Meet the 2020 LION Awards Finalists

We’re excited to announce the finalists for the 2020 LION Awards, which celebrates the best of independent online media across

September 23, 2020 by Kelsey Ryan

We’re excited to announce the finalists for the 2020 LION Awards, which celebrates the best of independent online media across the U.S. and Canada, from solopreneurs to large newsrooms. 

This is the second year for the awards, which invited nearly 30 judges from across the industry to evaluate 169 entries from LION members — more than double the number of entries from last year. 

This year, we added several new categories to reflect where we think our members excelled: Public Service; Best Coronavirus Coverage; Emerging Publisher; and Collaboration of the Year. LION staff will also award a member who has gone above and beyond in supporting their fellow LION members and community.

We’d like to give a special thanks to the 2020 judges: Madeleine Bair, Heather Bryant, Sterling Cosper, Kat Duncan, Rick Edmonds, Patricia Gaston, Rodney Gibbs, Sommer Ingram Dean, Jiquanda Johnson, Damon Kiesow, Yvonne Leow, Frank LoMonte, Ben Monnie, Josh Moore, Meghan Murphy, Alexandra Nicolas, Gonzalo Peon, Aron Pilhofer, Rachel Rohr, Mary Sanchez, Linda Shaw, Mazin Sidahmed, Craig Silverman, Chrissy Towle, Ryan Tuck, Sisi Wei and Yumi Wilson. 

We’ll honor the finalists’ hard work and announce the winners on Thursday, Oct. 22, with a free virtual awards ceremony sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and Google News Initiative. You can RSVP for the ceremony here. More details on the ceremony coming soon. 


2020 Finalists by Category






  • El Tímpano for its reporting on gaps in local news serving Latinx and Mayan immigrants in Oakland, particularly in the wake of COVID-19
  • Public Source for its project, “The True Cost of Court Debt” 
  • Richland Source for its community listening tour and series looking at trash issues in the city of Mansfield, Ohio


  • Austonia: A public benefit corporation focusing on “all things Austin”
  • The Beacon: A Kansas City-based nonprofit online news outlet focused on in-depth journalism in the public interest in Kansas and Missouri
  • Main Street Daily News: A local independent online news site dedicated to telling the story of Gainesville and Alachua County in Florida
  • Sahan Journal: An independent, nonprofit digital newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting for and about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota


  • Solo

    • California Health Report for its stories covering how COVID-19 affected low-income Californians of color early in the pandemic
    • The Charlotte Ledger for its series, “Hidden Health Crisis in Charlotte,” which examined isolation of seniors, substance abuse, child abuse, people not seeking needed heart care, and anxiety and depression during the pandemic
    • Documented for its resource guide in Spanish, English and Simplified Chinese on where undocumented immigrants could get funds and food, and answered questions on labor rights and tenant rights; its reporting on the virus’ disproportionate impact on immigrant communities and ICE’s continuation of deporting children during the pandemic.
  • Small

    • Crosstown for its interactive COVID-19 map that showed the impact on different communities in Los Angeles, and its dynamic social content that helped alert people to the growing domestic violence crisis
    • Detour Detroit for its coverage that sought to directly answer reader questions about the pandemic and engage readers through virtual events and social media
    • San Jose Spotlight for its coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Silicon Valley’s massive homeless encampments and disadvantaged East San Jose students 
  • Medium

    • The Nevada Independent for its COVID-19 data page, weekly “Coronavirus Contextualized” series and accompanying enterprise reporting
    • Public Source for its expanded coverage of COVID-19, including breaking news, a podcast, video production from quarantine and over 30 first-person essays
  • Large

    • Cascade Public Media/Crosscut for its more than 250 original news stories, videos, podcast episodes and commentaries on the coronavirus pandemic, and its commitment to highlight the inequitable impacts of COVID-19
    • Chalkbeat for its coverage of COVID-19’s impact on schools and educators, which amplified the enormous educational inequities students of color in underserved communities face in non-COVID times
    • VT Digger for its daily and investigative reporting on COVID-19, and new critical projects including a 24/7 liveblog, a daily COVID-19 newsletter (with 8,000+ subscribers), coronavirus tip drop email address, an essential services business directory, a searchable FAQ knowledge base for readers and a Vermont Remembrances series about people who have died of the virus


  • Chalkbeat for its work with The Chicago Tribune on the impact of COVID-19 on schools, and its work with THE CITY reporting on flaws in the New York City Public School’s special education program
  • Manchester Ink Link for its work with the Granite State News Collaborative — sharing daily content and pooling freelancers, and greatly expanding statewide COVID-19 coverage
  • VT Digger for its work with Vermont Public Radio to tell the backstory about how local white supremacists and their sympathizers drove Vermont’s only Black woman lawmaker out of office, and how state and local investigators failed to fully probe the case

This award is sponsored by Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and includes a cash award for the winner.




  • California Health Report for its coverage of increased domestic violence during the pandemic, including how “housing first” programs in California offer survivors housing as a first step in the next chapter of their lives
  • Chalkbeat for its coverage of the challenges that hold low-income students back and the innovations that are underway to propel them forward
  • Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service for its reporting on state preparations for closing two youth prisons, an examination of what juvenile justice looks like in New York, and its implications for Milwaukee
  • Richland Source for its listening tour in each of Mansfield’s six wards as part of its pre-election coverage


  • Cascade Public Media/CrossCut for its coverage of diverse communities throughout western Washington — immigrants, farmworkers, grocery shoppers in rural and urban areas alike — in its reporting on food deserts
  • California Health Report for its coverage of Californians who are low-income, live in rural parts of the state and are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented; children who are medically fragile; and foster youth in California, who are disproportionately Black and Native American.
  • Detour Detroit for its Emerging Voices fellowship, which recruited citizens of color with an interest in journalism or writing but limited to no professional experience from underrepresented Detroit neighborhoods
  • Documented for its coverage of New York’s immigrants and the policies that affect their lives; particularly coverage of news stories in Spanish through a WhatsApp news service


  • Small 

    • Montana Free Press: An independent, nonprofit source for in-depth Montana news, information and analysis
    • San Jose Spotlight: The city’s first nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting
    • A nonprofit local independent online news organization that covers Southern Arizona
  • Large

    • Cityside: nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization committed to building community through local journalism at Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside
    • Public Source: A nonprofit digital-first news organization that delivers public-service reporting and analysis in the Pittsburgh region
    • Richland Source: An online community news organization serving North Central Ohio


  • Solo

    • The Austin Bulldog for its investigation of the Travis Central Appraisal District that exposed faulty management decisions that resulted in more than three times the number of formal Appraisal Review Board hearings, skyrocketing costs, doubled complaints, and more litigation over unresolved value disputes
    • California Health Report for its investigation into how much federal money for mental health care California counties left on the table
    • The Charlotte Ledger for its investigation of the complicated and troubling history of a man who was once one of Charlotte’s most influential economic development officials, who in recent years had a string of court cases involving stalking and harassment
    • The Lincoln Squirrel for its investigation revealing that a major town department had almost no oversight by officials for years
  • Small

    • Bethesda Beat for its investigation into AirBnB rental violations under a newly passed law that left the county no options for enforcement
    • The Colorado Independent for its investigation into a police killing of a man and the community’s lack of discussion around mental health issues
    • The Highlands Current for its investigation of how legislators had attempted to quietly enact a statute that would allow any county employee or contractor to write “Confidential” on a document to keep it secret from the public, press and even other elected officials
    • for its coverage of a Latino man’s death while in Tucson police custody, which prompted the adoption of new internal review, transparency and notification policies by the Tucson Police Department and City Council
  • Large

    • Chalkbeat for its investigation that revealed Indiana’s most struggling high schools had marked down 3,700 students as leaving to home-school – but in actuality they were dropping out
    • VT Digger for its investigation surrounding the Kiah Morris case, in which a white supremacist harassed Vermont’s only Black lawmaker until she resigned, only to avoid criminal charges


  • Bethesda Beat for its reporting on the first COVID-19 cases in Maryland
  • This is Reno for its reporting that rioting was not a part of a Black Lives Matter demonstration earlier in the day, and how one of its  journalists was assaulted
  • for breaking the news of a Latino man’s death while in Tucson police custody
  • Wausau Pilot & Review for its reporting on a man who rigged his apartment with explosives, then shot three victims at the cemetery where he once was employed


  • Small

    • The Batavian for its coverage of the first-ever civil rights protest in its community
    • The Beacon for its coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in Kansas City
    • Oil City News for its coverage of the bittersweet closure of a beloved local business after 103 years; the joy of a graduation ceremony in the middle of a pandemic; and the pride of a community coming together to march peacefully for justice
    • SweetwaterNOW for its coverage of the local American Legion baseball team as it navigated the early stages of spring training and the opening of the season
  • Medium

    • The Nevada Independent for its COVID-19 data visualizations
    • Public Source for “Good River: Stories of the Ohio” — a collaborative, visual reporting project about the waters and ecosystem that helped to build and sustain the region
  • Large

    • VT Digger for its coverage examining why deaths at the hands of police are rising in Vermont and what can be done to prevent police shootings
    • Cascade Public Media/Crosscut for its coverage of life during the pandemic




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