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.