Meet the first LION Publishers Awards finalists

We’re excited to announce the finalists for our first LION Publishers Awards. These awards recognize excellence in journalism, business and

September 19, 2019 by Mark Glaser

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We’re excited to announce the finalists for our first LION Publishers 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 over the past month.

The winners will be announced at our LION Summit Awards Show in Nashville on Friday, Oct. 25. Register for the Summit and get your Awards Show dinner ticket here!

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.

Congratulations to publishers who scored finalist nods in the most categories: Richland Source (five), Tucson Sentinel (three), TAPinto Westfield (three), The Batavian (three), and Noozhawk (three).

Without further ado, here are the finalists for the first LION Publishers Awards:

LION Publisher of the Year



Racine County Eye

Tucson Sentinel


Home Page Media Group

TAPinto Westfield



Richland Source

Wausau Pilot and Review

Business Idea of the Year, presented by the Donald W. Reynold Journalism Institute

The Batavian: Video sponsorship
“The Batavian introduced the Video Sponsor position on its custom-built video player (embeds either YouTube or Vimeo videos in a widget that includes ad code for video sponsors). Typically, news sites rely on overlay or pre-roll or mid-roll ads to monetize video. The unique video sponsor position ensures all readers are exposed to a sponsor message even if they don’t watch the video.”

Racine County Eye: Eye on Employment
“We partnered with Zip Recruiter to start a jobs board but embedded the job listings into our content, our targeted email newsletter around employment, and our employment podcast. What is really unique is the content, however, no one else is deep-diving into these topics like we are doing.”

SpokaneFāVS: FaVS Center
“This year, as a way to fund local journalism, we opened a community center – specifically, an interfaith community center. We cover religion and now our audience can rent our building for their own events, and we can use the building for our offline events as well. Having a brick and mortar building increases our chances for grants and also increases community engagement with our readers.”

Technology Innovation of the Year, presented by Facebook

CT News Junkie:
“The app, which Matt Zagaja built with Ruby on Rails and the OpenStates API, scrapes legislative data from the Connecticut General Assembly’s clunky website. Once it’s imported, the data is presented under a subdomain of our news website, displaying separate pages for every bill or resolution filed by the Connecticut General Assembly, under our brand.”

Richland Source: LedeAi
“Lede Ai utilizes artificial intelligence combined with information from a national database to provide coverage for high school sports. In the 2018-19 school year, Richland Source authored thousands of sports roundups to fit a variety of scenarios. Then we attached those roundups to an algorithm that corresponded with data provided by Scorestream, a crowd-sourced national database.”

Tucson Sentinel: Dated News
“The Sentinel adds more context to social shares, archives: To enhance context, especially in social shares of archive/longtail stories, added prominent date flags that appear as overlays in Facebook and Twitter image previews, as well as stand-out notes atop reports that are more than a year old.”

Investigative Report of the Year


Chester Telegraph: Open Meeting Law violations
“The vast number of news deserts in Vermont has allowed many governmental organizations to violate Open Meeting and Public Document laws, whether on purpose or inadvertently. For the past eight years we have taken on these issues in our communities as a matter of course. This particular series on the Open Meeting Law was just the latest, but most egregious violations we have found.”

The Highlands Current: The Extremist Next Door
“We had heard rumors that a prominent white supremacist lived openly in our area and, after looking into it, discovered he had grown up in one of the hamlets we cover. A number of readers had expressed concern to us privately. After Pittsburgh and Christchurch, we decided to profile him and his operation because we found he was saying many of the same things that the killers had said. The question we posed was, where does this kind of hate come from? And the answer was, it’s closer than you think.”

Nolensville Home Page: Challenges at Volunteer Fire Department
“The community was largely unaware of the challenges facing the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department until NHP reporter Rachael Long reached out to hear their frustrations. While reporting on scheduled Board of Mayor and Aldermen budget meetings, Long was struck by the dismissal of the budgetary request. Nolensville is one of the fastest growing communities in Tennessee with both commercial and residential building. With a volunteer fire department, the challenges with keeping up with the growth were numerous and largely unaddressed.”

Racine County Eye: Eye on Employment
“The community, which is about 77,000 people, was named the third worst place for black people to live in the United States. So we started working on reporting about the problem, the education, suspensions, mass incarceration, and even infant mortality. But we honed in on barriers to employment in an ongoing story series with the goal of helping people navigate the labor market.”


Santa Monica Daily Press: Vehicular Homelessness and a ‘Vanlord’
“Homelessness is a major problem in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, and there are lots people living in cars. Local authorities have been looking the other way for years despite the obvious health issues (no heat) and sanitary conditions (no bathroom) that are connected with living in vehicles. Through on the ground sources, we discovered a “Vanlord” that was renting out vans to homeless people and had a 14 vehicle fleet in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.”

TAPinto Westfield: Funding Cancer Care for Fallen Detective’s Widow
“When we were contacted by Tammy Lieberman about her predicament, writer/editor Matt Kadosh delved into the story. When officials didn’t provide much information, he looked at what surrounding towns did in similar situations. The story was picked up by national media, and ultimately the attention it received may have played a role in getting Lieberman, the widow of a Westfield police detective, insurance to help pay for her cancer care as well as ensure that others would not be put in the same situation.”


Noozhawk: Debris Flow Brought ‘Unfathomable Destruction’
“The one-two punch of the December 2017 Thomas Fire and Montecito’s deadly Jan. 9, 2018, flash flooding and debris flows left our Santa Barbara County community reeling. Although the twin disasters accounted for so much of our ongoing reporting, Noozhawk really stepped up its coverage in examining what happened and how we could prepare for something similar in the future.

VTDigger: The Flying Fraternity
“Following a six-month investigation, during which VTDigger interviewed 24 members of the Vermont Air Guard, we found overwhelming evidence that leaders of the organization have condoned a culture of alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct. In a seven-part series, we reported that officers harassed and assaulted female Guard members, jet pilots frequently abused alcohol and a chaplain coerced a woman into a years-long sexual relationship.”

Wausau Pilot and Review: Penta Wastewater Contamination
“This original series exposed an ongoing problem with soil, groundwater and wastewater toxicity concerns in a specific Wausau neighborhood – one that state and local officials have spent decades ignoring. The project involved hundreds of hours of research, along with coordination from a grassroots environmental group, to produce, and revealed a long history of manufacturing contamination in the neighborhood.”

Best Solutions Journalism Project of the Year, presented by Solutions Journalism Network

Charlottesville Tomorrow: The Reimagining of Friendship Court
“The Reimagining of Friendship Court is a close look at the largest new construction of low-income housing undertaken in Charlottesville in more than two decades. We talked to dozens of residents and officials as they formulated the plan. Discussions after its publication led to a change in its mixture to all affordable units, and we continued to follow the story and have a piece on a local radio station.”

City Limits: Age Justice
“As New York begins to grapple with the challenges that an increasing elderly population brings, City Limits is identifying and reporting on these issues through our Age Justice series. The series features investigations into the policies, programs, institutions and individuals that impact, or are impacted by, this demographic shift.”

Noozhawk: Reimagine Santa Barbara
“Downtown Santa Barbara is facing an array of significant challenges that are not unlike other communities: increasing commercial vacancies, rising homelessness and aggressive panhandling, landlord inertia, city regulations and planning timidity, economic pressures, and the list goes on. Noozhawk launched an ongoing “Reimagine: Santa Barbara” series to focus on downtown’s issues, and solutions suggested by insiders, businesses, other stakeholders and residents.”

Richland Source: Rising from Rust
“When Richland Source launched the ‘Rising from Rust’ solutions journalism project in Feb. 2018, our goal was to show the possibilities of progress to a traditional Rust Belt city that we observed to be stuck in its industrial roots. With that mission in mind, we followed a group of Mansfielders who traveled to the SXSW conference in Austin, in March 2018 with the intention to collect ideas for revitalization that could be applicable locally. A year later, the group released a plan for the revitalization of Mansfield called “Mansfield Rising” that Richland Source published point-by-point in a 31-part series called “The Ideas of March.”

Best Breaking News Coverage


Madison365: Madison Teacher on Leave After Alleged Beating of Girl Caught on Video
“A mother called saying that the previous week, her child, an 11-year-old Black girl, had been beaten at school by a white assistant principal. He had slammed her into lockers, thrown her to the ground and pulled three braids from her scalp. The mother had already spoken with the school district and police, and was very unsatisfied with their response. Police threatened to charge the child with disorderly conduct. She had spoken to two mainstream news stations; both declined to pursue the story until the school released the security video. We were able to verify the student’s account and identity of the assistant principal through traditional sourcing, and we broke it two days later. Other local and national outlets picked up our story immediately. In addition to being the first to break the story, we placed it within the context of a pattern of racist behavior by Madison school staff.”

ThisIsReno: Judge: Online News Doesn’t Qualify For Journalism Privilege Unless A Member of The Nevada Press Association
“Other media picked up this story, after it was first published on ThisisReno, and covered it widely, including the Nevada Independent, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Reno Gazette-Journal and others around the country. Ironically, it was online news that made the story go viral. In short, it’s topical, and if the judge’s ruling were to stand, it could spell the death of LION Publisher-type websites in Nevada in that they would have no official protections from allegations of libel.”

Tucson Sentinel: Sinema wins U.S. Senate seat; McSally concedes, trailing by 38k votes
“ was the first news organization to definitively declare the winner of the “razor-tight” and hard-fought U.S. Senate race in Arizona, nearly a week after Election Day. Our call of the race beat the AP by hours, and was published within moments of the decision-prompting election results being released — even with more than 170,000 ballots remaining to count, our analysis was correct.”


Chalkbeat Colorado: Strike over: Denver school district, teachers union sign tentative pact raising teacher pay
“For a week in February, the national news glare fell on Denver as teachers walked out on strike. This was a big moment for Chalkbeat. Our Denver schools reporter, Melanie Asmar, is typically the *only* member of the media at school board meetings. Melanie’s deep knowledge and sourcing resulted in the most comprehensive and authoritative coverage of the strike and the issues underpinning it, and Chalkbeat became a clearinghouse for readers seeking answers.”

CT News Junkie: As Measles Returns, Connecticut Offers Little Info About Immunization Rates
“As measles outbreaks were reported around the country this year, CTNewsJunkie Editor Christine Stuart was the only reporter asking Connecticut’s Department of Public Health (DPH) for school-level immunization data for Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR). She learned that state law doesn’t require the release of school-level data, but while the state’s overall MMR immunization rate was above the CDC-recommended standard of 95%, sources said the school-level data contained some surprisingly low figures, compromising public safety at specific schools.”

TAPinto Westfield: Armed Man Arrested Outside of a School in Westfield, Police Say
“Police were quiet the afternoon of the arrest–only telling the public that the school had been on lockdown — but we quickly learned from a witness that a man had been arrested in the elementary school parking lot. There were many rumors about why he was there with a gun that turned out to be loaded with hollow point bullets (and another 130 rounds in the trunk of his car), including one rumor that he was there to kill a woman who worked at the school, but we stuck with the facts we knew and pressured officials to tell the public more.”


The Batavian: Fully involved structure fire at Stumblin’ Inn, Elba
“As always, our breaking news coverage included up-to-the-minute updates and dozens of photos and a detailed story to follow. For our community, this was one of the two biggest breaking news stories of the contest period and The Batavian was the first and most thorough outlet with coverage. Our coverage included chronological, real-time updates, photos from the scene in real-time, and a live stream on Facebook (still our most viewed live stream ever). This was followed by an in-depth story and a complete photo package.”

Noozhawk: 20 Structures Burned, Evacuations Ordered as Wildfire Rips Through Goleta Foothills
“A massive wildfire erupted in high winds and extreme heat the night of July 6, 2018, and, within minutes, was raging out of control. Santa Barbara County’s official emergency notification system appeared to be inadequate to meet the need of residents and locals desperate for information, so Noozhawk’s coverage and continuous reporting was crucial for keeping the community informed in yet another life-and-death emergency.”

Richland Source: Signs of recovery in Shelby after devastating tornado
“Our lead reporter for the stories is a Shelby resident who was able to go above and beyond gathering information and producing stories within a few hours after the tornado hit, as well as days later after the national media lost attention, seeking the kind of personal anecdotes only a local reporter can find. Even when Shelby was without power shortly after the tornado hit, the Source team worked together to keep the Shelby community informed in the aftermath of one of the more devastating natural disasters in the city’s recent history.”

Best Coverage of Underserved Communities

BK Reader (formerly Brooklyn Reader)
“In 2018, we launched “Conversations in the Gallery,” a monthly series– one-hour live interviews of local contemporary artists and intellectuals whose work has made a huge impact in their communities, both locally and in some cases, nationally. “Conversations in the Gallery,” engaged these rising stars in a dialogue about their lives, their politics and their passion, in the heart of the neighborhood where many of them still reside today.”

Chalkbeat Chicago: How it feels to be Javion: 16 and struggling to read in Chicago Public Schools
“In the first year of Chalkbeat Chicago’s existence, Adeshina Emmanuel brought to life the challenges and opportunities black boys face in the classroom in a deeply segregated city. Adeshina gained incredible access to tell the story of a 16-year-old reading at a second-grade level — sadly, not an uncommon tale. It would be easy to focus solely on the hardest cases in a large urban school district, but Adeshina also found examples of things that work in his profile of a teacher using data to help black boys.”

Manchester Ink Link
“Stories generated by seven different team members help chronicle our city’s current struggle with an over-taxed homeless population drawn here, in part, due to our unique Safe Station approach to those suffering from addiction. The humanitarian debate over how we regard the homeless prompted us to go deeper and learn more about the homeless individuals in our city.”

Best Visual Journalism Project

The Batavian
“The video was built upon exclusive access to activities around David Bellavia receiving the Medal of Honor at the White House on June 25. Howard Owens was the only working media in the room for the opening reception, an insider tour of the Lincoln Memorial, and the reception in the White House following the ceremony. While the video also includes photos from the DoD of these events, photos by Howard Owens are worldwide exclusive coverage of these events.”

Oil City News
“As a digital-only news platform that relies on Facebook as our primary discovery platform, it’s critical to get our photos right. The articles below represent some of our best visual storytelling, which often occurs through the lens of our 20-year industry veteran, Dan Cepeda. Dan has a knack for capturing the intimate details that give our stories and our platform a very human quality. Even though we are a digital-only platform, it’s clear from these galleries that our newsroom is NOT overrun by robots.”

Richland Source
“As part of our Gray Matters project, we brought the issue of dementia and Alzheimer’s to the forefront in dramatic fashion. In Dealing with Alzheimer’s: a Liberty Nursing Home resident performs on the organ. Liberty Nursing Home has a Music Memory Program where Barbara Wilson gets to play the organ and piano. “I can always tell when she’s played,” said her daughter, Taryn Nall. “She is more focused and we have better conversations.” In Alzheimer’s a Richland County Story, The Reed Richmond family address what it’s like caring full time for their family matriarch, Elizabeth, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s.”

LION Service Award (for vendors only)

Automattic, parent of WordPress and Newspack


Web Publisher PRO


Congratulations to all the finalists! We’ll be awarding the winners in all categories at the LION Summit in Nashville on Friday, Oct. 25 at our Awards Show. Register for the Summit and get your Awards Show dinner ticket here.

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.

–Mark Glaser

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