2016 Writing Contest Winners
The awards for 2016 articles will be presented April 24, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Judged by Patricia Klintberg, a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.
- Jeff McGaw, Reading Eagle, “Rabbits rule” — Judge: The lead is so good. The story spiced with humor — leaving the reader to seriously think about this old/new protein! The writing does not waste a word.
- P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers'” — Judge: This story breaks the news that the agriculture sector is in trouble as it enters a bust cycle. The research is thorough and quotes show the reporter’s inquiries acted as a wake-up call to many who did not see the big picture.
- Virginia Harris, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “100 Percent” — Judge: This is a wonderful story about the pluck of a cotton farming family to create a home-grown product: from dirt to shirt. Innovation has always been the sign of successful farmers.
Honorable Mention (eight stories listed in no particular order)
- Jim Massey, The Country Today, “Tax assessment lower due to proximity to hog farm” — Judge: Here’s a story about a landowner who won his fight to lower his tax assessment arguing that his property values were negatively affected by a hog farm nearby. That’s even though the hog farm had passed a regulatory odor test. Will the rest of the country follow his lead?
- Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Revenge of the Rural Voter” — Judge: Written five days after the election, the story picks apart the failings of the Clinton campaign for the Presidency in rural areas.
- Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg, “Peas on the Prairie” — Judge: How some farmers adapt to stay in business by taking the road less traveled by.
- Todd Neeley, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “EPA’s Glyphosate Boondoggle” — Judge: A look at EPA’s mistaken post regarding the negative assessment of glyphosate on humans.
- PJ Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “When water conservation isn’t enough” — Judge: Great quotes to back up this complex saga of diminishing water.
- Robert Arnason, Western Producer, “Herbicide Use spikes in Alberta” — Judge: The consequences of crop rotation that doesn’t include a crop equal in value to the one producer’s plant instead: Canola.
- Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, “Farmers Respond to Changing Weather Patterns” — Judge: The story documents how farmers are changing their planting routines in response to changes in the growing season, regardless of whether they believe in climate change or not.
- Emily Unglesbee, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “Going Generic: Monsanto Patent on RR1 beans has expired” — Judge: A look at a new market for generic RR1 soybeans that can be saved. Excellent writing explaining a complex subject.
Judged by Catharine Richert Jones, who is based in Rochester, Minn., and covers Southeast Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio News. She previously covered politics and wrote PoliGraph, a fact-checking feature that got behind the spin in Minnesota politics. She has also contributed to MPR News coverage of the federal health care overhaul. Richert worked for PolitiFact.com and Congressional Quarterly, where she spent three years covering the 2008 farm bill debate. She was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Agriculture Journalist of the Year award in 2008.
- Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Cartel-linked fruit fly spread has inspectors at war” — Judge: The lede on this story is top-notch! The reporter immediately drew me in with their vivid imagery, and the story unfolded like a mystery. I love that it connected two seemingly unrelated issues, and drew them together with great writing.
- Megan Durisin and Whitney McFerron, Bloomberg News”The British Are Coming – This Time With Cheap Wheat Imports”
- Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “How to Endure the New Reality of Low Crop Prices”
- Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dicamba Restrictions”
Judged by Kent Warneke, award-winning editor of the Norfolk (Nebraska) Daily News.
- Lydia Mulvany, Monte Reel and Jason Gale, Bloomberg News, “How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood from China Ends Up on Your Table” — Judge: In all honesty, I have little innate interest in antibiotic-tainted seafood, but yet this story made me interested. It was compelling and well-written, melding a technical topic with a style that made it highly readable. Very nice job.
- Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “The Cuban Question” — Judge: I’ve never been to Cuba, but this story was so well done that I felt like I was experiencing it for myself. The characters were vivid and the issues well-explained.
- Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “Can pheasants come back?” — Judge: “The way this story started made it relatable for so many readers. This is a topic that impacts many, whether involved in production agriculture or not. Excellent work.
Honorable Mention (in no particular order)
- Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Vandalism on the farm”
- Amy Bickel, Hutchinson News, “Farmers Sow and Hope”
- Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Small ranchers at odds with big beef marketing”
- Jenny Hopkinson, Politico, “How Vermont beat Big Food”
- Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “Armed advocate for farm safety”
- Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “This is your beef”
Judged by Mike Toner, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for “When Bugs Fight Back,” a series that explored the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics and pesticides.
Overall comment by the judge: “Thanks for the opportunity to look at some really strong entries.”
- Gary Marx, David Jackson and Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune, “The Price of Pork” — Judge: Extraordinarily readable, exhaustively researched reports on large-scale pork production in Illinois—a disturbing, thoroughly documented 21st Century echo of Upton Sinclair’s muck-raking portrayal of Chicago’s meat packing industry at the turn of the last century. From stomach-churning glimpses of large-scale hog-confinement operations to the exposure of widely used legal loopholes in the state regulatory system, the series documents the hidden costs – environmental, social and political – that make up the price of pork. Read it and you will never look at that tasty pork chop or pot roast in quite the same way again.
- Edward Maixner and Sara Wyant, Agri-Pulse, “Keeping Rural America Competitive” — Judge: Say “infrastructure” and most of us think city streets, highways and bridges. At the height of last year’s political campaigns oft-heard calls for improving the country’s infrastructure, this series took a comprehensive look, with emphasis on rural America, at the broader range of works and institutions that make up America’s infrastructure – from communications and information technology to the human capital must be overhauled if elected officials ever really do get around to making the promised improvements.
- Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “RIN Wrangling” — Judge: An insightful, balanced analysis of the byzantine trade in energy credits that has emerged in response to the U.S. Renewal Fuel Standard – a market whose regulations require refiners and importers to choose between actually using renewable fuels – or merely buying credits for their production from someone who does.
- Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “What’s All the Clucking About? The Chicken Coup” — Judge: A dogged effort to document a major new development in Nebraska agriculture – successfully executed in spite of foot-dragging on the part of public officials who repeatedly declined to disclose the details. A reporting effort made better by a follow-up analysis of just how Nebraska’ largest chicken rearing operation is likely to alter the way farmers are used to doing business.
Judged by George Edmonson, a retired newspaper reporter and editor. Among the papers still in business where he worked are USA Today, Omaha World-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Ed White, Western Producer — Judge: These columns are a delight. White delves into issues that, while many may wonder about, few take the time to explore. Boots, radio stations and cemeteries all are grist for his entertaining mill. For those engaged in such a serious and assiduous enterprise, a chance to smile occasionally is a treat.
- Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator — Judge: Carefully researched, Rance’s columns present readers with deep information on provocative issues. She is neither doctrinaire nor preachy, whether discussing the role of science in agricultural decisions or the real cost of food.
- Jonathan Knutson, Agweek — Judge: Knutson’s columns speak both to and about those involved in agriculture with a depth of knowledge and an appealing approach. Whether urging his readers to expand their horizons or simply offering a humorous respite, the columns are well written and constructed.
- Michael Raine, Western Producer — Judge: Written with a conversational style, the columns provide an engaging presentation of the writer’s view without dogmatism. Raine’s approach aptly mixes facts — notably in the column about the average age of Canadian farmers — with opinion
- Robin Booker, Western Producer — Judge: These columns are thought provoking and deal with important topics in a clear and easily understood manner. Booker raises significant questions for his readers’ consideration.
Judged by Nina Furstenau, who teaches food and wine writing in the University of Missouri Science and Agricultural Journalism program. She has written a culinary memoir, “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland” and “Savor Missouri: River Hills Food and Wine.” She has served as food editor of Missouri Life magazine.
Through her experiences in the Peace Corps and life-long travels, Furstenau developed a passion for great flavors and fresh ingredients and for the ways cultures entwine over food. She is fascinated with food story – its history and connection to land as well people – and the flavors of regions. This focus developed Furstenau’s enthusiasm for teaching students to craft clear, concise writing that stems from hands hands-on learning in the field, and from a knowledge base rooted in agricultural systems.
Judge’s overall comment: The collection of 27 editorials from nine writers in the editorial category were difficult to judge. I engaged the following in hopes of separating the best from this very impressive group: relevance to audience, importance of topic, writing flow and language use, balance, analysis of evidence, empowerment of readers/motivation to action, and engagement of issues not personalities. Thanks to all for the great reading.
- Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge on Lehner’s “Little Food’’ editorial and two others in the package of entries: Engaging lead with a keen cultural view used to enlighten and hook readers. The piece is persuasive particularly because it presents evidence to support its claims in an engaging style. Urban Lehner’s work as a package speaks directly to the audience with timely angles, and analysis that takes on issues of importance to not only to agriculture but most cultural segments, in my view. Lehner’s writing holds attention and is a pleasure to read.
- Barb Glen, Western Producer — Judge on Glen’s “Farmers Trump Scientists’’ and two others in the package of entries: The scene-based lead of this editorial is accessible and draws readers in. The angle of farmer’s finding their voice to generate trust and connection with their customers is timely and engaging to the publication audience, has broad impact, and serves as a persuasive interpretation of the state of public opinion. Barb Glen’s writing style enlightens and empowers skillfully.
- Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator and Winnipeg Free Press — Judge on Rance’s “Industry Must Get with the Program” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial creates an immediate connection to farm culture in the lead with its conversational style and content. In fact, the three-editorial package by Laura Rance has a strong pull for readers throughout: complex issues are explained with clarity, and readers are enlightened on issues of importance to agriculture with solid reporting and smooth writing flow.
Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)
- Brian MacLeod, Western Producer — Judge on MacLeod’s “Time to Look at Increased Eligibility for APP” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial clearly and concisely explains a complex issue. In fact, Brian MacLeod’s package of three editorials all use engaging writing style, are focused on timely issue-based topics, and have a solid analysis of evidence.
- John Vogel, American Agriculturalist — Judge on Vogel’s “Three Ways a Farmer Will Survive the $15 Minimum Wage Hike,’’ one of three judged in the package: Clear, concise and spoke directly to the audience. The last line of this piece packed a punch.
Judged by Michael Bugeja, director and professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Teaches media ethics, magazine writing, news writing and new technologies. Worked as a reporter, correspondent and state editor for United Press International. Served as newspaper adviser for The Daily O’Collegian, Oklahoma State University. Held such academic positions as associate professor, Paul Miller School of Journalism and Broadcasting, Oklahoma State University; professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University; and associate director, Scripps School of Journalism.
Judge’s Overall Comment: All the entries were informative. Some had a bit more substance. To engage the audience, use more visuals and multimedia, especially multimedia storytelling.
- Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs — Judge: Good service journalism with fact and visuals to engage the viewer. Quality of service journalism especially about agriculture has declined, but not here. Bravo.
- Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: A concisely written, fact-based and informative blog. Quality here is in the insights and coverage.
- Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: The best written blog of all entries. But writing is only one category. Could use more multimedia. If so, this would be the winner. Kudos nonetheless!
- Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer
Judged by Jane Schmucker, a copy editor at the Toledo Blade. Jane was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 1996 when she was a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator. Judge’s Overall Comment: What a class! I think the top stories in this class draw on more sources than many whole newspapers do some days. My faith in the future of good journalism is bolstered.
- Helena Bottemiller Evich and Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, “The Great FLOTUS Food Fight” — Judge: I love everything about this piece. In a scan through the contest entries, it was the first one that grabbed my eye and the first one that I read in full. It’s a long in-depth story but a very easy read. The authors didn’t litter the story with references to all 60 sources interviewed, but rather used the information they gleaned to write authoritatively. The story does not get bogged down in detail. That said, one of my only qualms is that I might have liked to see a few more dollar signs in the story.
- Kelly House and Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive, “Draining Oregon” — Judge: A huge amount of information on a hugely important and controversial topic and still an easy read. I so appreciate how everything is made simple for the reader, despite the fact that this story is all about the intersection of science and politics — neither of which are at all simple.
- P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers’” — Judge: “My favorite detail is easily the 2,555 percent annual interest rate on a cow-calf herd. And this story is full of good detail — without getting bogged down in it. On the copy-editing front, the cutline that starts “Cattle is auctioned off” bothered those worried about subject-verb disagreement.
Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)
- Alan Bjerga, Cynthia Hoffman and Laurie Meisler, Bloomberg News, “Family Farms Navigate Risk”
- Ed White, Lisa Guenther, Barb Glen, Shannon VanRaes, Caroline Cooper, Paul Harris and Laura Rance, Glacier Farm Media, “CETA”
- Erin Wicker, Agweek, “Calving goes digital” — Judge: Erin Wicker’s story about a high school student who developed a calving book app was of interest to a general audience, not that in a particular region; and told me something about which I previously was unaware. Erin’s story also centered on a person, not a policy, or a building, or a process. It was interesting and readable. I wish she would have fleshed out the young app developer a little more by talking to her parents, teachers and even people who use the app. It essentially was a one-source story, always something to avoid.
Tennessa Wild, University of Regina INK, “Not so ‘Superbug’ on the Saskatchewan prairies’’