Meet the 2021 LION Awards Finalists

We’re excited to announce the finalists for LION Publishers Local Journalism Awards.

November 10, 2021 by Cassandra Balfour

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We’re excited to announce the finalists for LION Publishers Local Journalism Awards! In the third year of the LION Awards, which celebrates the best of independent digital media, more than 30 judges evaluated over 240 entries.

Local publishers and news businesses will convene virtually on Nov. 16 at 6:00 p.m. EST as we announce the winners in the categories below, including six new or revamped categories: Community Engagement and Service, General Excellence: Revenue Growth, General Excellence: Operational Resilience, ​​Best (Local) Election/Voting Coverage, Best Coverage of Protest and Movements, and Best Coronavirus Coverage. LION staff will also honor a “Member of the Year,” who has gone above and beyond in supporting fellow members of the LION community.

Certain award categories were determined based on each organization’s full-time equivalent (FTE) staff as of July 2020: solopreneur (0-1 FTE), small publication (2-5 FTE), or medium/large publication (6+ FTE).

You can RSVP for #LIONAwards21 presented by the Google News Initiative here. Interested in learning more about the impactful work of LION members? Tune in to LION’s “One Big Idea” Lightning Talks pre-show event on Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m. EST to hear five-minute talks about the big idea that changed each presenter’s news business.

The finalists for the LION Publishers Local Journalism Awards are as follows:

  • Manchester Ink Link for working with a volunteer advisory board that allowed this solopreneur-run operation to benefit from a collaborative approach to problem solving and idea implementation.
  • The Objective for giving its team a three-month publishing break before relaunching in order to take time to rest and focus on developing its business operations.
  • Santa Cruz Local for implementing a strategy based on “how and why” statements that became the team’s north star, allowing them to shore up its operational resilience, align the team, reduce burnout and clarify its focus.
  • Block Club Chicago for capitalizing on local stories to effectively launch merchandise campaigns to raise revenue. 
  • Madison365 for successfully monetizing two podcasts and a daily online video show that began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Wausau Pilot & Review for implementing a “Business of the Week” feature — a Q&A post with a local business owner that earned more than $50,000 in annual revenue.
  • Asheville Watchdog for its profiles of more than 300 residents who died of COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic.
  • Dallas Free Press for its data-driven coverage of the impact of COVID-19 on local families, and its strong community engagement approach through weekly SMS messaging.
  • Grice Connect for filling a gap in local coverage and fostering collaborations with front-line workers to provide accurate, timely COVID-19-related information to their community.
  • Enlace Latino NC for its array of COVID-19 coverage serving its Latinx community, including a dedicated section on its website, two podcasts covering the local effects of the pandemic, and incorporating original reporting into its WhatsApp channel and email newsletter.
  • The Land and the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, for coverage exploring how pandemic rental aid was not reaching the intended recipients, and how a grassroots mutual aid program stepped in to help fill the gaps.
  • Local News Matters (Bay City News Foundation) for its free COVID-19 Information Hub that includes stories, data, easy-to-find resources and more.
  • Chalkbeat for its Pandemic 360 project, a package of enterprise reporting and narrative writing about Brooklyn’s P.S. 89 and Newark’s Roseville Community Charter School, which was published in both English and Spanish.
  • The Oaklandside for its on-the-ground work to reach its audience with its exhaustive COVID-19 vaccination guide — an easy-to-navigate online document that is continually updated and provides answers to critical questions about the vaccine.
  • Richland Source for its solutions-focused and community-informed coverage of COVID-19, including a video series called, “Coronavirus Conversations.”
  • Block Club Chicago for its free, bilingual COVID-19 hotline that connects people to testing, vaccines, rent relief and other critical information and resources.
  • Flint Beat for its three-part series exploring the potential impact of Flint’s policing plan to combat gun violence.
  • The Omaha Reader for its project, “The Fight to Change Social Social Studies in Nebraska” which demonstrated how people saw inequities in the state’s education standards and materials, and why they needed to change.
  • Wausau Pilot & Review and Madison365 for their collaborative project exploring how the criminal justice system solved issues that emerged in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CatchLight and The San Francisco Public Press for their project, “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis,” a year-long visual journalism project looking at the culture of vehicular living and exploring how regulations such as overnight parking bans are affecting vehicle dwellers.
  • Block Club Chicago for its “A Year of Loss” project, which marked one year since COVID-19 had come to Chicago and included nearly 30 stories, videos, photos, interactive graphics and a specialty newsletter. 
  • Borderless Magazine for its project, “Reclaiming the Sacrifice Zone,” a print and online bilingual comic book documenting the battle of a group of young Latinx organizers against one of Chicago’s most notorious air polluters.
  • Berkeleyside for its coverage of a fire that broke out in Berkeley’s downtown, including repeatedly returning to the scene again to let readers know about the status of the street closures and the fire department’s concerted efforts to extinguish the conflagration.
  • Block Club Chicago for its coverage of the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by police, including stories that provided context on the officer who killed Toledo, resident reactions and policy changes that were announced by officials in response to the killing.
  • The Haitian Times for its coverage of the assassination of the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, and the community’s reaction to the assasination, including repurposing its monthly community conversation into a “health check-in” in recognition of the the mental health toll that the crisis was taking on the Haitian community.
  • San José Spotlight for its coverage of a mass shooting committed by a VTA transit employee, including 14 hours of non-stop reporting from the field, an in-depth story about each of the nine victims, and investigations into the agency’s systemic failures.
  • El Tímpano for its community-driven reporting, including using SMS technology to power investigations through community engagement and following community-centered approaches to combating misinformation inspired by the “promotoras” model of public health outreach, which is popular in Latin America and Latino communities in the U.S. 
  • The Kansas City Beacon for its civic engagement approach to election coverage, which included print and digital multilingual nonpartisan voter safety guides and partnering with community organizations to deliver them to targeted zip codes.
  • Sahan Journal for its audience-informed work, including collaborating with non-English language community media outlets like Somali TV Minnesota and 3HmongTV to reach immigrant and refugee communities in their native languages.
  • Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service for the collaborative project, News414, which has delivered critical information about issues like rental assistance, COVID-19 and domestic violence to more than 2,400 people via text message.
  • Decaturish for uncovering government corruption enabled by a school board, which resulted in the board hiring a private investigator and parting ways with a superintendent.
  • Open Vallejo for its reporting on a secretive and corrupt clique of Vallejo police officers called, “Badge of Honor,” and for its investigation into a public official with a long history of domestic violence. 
  • Asheville Watchdog for its three-part series about the lack of transparency of a nonprofit hospital’s surprise sale to the giant for-profit Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), and whether the community received fair value for the hospital system it had supported for 133 years.
  • This Is Reno for its reporting on the City of Reno’s misuse of COVID-19 federal relief funds to provide therapy to residents, which included reactions from residents and the mental health community.
  • Enlace Latino NC for its bilingual investigative series, “Ignored and Forgotten,” which examined how rural Latinx community members in North Carolina experience natural disasters and the gaps in the state’s emergency response system.
  • Madison365 for its investigation uncovering physical abuse by Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies of an incarcerated man, Jimmie Joshua.
  • Mississippi Free Press for its impactful investigative series examining racism at the University of Mississippi.
  • inewsource for exposing the consequences that incarcerated people suffered after the state failed to provide adequate medical care, and for uncovering disturbing conditions at San Diego County quarantine hotels.
  • Long Beach Post for its data-driven investigation into the Long Beach Police Department’s racial profiling and the city’s stymied Citizen Police Complaint Commission.
  • VTDigger for its investigation into a right-wing militia group that threatened neighbors and operated in violation of state and federal law with impunity.
  • Dallas Free Press produces nonprofit journalism that amplifies voices in disinvested Dallas neighborhoods and explores solutions to the city’s systemic inequities.
  • Open Vallejo is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom serving the public interest.
  • Sioux Falls Simplified cuts through the clutter and delivers the bullet-pointed, bite-sized version of the local news local residents need to stay informed. 
  • Block Club Chicago for its reporting on Ida Nelson, a mother fighting to change the rules at her 4-year-old son’s school after it forced her to remove his braids. Ida and her son are Black. The story inspried a state senator to write a bill that would ban anti-Black hair discrimination across the entire state.
  • Chalkbeat for its comprehensive coverage on how reopened schools could maintain the airflow needed to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, including creating a searchable database of inspection reports and creating a text-based tool allowing readers to easily look up their school’s information. 
  • Long Beach Post for its multifaceted and data-driven investigation into the conduct of the city’s police force toward those it is sworn to protect, including documenting systematic racial profiling by the city’s police force.
  • El Tímpano ​​works in collaboration with Oakland residents and community partners to create empowering, two-way channels of information.
  • Gettysburg Connection is an online website serving Gettysburg and Adams County residents in Pennsylvania.
  • San José Spotlight is the city’s first nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting. 
  • Voice of OC is a local nonprofit, non-partisan newsroom located in Orange County, California. 
  • Wausau Pilot & Review is an independent, nonprofit newsroom devoted to educating the public about crucial issues in central Wisconsin, with a special focus on public policy and quality-of-life issues.
  • Block Club Chicago is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to delivering reliable, nonpartisan and essential coverage of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods.
  • The Omaha Reader is Nebraska’s only nationally-recognized alternative news monthly.
  • Berkeleyside for its Election 2020 hub featuring coverage of each race and ballot measure, results and more. It published more than 60 stories digging into each race and compiled 30 candidate Q&As so readers knew their options.
  • Enlace Latino NC for its extensive election coverage serving its Spanish-speaking audience including a “2020 Elections” website section, an election guide, podcast episodes dedicated to electoral coverage and a voter information campaign called #TuVotoEsPoder. 
  • NOWCastSA for its 2021 City of San Antonio Elections coverage including a page that made it possible for voters to easily find answers to complex issues using its ​​“Quick Clips,” which let viewers scroll to the issues most important to them and hear each candidates’ views on the issue in a video.
  • VTDigger for its comprehensive and audience-informed Election Guide, a 24/7 liveblog with election updates, live debates between major party candidates and over 200 election stories.
  • Block Club Chicago for its sensitive coverage of the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and the subsequent community protests.
  • The Kansas City Beacon for shining a spotlight on the affordable housing crisis and coverage of the unhoused union’s work in the community.  
  • Wisconsin Watch for its protestor-focused coverage of the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

We’d like to give a special thanks to the 2021 judges: Larry Ryckman, Tom Davidson, Sherry Skalko, Zach Baddorf, Lizzy Hazeltine, Conor Crowley, Annelise McGough, Kim Fox, Gonzalo Peon, Erica Beshears Perel, Julia Campbell , Kanya S. Stewart, Kat Duncan, Jeff South, Dana Coester, Virginia Arrigucci, Mark Potts, Anita Varma, Sisi Wei, Fiona Morgan, Tyler Fisher, Shannan Bowen, Annemarie Dooling, Jo Ellen Kaiser, Dylan Smith, Letrell Crittenden, Emily Hilberer, Linda Shaw, Jan Schaffer, Bridget Thoreson, Becca Aaronson, Gunita Singh and Stacey Peters.

We’re grateful to our sponsors who continue to make the 2021 LION Awards and other events possible. Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor, Google News Initiative; our Multiple Awards Sponsor, Broadstreet; and our Single Awards Sponsors, Knight Foundation, American Press Institute, and Solutions Journalism Network. 

Congratulations to all #LIONAwards21 finalists!

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