Announcing the 2019 LION Publishers Awards Winners

LION Publishers gathered from across the country in Nashville to celebrate the inaugural LION Publisher Awards. These awards recognize excellence

October 30, 2019 by Anika Anand

From left to right: Awards show co-host and LION revenue and operations director Phayvanh Luekhamhan; Richland Source’s Brittany Schock; awards show co-host and LION board chair Kelly Gilfillan. (Credit: LION Publishers)
From left to right: Awards show co-host and LION revenue and operations director Phayvanh Luekhamhan; Richland Source’s Brittany Schock; awards show co-host and LION board chair Kelly Gilfillan. (Credit: LION Publishers)

LION Publishers gathered from across the country in Nashville to celebrate the inaugural LION Publisher Awards. These awards recognize excellence in journalism, business and technology at local independent online news publishers around the country. An independent group of judges reviewed the award applicants in detail.

LION named 45 publishers as finalists for its inaugural awards across 15 categories, including Business Idea of the Year, presented by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, Technology Innovation of the Year, presented by Facebook, and Best Solutions Journalism Project of the Year, presented by Solutions Journalism Network, which includes a $2,000 grant for the winner to produce another solutions journalism project in the next year.

Here are this year’s 2019 winners.

Investigative Story of the Year (Small)
Highlands Current “The Extremist Next Door”

Judge’s comments:

“I appreciate this newsroom’s care in explaining why they tackled a profile of an extremist. As we know, these stories can be unpopular and divisive. Getting ahead of the criticism was a commendable and necessary step.”

“This is a difficult and contested topic to cover in regards to amplification and doxxing, yet this work has been done with care and transparency about editorial decision making.”

Investigative Story of the Year (Medium)
Santa Monica Daily Press: Vehicular Homelessness and a ‘Vanlord’

Judge’s comments:

“The Daily Press took a tip about an unorthodox solution to a crisis and used it as a way to examine the crisis as a whole. That is a hallmark of good journalism – getting readers’ attention with a unique story and then adding value to that story by explaining the bigger picture. The Daily Press also should be commended for continuing to follow the story and the issue of homelessness.”

“Good scoop on a systemic problem in this community.”

Investigative Story of the Year (Large)
Wausau Pilot and Review: Penta Wastewater Contamination

Judge’s comments:

“Like the origin of this coming directing from community members, and the responsive, appropriate role for the newsroom in corroborating and amplifying citizen group data with detailed reporting.”

“This series of stories is a good example of dedication to hard news. The reporters stayed on the story and reported every development, and I hope they’re continuing to do that.”

Business Idea of the Year
Racine County Eye: Eye on Employment

Judge’s comments:

“What a fantastic program that can build on both the revenue and the public service of a publication. This seems like a perfect marriage of providing a service for your community and tapping into a historic, and hopefully sustainable, revenue source for a news pub.”

“Seems like a good and innovative way to make up for what the industry lost in terms of classifieds, and the results appear to be positive.”

Best Breaking News Coverage (Small)
Madison365: Madison Teacher on Leave After Alleged Beating of Girl Caught on Video

Judge’s comments:

“Great, thoughtful reporting on a tough topic. It’s clear this story was reported with the community’s best interest at heart, not reported for the clicks or the attention. That goes a long way to show what kind of trust Madison365 is building within its community.”

“Detailed reporting with a link to broader regional/national issues. The reporting was clearly very influential, leading to turnover on the school board.” 

Best Breaking News Coverage (Medium)
CT News Junkie: As Measles Returns, Connecticut Offers Little Info About Immunization Rates

Judge’s comments:

“Great reporting on an important topic. Big kudos for your work engaging the community via live-streaming and the data visualization. Obviously, this coverage had a huge impact on your community.”

“Excellent work on the interactive map, which provides a practical and user friendly way to present data to your audience.” 

Best Breaking News Coverage (Large)
Richland Source: Signs of recovery in Shelby after devastating tornado

Judge’s comments:

“This is hyper-local news as its finest and fulfilling its highest calling. Great use of social media, excellent photography and thorough reporting on what must have been a difficult story to cover. The stories showed intimate knowledge of the community and how much that matters in this kind of coverage.”

“Excellent work with visuals and community engagement.”

Technology Innovation Award
Richland Source for Lede Ai

Judge’s comments:

“The complete automation of the story creation process is laudable as is its value to the publisher for driving traffic. And let’s not forget that, for many, high school sports coverage puts the L in local. Admirable too is the national recognition of the product. Sales to other media organizations of the technology speak of the value of this innovation for both the Richland Source and other media organizations as well, Well done!”

“Good implementation of AI technological solution on local level. Clear potential for this to further organization’s goal of driving pageviews.”

Best Visual Journalism Project
Oil City News’ Photo Essays

Judge’s comments:

“These photo essays were all powerful pieces that told very human stories. The quality of the photojournalism was superb; these stories were obviously in the hands of a very talented photographer. Especially strong was the deployment ceremony, which captured the strong emotions of families as their loved ones were about to go back to war zones. Kudos to Dan Cepeda and his editors!”

“Strong entry overall in terms of showing the value of a local news organization: An excellent job of bringing the community to life via photo collections that capture lots of local faces and evoke the of having been there to witness what the photographer saw, especially the military send-off event package.”

LION Service Award

Judge’s comments:

“Broadstreet first impressed me with their Facebook integration into ads when a publisher requested the feature. From that point on they have worked directly with publishers to meet their needs and to dream alongside them to create new ideas.”

“Kenny and Broadstreet have been part of the LION ecosystem since the very beginning. For nearly a decade, he’s worked hand-in-hand with local publishers, and has been sincerely dedicated to rebuilding local news with business-side innovation and  peerless support.”

Best Coverage of an Underserved Community
Chalkbeat Chicago: How it feels to be Javion: 16 and struggling to read in Chicago Public Schools

Judge’s comments:

“Well-written, beautifully shot, smart graphics. “How one Chicago principal is leaning on data to help black boys” is a masterful example of data journalism: Contextualizing the data in the stories of Fuller students and leadership not only displays deft news judgment, but clear evidence the journalist was able to engender trust with the sources/schools/community she’s covering.”

“This is a powerful story that clearly comes from your engagement efforts. Great work!”

Best Solutions Journalism Project
Richland Source: Rising from Rust

Judge’s comments:

“Impressive in scope, audio and Hearken-generated interaction.  Like how other cities’ experiences were brought into the picture. Shows both community commitment and the use of journalism to get beyond the day to day coverage to the big picture issues lived by communities.”

“Tangible impact with the skate park and a good job incorporating Hearken to bring the community voice into the series.”

LION Publisher of the Year (Small)

Judge’s comments:

“Great job telling valuable stories to and for your community!”

“I applaud their events and expertise-leveraging expansion, and the site is filling quite a need in amplifying and connecting people of color in Madison.”

“This is a break-through publication, and doubling the number of Black reporters in Madison in one small newsroom in a white majority community is impressive!”

LION Publisher of the Year (Medium)
Home Page Media Group

Judge’s comments:

“In the midst of the industry trend to membership, HPMG is showing how advertising can still be a strong suit, when done correctly. Its acquisition shows that other entities saw the value of the organization as well. Its commitment to solutions journalism also demonstrates that HPMG is willing to invest in more durable reporting.”

“The Natchez Trace Bridge project is important and valuable community journalism. Brentwood Home Page’s growth in pageviews shows that staff is creating valuable work.”

LION Publisher of the Year (Large)
Richland Source

Judge’s comments:

“Phenomenal. You’re hitting audience engagement from every angle – because they’re all important! – and proactively innovating using technology, partnerships, curiosity and experimentation/measurement. You’ve found a way to make both sponsored content AND artificial intelligence useful and meaningful. Bravo!”

“Richland Source offers important and valuable local news on a clean site with a good user experience. Your solutions journalism projects and funding should be templates for all local newsrooms.”


Congrats to all of this year’s winners and finalists! Details for next year’s awards will be available soon.

A special thanks to our award judges: Amara Aguilar, USC Annenberg; Christine Schmidt, Nieman Lab; Courtney Cowgill, University of Montana; Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed; Dana Coester, West Virginia University; Dawn Garcia, JSK Fellowships; Doug Mitchell, Next Generation Radio; Eve Pearlman, Spaceship Media; Jane Elizabeth, Raleigh News & Observer and The Durham Herald-Sun; Scott Sharpe, Visuals Editor, McClatchy Southeast Region; Jessica Pucci, Arizona State University; Jim Rutenberg, New York Times; Julia B. Chan, Mother Jones; Ken Doctor, Newsonomics; Kristen Hare, Poynter; Laura Owen, Nieman Lab; Reuben Stern, University of Missouri.

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