2006 NAAJ Writing Contest Winners

2006 NAAJ Writing Contest Winners

(Presented April 16, 2007, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.)

Glenn Cunningham Ag Journalist of the Year – Paula Lavigne, Dallas Morning News for “Is organic food the real deal?”

Judge: Deanna Sands, retired managing editor of the Omaha World-Herald and a former president of Associated Press Managing Editors.

1. Paula Lavigne, Dallas Morning News, for “Is organic food the real deal?”
Judge’s Comment: ”Good enterprise effort. Writer spotted a trend and started asking questions about whether readers were getting what they thought they were getting. Turns out that they might not be. Complex topic treated with the layman in mind. Clear, concise language. Good context. The original idea and reporting effort made the difference.”

2. Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Prairie problem runs deep”
Judge’s Comment: “Reporter went beyond the usual doom-and-gloom reporting of the drought to find out that not everyone is having a bad year. That was an important context for farm and non-farm readers. Reporter gave a balanced picture. Well written.”

3. Libby Quaid, Associated Press, for “Cloned cows”
Judge’s Comment: “Interesting, timely topic told from a different perspective — the farmer’s. Good backgrounding and context. Well-written. Reporter made the science and economics of cloning INTERESTING!”

Honorable Mention
Judge’s Comment: “This is an unusually strong class of honorable mentions. All are well-written and reported and serve the interest of readers.”

Adrian Ewins, Western Producer, for “Ontario let farmers decide. Will Ottawa?”
Mitch Lies, Capital Press, for “Drawing the line against sprawl”
Nancy Cole, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, for “Hands ready as farm hits fruitful time”
Jane Schmucher, The Blade, for “Exchange offers cash to farmers who help rein in greenhouse gases”
Kristy Hebert, Farm and Dairy, for “Raw milk fires up industry”

Judge: Sherry Skufca, managing editor of The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.

1. Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Meat company plans $400 million expansion.”
Judge’s comment: “Good detail (e.g., lean burgers served at the press conference; 80% of all hamburgers in the United States contain BPI products), thorough reporting and clean, clear writing would be impressive even without deadline pressure. The initiative shown by the “snoopy” reporter to scoop this press conference was valuable because he/she used that time to track down a wireless site in a nearby motel lobby for some serious Internet research on the company involved. Nothing in this story, or the accompanying breakout boxes — one providing an at-a-glance look at the company and the other showing how this expansion ranked among the largest ever in Nebraska — suggests the reporter had less than 35 minutes to file and was working from a laptop on a folding chair. Great use of available resources.”

2. Christopher Doering, Reuters, for “US to scale back mad cow surveillance program.”
Judge’s comment: “Ahh, the value of sources. In this case, they allowed this reporter to break a story the USDA undoubtedly wanted to “manage” with its own timed release. The reporter provided important background information about the testing program, managed to get on-the-record USDA comments defending its as-of-yet unannounced decision and balanced that with reaction from consumer and business groups effected. “USDA’s press secretary said later the story was accurate and thorough. He also was annoyed I had broken the news before the secretary could make an announcement.” Annoy away. This was a great reader service.”

3. Jerry Perkins and Phil Brasher, Des Moines Register, for “Iowa scores an ethanol coup.”
Judge’s comment: “Explaining the conversion of cellulosic biomass to ethanol for readers who aren’t chemistry majors is no small task. This story, rooted in a press conference at the governor’s office, does that job very well. It is clear. It explains why readers would care. And two key breakouts explain the benefits/obtacles/impact of the plan, as well as the three-step process for creating this form of ethanol, without making the story difficult to digest.”

Honorable mention
Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Planting the seeds of ag tourism.”
Judge’s comment: ”Well-crafted story about a trendy topic in agriculture — tourism on the farm. Good detail (missing only a cost range). Good word choice (e.g., “Second on the city slickers’ lists is witnessing the birth of a calf.”), and not overwritten for the topic.” Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, for “Australians will buy Iowa plant for ethanol.”
Judge’s comment: ”Clear, concise report on the sale of majority interest in an Iowa ethanol plant. Includes an understandable explanation of the market dynamics at work with these plants, including the controversy brewing over foreign investment. Good use of a breakout box to provide important information without slowing down the story.”

Judge: Jim Nelson, deputy business editor of the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee.

1. Jonathan Knutson, The Forum (Fargo, N.D.), for “From Field to Table.”
Judge’s comment: “A well written, well presented account of a clever idea by the North Dakota Farmers Union. This story blended many elements – feature writing, ag economics, politics and food. It also served as a travel feature. All of this combined with excellent photography made for a fine entry.”

2. Chris Clayton, DTN, for “Iowa Food/Fuel Debate.”
Judge’s comment: “A solid discussion of the rising concerns in this key agriculture state that the increased demand for corn could have major consequences. Good, clear writing, use of statistics.”

3. Libby Quaid, Associated Press, for “Organic appetite.”
Judge’s comment: “Interesting story that showed the challenges facing manufacturers of increasingly popular, well-known food products. Going organic is harder than it appears.”

Honorable Mentions:
Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Slippery slope.”
Comment: ”Clever idea, well presented.”
Bill Hord, Omaha World-Herald, for “Come wiz me.”
Comment: ”A very fun, short read. A talker.”
Hannah Fletcher, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Vintage Iowa.”
Comment: ”Good look at Iowa vineyards.”
Ed White, Western Producer, for “Hutterite isolation.”
Comment: ”Interesting, informative exploration of Hutterites.”
Andrea Myers, Farm and Dairy, for “Mud and guts.”
Comment: ”Hog wrestling champions return was a fun, breezy read.”
George DeVault, NewFarm.org, for “What am I bid?”
Comment: ”Good look at the workings of ag auctions.”
Jerry Perkins, Des Moines Register, for “Finding spirituality.”
Comment: ”Good topic, well presented.”

Judge: Bill Felber, executive editor of the Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury.

1. Marcia Taylor and Jeanne Bernick, of Top Producer, for “Titans of biofuels.”

2. Marcia Taylor, Jeanne Bernick and Linda Smith, of Top Producer, for “Freight gridlock.”

3. Ed White, Western Producer, for “Commodity exchanges.”

Honorable Mention:

Betsy Freese, Successful Farming, for “Show business.”
Jonathan Knutson, The Forum (Fargo, N.D.), for “Exceptionally dry.”
Tim Hoskins, Jeff DeYoung, Gene Lucht and Hannah Fletcher, Iowa Farmer Today, for “Farming the new frontier.”
Dan Looker, Successful Farming, for “Pumped up on ethanol.”

Judge: Jason Ellis, an agricultural journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

1. Kieran Gartlan and Aine Gianoli, DTN, for “Brazil’s Growth Potential.”

2. Ed White, Western Producer, for “Silence breeds suspicion, no matter the motive”

3. Urban Lehner, DTN, for “The customer is always right.”

Honorable Mention:
Betsy Freese, Successful Farming, for “Trials of a 4-H mom”
Darin Newsom, DTN, “The selloff in Kansas City wheat”
Susan Crowell, Farm and Dairy, for “False comfort: Raw milk is safe”
Urban Lehner, DTN, for “Hu cares.”

Judge: John Ullmann, recently retired executive director of The World Press Institute and a former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

1. Capital Press (Salem, Ore.) staff (Mitch Lies, Bob Krauter, Tam Moore, Patricia McCoy, Scott A. Yates, Elaine Shein and Cookson Beecher) for “Climate change.” Comments: A fascinating story told well and featuring excellent reporting.

2. Chris Clayton, DTN, for “The science of BSE.”
Comments: An important in-depth update on a topic that gripped many readers.

3. Dow Jones Newswires staff

(Gary Wulf, Central City, Neb.; Ray Brindal, Canberra, Australia; Sameer Mohindru, New Delhi; Tom Sellen, Overland Park, Kan.; Debbie Carlson, Chicago, Ill.; Holly Henschen, Chicago, Ill.;Grace Fan, Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Terry Wooten, Jersey City, N.J.) for “Ogallala Aquifer Decline.” Comments: Good update with excellent context.

Honorable Mention:
Ed White, Western Producer, for “The end of Crow; 11 years later”
Comments: Measures in a useful way for readers how a government decision has impacted readers in actuality years later.

Elaine Shein, Capital Press, for “Ready to rodeo” Comments: Good series of stories about rodeo and local efforts of farmers to pull it off.

Judge: Jason Ellis of the University of Nebraska Agricultural Communications Department.

Patrick Cain for “Ohio farmers could rotate political field” in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Comments: “Nicely written feature. Drawing lead that gently introduces a potentially controversial topic. The volume of sources is seemingly necessary for the story but becomes confusing by the last column. Well-balanced in presenting views of both parties.”

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