyveld has shown that it’s a legitimate place for beautiful storytelling. Her @LATimescitybeat tweets transform into “City Beat” features that have graced the front page and LATExtra sections with such colorful topics as an “Indian Weddings 101” class to give nuptials a splash of Bollywood, a 5-year-old with encyclopedic knowledge of the U.S. presidents and a look at the true-blue fans of the Dodgers. And she has prompted legions of locals to share their unique views of their city with the #mydayinla hashtag.
News photography: Irfan Khan and Al Seib, for morning news coverage. The morning news photography shift often requires rising before the sun. Long before many Southern Californians have had their first cup of coffee, Khan and Seib have been taking compelling photographs and videos that enhance our breaking news coverage. They have institutional knowledge of the Southland and have built working relationships with police and fire officials that afford the access necessary to make great photographs.
Feature photography: Michael Robinson Chavez, who documented Brazil’s halting rise as a world power, and the effects on laborers and the poor, in an unsettling series of images. Chavez talked his way into one of Brazil's notorious charcoal camps, where laborers make charcoal by burning eucalyptus trees. The images he captured could be from the 1920s: Smoke billowing from clay ovens. Denuded forests. Sweat spilling down the determined face of a laborer. A worker overtaken by weariness after 20 years in the camps. The photos are a work of both supreme technical quality and of compassion.
Multimedia/video: Rick Loomis, Spencer Bakalar and Liz O. Baylen. “A Soldier’s Wife,” the story of an Iraq war veteran’s struggles, moved readers with a intimate video by Loomis, with editing by Bakalar and Baylen. The story, which Loomis and reporter Christopher Goffard spent a year and a half chronicling, followed the plight of Candace Desmond-Woods, an Irvine woman fighting to hold her family together as her husband, Tom, battles post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. Dozens of readers took the time to email The Times in response to the story. Some of them said the intensely personal story gave them new insight into the challenges faced by veterans.
Print presentation: Wes Bausmith and Judy Pryor, for Image. Newspaper design at its best is a reflection of the content it is intended for. When that content is about fashion, it can requires the same kind of reinvention. The redesign of Image brought a new vibrancy to our coverage, spearheaded by Bausmith and Pryor.
Digital presentation: Lily Mihalik and Anthony Pesce, for the Jonathan Gold 101 and California Cookbook. Mapping Jonathan Gold's 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles was a combination of some of our best journalism and our best digital efforts. The result is a vibrant guide that is worthy of the rich, diverse content it houses. Likewise, the California Cookbook recipe database showcases Times food coverage. There was a reason The Times tested more than 40,000 recipes over the years, and this is it.
Data visualization: Armand Emamdjomeh, Mike Hiserman and Raoul Ranoa, for “MLB: Can money buy baseball glory?” Sure, someone could tell you that the Houston Astros entire payroll is equivalent to the salary of a single Dodger star, but isn’t it far better to see for yourself? This award-winning project hit all the high points: entertaining, informative and shareable.
Copy editing: Beth Troy, Metro copy desk. The Digital Age has upended many traditional newsroom roles, but Troy, chief of the Metro copy desk, holds fast to the tenets of journalism, keeping writers on course and copy editors on point. She knows when to fight for a principle, but also when to cut loose an outdated practice. In every venue and on every platform, Troy’s influence is seen. It’s in the clear and captivating headline, the well-honed lede, the crisply rendered chronology, the elegant and moving caption.
Headline writing: Kevin Leung, News copy desk. Leung has a deft touch, a wry wit and a writer’s approach to crafting headlines. His work, which has won national recognition, enlivens the pages of the Los Angeles Times, print and Web. Some print examples: “He’s a wokking encyclopedia,” with a story about a local attorney who has dined in more than 6,200 Chinese restaurants. “For Gavin Newsom, it’s lonely just below the top,” with a profile of California's lieutenant governor. And “Rare Type O Guy,” with a feature about a prolific blood donor.
Assignment editing: Matt Lait, police/courts editor. Lait was responsible for leading a number of Metro’s most important projects last year. The stories he helped shape included an epic narrative of Cardinal Roger Mahony’s downfall, the revisiting of a cold case involving the murder of the mistress of an LAPD official, the Christopher Dorner manhunt and an investigative series on troubling hiring practices inside the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. His skillful leadership and editing played a role in so much of what the paper deemed important. The stories he led demanded attention and reforms, and despite the aggressive watchdog nature of much of the work, all of it was unassailably fair.
Visual editing: Rob St. John, senior photo editor. With his creativity and attention to detail St. John plans the daily visual coverage for Southern California. With his keen news sense, he coordinates coverage of breaking news and longer-term projects. And he is a thoughtful editor who provides daily feedback to inspire ad motivate photojournalists.
Innovators (multiple winners): John Adams rebuilt our website from the ground up, working tirelessly in 2013 to create the infrastructure that has made our new site a success. He has been on the front lines in the newsroom, coaching everyone on best digital practices. And he will continue to play a major role in making latimes.com both creative and efficient. His belief in the quality and mission of this news organization is reflected in the long hours he has dedicated, by choice, to make sure the site is excellent.
Rubaina Azhar helps oversee the busy morning desk, which gets content online, and fast. So we asked this veteran copy editor to work on guidelines and training of our copy desks for the relaunch of latimes.com, knowing it was a big job. For years she has embraced digital, building out posts long before it was part of her job description. She studied the goals of relaunch, wrote the guidelines — tweaked the guidelines — and trained her colleagues. The results have been impressive, with our multiplatform editors playing a crucial role in online presentation.
Amy Hubbard, the newsroom's chief of SEO (search engine optimization), often has a line of people outside her cubicle at all hours of the day. Everyone knows that the surest way to get your story widely read online is to let her see it before it goes live. She is one of our true digital superstars.
Susan King and Maloy Moore took a hunch — that there was a much bigger audience for our Classic Hollywood coverage than we were finding on our website — and ran with it. Since May 2012, the L.A. Times Classic Hollywood page on Facebook has grown to a powerhouse of 180,000 engaged fans who repost, comment and like at a much higher rate than any of our other pages. They did this through consistent posting, whether it was a weekday or a weekend, finding great archival images, tapping into our Hollywood Star Walk database and just plain working hard to build an audience.
Matt Pearce was so eager to work at the L.A. Times, he went out and covered a tornado in Missouri, and offered to do it for free. He joined us shortly thereafter and hit the digital ground running. When someone has a question about writing in real time, frequently we just say: Do it like him.
Rong-Gong Lin II and Paul Pringle helped The Times win a resounding First Amendment victory in court last year, against government officials who were secretly giving away a treasured public institution. Plowing through thousands of pages of documents, many of them from carefully cultivated confidential sources, these reporters established for our lawyers, and for the court, that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission had broken California's transparency laws — and had lied while trying to defend their actions. The judge ordered the secrecy stopped, reminding everybody that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and vindicating two years of incredibly difficult work.
Editor’s prize: Rong-Gong Lin II, Doug Smith and Rosanna Xia for “Concrete Risks.” More than 1,000 older concrete buildings in Los Angeles may be at risk of collapse in a major earthquake. This was among the findings of an investigation by Lin, Smith and Xia. Through records and interviews, their articles meticulously chronicled the city's repeated failures to address the issue of earthquake safety. The impact from the stories was swift and far-reaching. Gov. Jerry Brown in January significantly increased staffing to map faults and proposed a building fee increase to keep the mapping going for years to come. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop an action plan to identify vulnerable buildings and address development along faults. And the Los Angeles City Council is considering legislation to do a census of both concrete buildings and wood apartments, which are also vulnerable.
Publisher’s prize: Times staff, for its Christopher Dorner coverage. There was no news event in 2013 that brought together all disciplines of the Los Angeles Times in such powerful unison than the Christopher Dorner case. Reporters broke news on Twitter. Stories were updated every few minutes around the clock. The challenge for The Times was to work at this pace while adhering to our high standards of accuracy, fairness and insight. The coverage was so distinctive because it was so deep and vast. While breaking news reporters were feeding the Web, a group of investigative reporters delved into Dorner’s background and wrote a series of ground-breaking stories about his beef with the LAPD and his allegations of racism. Another group of reporters began a painstaking reconstruction of the manhunt, working with digital producers, artists and photographers to produce a series that was by far the most-read package of the year. Our coverage of the Dorner case — in real time and, months later, retold — is a great example of what we can do and where we are going.
Beat reporting: Brittany Levine
Print presentation: Erik Haugli
Editor’s prize: Mark Kellam
News photography: Kevin Chang
News reporting: Bradley Zint
Editor’s prize: Michael Miller
Local reporting: Selene Rivera
Entertainment reporting: Tommy Calle, Sergio Burstein and Andrea Carrión
Editor’s prize: Soudi Jiménez