The New England Newspaper and Press Association awarded VTDigger first place for “general excellence” last week at its annual convention. The prize was one of five first-place showings for VTDigger in its first time participating in the “New England Better Newspaper Competition.”
The association represents more than 450 publications in the six-state region. Last year, it admitted online-only news organizations such as VTDigger and allowed them to take part in the journalism competitions. The 2020 contest period covered work produced between Aug. 1, 2019, and July 31, 2020.
In total, VTDigger won 11 awards at the convention, which was held virtually last Thursday and Friday. The organization generally competed in a division that included other news services and online news sites, such as Boston.com, the Associated Press, the Connecticut Mirror and the Granite State News Collaborative.
In addition to the “general excellence” category, VTDigger won top honors in:
- “Local election coverage” for its 2020 election voter guide, which featured 400 candidate biographies, a searchable campaign finance database and a roll-call vote database to help voters learn how incumbents voted on key issues. (In this category, VTDigger competed against daily newspapers, as well.)
- “Multimedia coverage” for data reporter Erin Petenko’s and digital editor Mike Dougherty’s “Deadly encounters: Why do deaths at the hands of police keep rising in Vermont?” The story, video documentary and database showed that deadly law enforcement shootings tripled in Vermont since the 1980s and had been rising, year over year, for much of the previous decade.
- “Portrait photo” for photographer Glenn Russell’s image of the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis during an Oct. 7, 2019, appearance at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington.
- “Digital strategy excellence” for VTDigger’s work serving Vermonters and meeting their information needs during the coronavirus pandemic — through the creation of a Covid-19 liveblog, landing page, newsletter, tip line, business directory and searchable FAQ knowledge base.
VTDigger won a number of other awards during NENPA’s 2020 contest, including second place in the “best coverage of coronavirus” category. A VTDigger collaboration with Vermont Public Radio (“How the Kiah Morris case gripped Vermont, but hasn’t changed anything”) — reported by VTDigger’s Alan Keays and VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld — won second place in the “excellence in newsroom collaboration” category. Keays also won second place in the “racial or ethnic issue coverage” category for the same story. And editor-in-chief Anne Galloway and reporter Katie Jickling won second place in the “health reporting” category for their coverage of Vermont’s all-payer health care experiment.
In addition to his first-place finish, Russell also won second place in the “feature photo” category for an image of Spencer and Todd Clason fishing on the Burlington waterfront and third place in the “general news photo” category for an image of Black Lives Matter protesters in Essex Junction.
“I’m tremendously proud of VTDigger’s staff for producing such important and impactful journalism — some of it during a pandemic that made it all the more difficult to do our work,” Galloway said. “It’s a testament to our collaborative nature that so many of these awards recognized the work of our entire newsroom.”
Galloway also expressed her appreciation to NENPA for admitting online-only news organizations. “We look forward to working with — and competing against — our peers in the future,” she said.