Winners of the L.A. Times' 2011 Editorial Awards
The Times' Editorial Awards for 2011, handed out in a ceremony Thursday night, honored what Editor Davan Maharaj called "the staples of our craft -- long-form feature writing, watchdog journalism and great photography ... also the creative and innovative digital journalism that is an increasing and vital part of what we do."
Beat Reporting (two winners): Robert Faturechi, for his coverage of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. With 32 front-page stories, Faturechi exposed serious mismanagement in one of the nation's largest law enforcement agencies. He took readers from Beverly Hills, where the sheriff's wealthy friends got special investigations, to the grim warrens of the downtown Men's Central Jail, where deputies meted out "jail justice" with impunity. Because of Faturechi's reporting, the county assembled a commission to institute reforms, the Sheriff's Department created a task force to address systemic failings, and hundreds of surveillance cameras are being installed inside the jail.
Bill Shaikin, for his coverage of the Dodgers. Shaikin wrote 140 stories for The Times during 2011 on the Dodgers-McCourt-MLB saga, 11 of them on the front page. He also used Twitter during court proceedings to report developments in real time, putting readers in the courtroom. Among the dozens of stories he broke, Shaikin was first with the fact that Frank McCourt had taken out a $30-million personal loan from Fox to meet the team's payroll; first to report that MLB was going to seize control of the team; and first to report that the Dodgers were filing for bankruptcy protection.
Breaking news: Times staff, for the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Times covered the end of the 30-year Mubarak regime with a massive show of force. The coverage for the Feb. 12 print edition encompassed nine stories, including three on the front page, from 18 reporters and images from three photographers. The stories touched not only on the celebration in Tahrir Square, but also the mood in Cairo apartments, White House meeting rooms and the capitals of countries whose future also depended on those fateful events.
Opinion: Steve Lopez, who turned his father's declining health into a wider discussion about our culture's reluctance to confront death. His writing was plain-spoken in a way that felt like a conversation across the kitchen table. The columns elicited an outpouring of reader response, which he listened to and shared.
Investigations: Ken Bensinger, for his "Wheels of Fortune" series. The stories take the reader through the upside-down world of Buy Here, Pay Here car dealers who sell automobiles at sky-high interest rates to those with bad credit -- a business where even if the customers can't make their payments, the dealer still profits by repossessing the car and selling it again.
Explanatory journalism: Alan Zarembo, for "Discovering Autism." Zarembo's four-part series on autism cast a new light on the autism "epidemic," questioning basic assumptions about how the disorder is defined and perceived –- questioning, in fact, whether autism is an epidemic at all. Though controversial, judges found the series also compassionate, filled with the voices of families affected by the disorder as well as leading scientists, doctors and educators.
News photography: Michael Robinson Chavez, Carolyn Cole, Rick Loomis and Luis Sinco, for their images of the Arab Spring. These photos crackle with danger -- for the legions of protesters who took to the streets to demonstrate against totalitarian regimes, of course; but also for the photojournalists who risked their lives to capture one of the greatest stories of change in the 21st century. The images are dynamic and fluid: a little girl wearing a red hijab, her tiny fingers raised in a victory sign; the awkwardly menacing gallop of a camel as an angry pro-government supporter bears down on protesters; the exultant screams of a young demonstrator lifted above a crowd in his wheelchair.
Feature photography: Brian van der Brug, for his images of prison hospice workers and the dying inmates they tend to. Most potently, Van der Brug captures the physical deterioration of Freddy Garcia, a cancer-stricken inmate. He captures the bittersweet moment when a healthy looking Garcia marries his longtime girlfriend; and he captures Garcia when, reduced to a skinny shell with glazed eyes, he begins his rapid decline to death. Finally, Van der Brug captures the young inmate’s final moments, the gentle caress of his brother and then his repose in a casket.
Blog: Nation Now, which kicked off in August and has turned into a unifying force for the national staff. When big news breaks -- such as a hurricane, tornado or plane crash -- Nation Now is the vehicle for continuous coverage. With the disciplined and competitive leadership of assistant national editor Tami Dennis, and dedication of reporters Rene Lynch and Michael Muskal, the blog is owned by the national staff, whose correspondents and editors are all participants.
Blogging by an individual: Deborah Netburn, on Tech Now. Tech Now's subtitle is "the business and culture of our digital lives," and no one has taken that second part of the mission more to heart than Netburn. Her selection of subjects have been whimsical and her prose lyrical, and the payback has been huge. Her blog posts are often the most viewed. One -- on the Canadian plastic dollar -- had 600,000 views alone. Even her product reviews often have a surprising twist: "Five Ways to Waterproof Your iPhone" included the $99.99 Magellan ToughCase, the $69 Krussell SEaLABox and the 5-cent Ziploc bag. "You can’t beat the price, and you probably have this on hand," she wrote.
Multimedia/video: "Living with Autism": Francine Orr, Albert Lee, Myung J. Chun, Mary Vignoles, Armand Emamdjomeh and Stephanie Ferrell. This interactive presentation of nine audio slide-show vignettes illustrates the varied faces and stories of the disorder in an artful, intimate manner that both touches and teaches.
Copy editing: Judy Cramer, Calendar copy desk chief. For her work on the daily Calendar section, Cramer needs to be aware of a broad spectrum of arts and entertainment, from classical symphonies to hip-hop concerts, modern art to reality TV (and, yes, that includes knowing which Kardashian is which). The editor of the section says, "Quite simply, many of us don't know how we would function without her."
Headline writing: Mike Davis, Sports copy editor. Under the Sports section's intense deadline pressure, Davis churns out headline gem after headline gem. On a Dodgers story: "Pure Gold for the Frank-Incensed." And for a story about how crowd noise can affect a game's outcome: "Din of Inequity." To continue with the sports puns, Davis routinely hits them out of the park.
Print presentation: Features design staff for 2011 Oscars section. Faced with the challenge of another installment of the annual awards show, the features design staff went beyond the fancy frocks and preening stars to present an Oscars section that was different, fresh and even innovative.
Digital presentation: Data Desk, for its databank publishing tools: spreadsheets.latimes.com, timelines.latimes.com, documents.latimes.com, graphics.latimes.com. Creation of these online publishing tools has allowed the newsroom to quickly publish databases, time lines, graphics and documents to support breaking news and investigations. Our journalist programmers also are contributing to the online community, providing open-source code that is helping journalists at a dozen other news organizations.
Graphics: Tom Reinken and Raoul Ranoa, for their depictions of how Mexico's violent drug cartels smuggle narcotics across the border and throughout the U.S. The cartels' methods are by their very nature secretive and complicated; how do you draw the inside of a drug stash house without having seen one? Reinken and Ranoa worked for more than a year on the project, persuading sometimes reluctant federal agents to give them vital details and visiting the border multiple times to accurately capture what was happening. The pair visually told how teams of lookouts, drug mules and others trick federal agents at the border; the painstaking way smugglers add layers of material to cocoon bricks of cocaine from drug-sniffing dogs; and the way drug profits are stuffed into vehicle compartments hidden until accessed by use of a simple jumper cable.
Assignment editing (two winners): Elena Howe, editor of The Envelope. The awards section, under Howe's leadership, has become the showcase for The Times' awards coverage, with a lively, creative blend of features, awards forecasts, graphics and stellar photography.
Matt Lait, criminal justice editor. Lait has brought a watchdog journalism sensibility that has made The Times the agenda-setter in local law enforcement. He has been the newsroom's great advocate for challenging secret meetings, closed courtrooms, "confidential" records and basic information about the conduct of law enforcement officials.
Scoop of the year: Schwarzenegger paternity: Mark Z. Barabak. This scoop spun out of one tip, but it built on 30 years of dogged beat reporting and day-in-and-day-out integrity. This much came to be known one day: A man of outsized personality also had outsized appetites. While married, Arnold Schwarzenegger had had an affair. The result was a child. Barabak wrote two exclusives -- one, the fact of a marital separation; the second, the reason why. That stunner was among the Top 5 stories on latimes.com in 2011.
Editor's Prize: Coliseum: Rong-Gong Lin II, Paul Pringle and Andrew Blankstein. This story started small, with a vague tip about questionable business dealings. And then it grew huge. The reporters asked questions, and more questions. They looked for clues in thousands of documents. They wooed sources who risked their careers to talk to them. A spectacular run of stories told how a handful of greedy insiders looted one of L.A.'s most treasured public landmarks. As a result, six people were indicted; one pleaded guilty; and one is on the lam.
President's Prize: Inside the Cartel: Richard Marosi. Marosi has covered Mexico's drug war for years, writing vivid accounts of gun battles and kidnapping sprees. In this series, he wanted to go deeper and explain how the Mexican cartels distribute and sell their product inside the United States. What could easily have been a dry recitation of names and places became, instead, a richly textured, often humorous portrait of everyday life inside the cartel.
Publisher's Prize: Community colleges: Gale Holland, Michael Finnegan, Doug Smith, Ben Welsh, Sandra Poindexter and Paul Pringle. In the six-part "Billions to Spend" series, Holland, Finnegan, et al. exposed egregious waste and mismanagement in the Los Angeles Community College District's multibillion-dollar construction program. In devastating detail, they showed what happens when public officials fall asleep at the switch. Three days after the series was published, the college trustees fired the man in charge of the construction program. Soon after, the D.A. began the first of three criminal investigations prompted by the stories. This is public service journalism at its finest.
Photos, from top:
"Mubarak": Crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square react to the announcement that President Hosni Mubarak will step down. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times
"Buy Here, Pay Here": Camacho Auto Sales' mascot, a lion known as "The King of Credit," waves at traffic in Lancaster. Credit: Christina House / For The Times
"Prison hospice": Jonathan Garcia comforts his brother Freddy Garcia shortly before Freddy's death. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
"Living with Autism": The faces of some of those coping with the disorder. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
"Documents": Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate, on documents.latimes.com.
"Coliseum": Exterior of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times