The Los Angeles Times' Editorial Awards for 2014 were presented Wednesday evening in a ceremony that honored the newsroom's commitment to excellence and to the search for truth.
"Ours is a newsroom that’s relevant, passionate and diligently serving readers," Editor Davan Maharaj said. "Who else would have spent countless hours turning the handwritten names of L.A.’s unclaimed dead into a database so that people can find their loved ones?
"Who else would have pored over mounds of records to tie fire captains to relatives and reveal long-suspected nepotism in the L.A. Fire Department?
"Who else would have spent 18 months braving drug cartel bosses in the back roads of Mexico to expose modern day slavery? Stories that will bring better working and living conditions for millions of Mexican workers.
"And along the way, we’ve told the stories about how Angelenos and people in our region live. About arts and entertainment, Sports and the California lifestyle."
Beat reporting: Sergei L. Loiko and Carol J. Williams, Conflict in Ukraine. The incomparable Ukrainian coverage by Sergei Loiko and Carol Williams takes guts, game – and a career's worth of knowledge of the region. Williams' depth of experience comes through in her story about the ad hoc militias pouring into the Ukrainian capital. And it informs her dispatch from Kharkiv, an industrial area of the Ukraine that illustrates one of the conflicts’ many ironies: Kharkiv’s factories are now making the very weapons being used against Ukrainians. Loiko, meanwhile, put his life on the line again and again in dispatches that bear witness to the violent upheaval. After three days of sniper attacks left 96 dead in Kiev, Loiko makes the toll relatable through a retired police officer in search of his son, whose body is found in the blood-soaked blue UN helmet the son believed would keep him safe. In another incredibly dramatic story, Loiko jumps into a civilian minibus taxi that had been commandeered by a cadre of special forces soldiers in need of a lift to a point of conflict in eastern Ukraine. As they head off on a journey that would take them all through automatic weapon and sniper fire, the sergeant shouts at the taxi driver: "Welcome to hell, Daddy!"
Breaking news: Metro, photo and graphics staff, Isla Vista rampage. From the first tweets from inside the sheriff's office with a grieving father to the smart follow-up stories on the shooter’s personal history and the vital context on gun laws and the mental-health system, this was an example of strong reporting across platforms and of L.A. Times teamwork. What started as a mass shooting on the fringes of The Times' coverage area developed seamlessly into a string of authoritative stories, explanatory graphics and compelling photos of mayhem and its aftermath.
Explanatory reporting: Noam N. Levey, Unequal Treatment. Noam Levey's series provides an illuminating look at what drives healthcare disparities across the United States. He found that the choices made locally by doctors, hospital executives and community leaders make the biggest difference in how healthy people are. Levey's on-the-ground reporting from six states shows why some areas exceed expectations while others lag behind. Throughout the series, Levey highlighted unique circumstances facing each area and how leaders there were able to beat the curve. All the stories stem from a database that Levey built with the help of medical researchers, making the series data-driven to its core.
Opinion journalism: Christopher Hawthorne. In a series of witty, probing and provocative pieces, Christopher Hawthorne uses architecture as a springboard to explore broader social issues as varied as the death of privacy and the nature of the immigrant experience. He even explores the physical backdrop of modern scandals, such as the spaces occupied by former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and rap mogul Jay Z, with observations such as this: "The Jay Z elevator scene, in particular, suggests almost perfectly the odd, growing overlap between celebrity culture and the surveillance state, between TMZ and the NSA, Warhol and Orwell. Shot from above, low-res and soundless, it looks like footage taken by a drone." Hawthorne's title is architecture critic, but his real subject is culture itself.
Feature writing: Daniel Miller, Finding Marlowe. "We were meeting at a joint on La Brea, the kind of place where the booths have curtains you can pull shut if you need a little privacy. I slid across cool leather and got my first good look at Louise Ransil, a wisp of a redhead with high cheekbones and appraising eyes." That may sound like detective fiction, but it's not – it’s two sentences from Daniel Miller's story on Samuel B. Marlowe, L.A.’s first black private eye who just may have served as a model for both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Writing in a style that evoked the hard-boiled style of those writers, Miller showed you can break the rules and still crack the front page.
Investigations: Paul Pringle, LAFD hiring practices. It was public-service journalism that put the spotlight on corruption, and underscores why newspapers remain hugely important in their communities. Paul Pringle uncovered a broad pattern of nepotism and cheating in the hiring of Los Angeles County firefighters. Although hiring for the highly coveted jobs is supposed to be based solely on merit – indeed, 95% of applicants are rejected – an improbably large number of sons and other relatives of current and former firefighters got jobs, including some who failed key elements of the exams.
Sports reporting: Sam Farmer. Covering the NFL is a balancing act. You have to take the long view for the big-picture stories yet also find coverage that is relevant to local readers, even if your city doesn’t have a team … yet. Sam Farmer's reporting isn't just weekly game analysis (though he does that, too). His NFL beat has also included land and stadium deals, domestic violence, under-inflated footballs and a $40-million commissioner.
Blog: Hot Property: Lauren Beale and Neal J. Leitereg. Since its inception in 1984, Hot Property has been a trailblazer for celebrity real estate news – a Times hallmark emulated by numerous other outlets in print and online. On its 30th anniversary in 2014, Hot Property was relaunched as a blog and quickly becoming a must-read destination for celebrity real estate news. It added new features such as real estate transactions of athletes and high-profile executives and Home of the Day spotlighting the most spectacular houses on the market. In less than two months, the blog shot up to be the second-most-viewed blog at latimes.com, and by end of 2014, it was averaging 6 million views a month. It's become a must-read because it breaks real estate news and partly fulfills readers' increasing appetite for an inside look at celebrities and athletes and how they live.
Blogging by an individual: Carolina A. Miranda. With nearly 15,000 Twitter followers and a strong Instagram presence, Carolina Miranda is one of our most connected writers and a web native who knows how to build an audience. She does this with frequent posting on art, architecture, urban planning and any other cultural subject that catches her interest. In addition to her blog's regular weekly features, Miranda regularly gives her readers deep dives on artists and cultural issues. Her profiles are insightful, and her long reads take on big issues in relatable ways. And then there was the day she broke the Internet by reporting something that no one in the media had written before – that, according to Sanrio company guidelines, Hello Kitty is not a cat. Her blend of high and low topics with short- and long-form storytelling – plus lots of her own photography, embedded video and smart use of linking to other arts tastemakers – makes the blog a model for others to follow.
Social media: Anthony Pesce and Lily Mihalik, Build Your Own California. Anthony Pesce and Lily Mihalik took a billionaire's rather oddball idea to break the state into six Californias and combined it with a jumble of demographics. The result: an engaged conversation about the future of our state(s), our biases and state pride. Tommy in Stockton carved out 13 "districts" in what he called "Hunger Games California." Another reader, very democratic, made sure to put at least one wealthy county in each new state. More more than 2,600 readers have carved up their own Californias, and the entries are still coming in.
News photography: Rick Loomis, Flight from Rage. The Central African Republic plunged toward anarchy when a Muslim-backed rebel force brutally took control of the country in 2013. By early 2014, a mostly Christian-backed force known as the "anti-balaka" began widespread revenge attacks. They toppled the Muslim-run "Selaka" government and began methodically ridding the country of its Muslim minority. In just two weeks of hard-fought, on-the-ground reporting, photojournalist Rick Loomis, with writer Alexandra Zavis, generated timely news coverage of a people and a place that desperately needed some attention to help bring the crisis into the greater public discourse.
Feature photography: Francine Orr, Life Lessons. Photojournalist Francine Orr originally set out to photograph a caregiver and patient. She was drawn to the subject by her own experiences; she had been her father’s primary caregiver for many years. She met Evelyn in the summer of 2012. In between her other assignments, she photographed Evelyn periodically until the older woman's death in March 2013. At the same time, Orr cared for her father in his last months. A year had to pass before she felt emotionally ready to share that difficult period in her life. Though she hadn’t embarked on the project with the intention of writing an article, she realized she had a story to tell and that it needed to be told in the first person. She began to write. The resulting story and photo essay don't just tug at the heartstrings. They offer readers solace and show caregivers in particular that their complex emotions – fear, frustration and even anger – are not unique.
Multimedia/video: Myung Chun. Amid an ever-increasing appetite for video, Myung Chun has demonstrability the ability to deliver compelling visual content, both independently and as part of a larger team. He produced more than 40 videos from the Sundance Film Festival, filming some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he worked with the social media team to turn around iPhone videos for blog posts, Facebook and Instagram. Whether shooting and producing Emmy Roundtable interviews, working as a second camera on restaurant reviews, editing video for the Festival of Books or running the tri-caster on the newsroom stage, Chun takes on any assignment with a great attitude and always delivers compelling results.
Print presentation: Richard Collins, Mike McKay, Bill Sheehan and Mark Yemma, California section. In October, The Times introduced a section that was refreshing and dynamic, and at the same time comforting and familiar. The new California section was welcomed by staff and readers alike. California requires intense design work with a goal of making it look effortless. Richard Collins, Mike McKay, Bill Sheehan and Mark Yemma helped get this section off the ground in spectacular fashion.
Digital presentation (two winners):
Evan Wagstaff and Stephanie Ferrell, A Sting in the Desert. Joe Mozingo’s tale of a federal sting that led to three suicides resonates: It’s about who owns history – but also about justice. In the digital design, video was an integral part of the storytelling: video panoramas as chapter headers to drop the reader into the stunning scenery at the heart of the story; video "footnotes" from the leaked FBI undercover operation; and a narrative video from the point of view of the two sons whose fathers committed suicide that brings a personal and emotional punch to the reporting.
Lily Mihalik and Armand Emamdjomeh, Finding Marlowe. A uniquely L.A. story, reporter Daniel Miller spent nearly a year reconstructing P.I. Samuel Marlowe's past, poring over public records and fact-checking family lore. For the first time, Times designers and developers worked with Miller and illustrator Morgan Schweitzer to re-create historically accurate animated illustrations of Marlowe's noir L.A. The design meticulously separated fact from suggestion of fact, allowing readers to sift through Marlowe's belongings in a decrepit warehouse, trace Marlowe through animated gifs of 1930s Los Angeles, and watch a making-of video that outlines the reporting process behind the story.
Data visualization: Jon Schleuss. Jon Schleuss' list of projects is long and varied, from a running interactive tracking an ever-changing Lakers lineup, to a calculator on where you can afford to live, to a database of unclaimed dead that was the subject of a moving Column One he also wrote. Besides all that, his colleagues say he's a delight to work with and passionate about journalism.
Copy editing: Minh Dang. "A reporter's best friend." That's how one reporter in Business describes copy editor Minh Dang. Others in the department say: "Patient and cool under deadline pressure." "Meticulous attention to detail." "She is a whiz with a dictionary and a calculator." Also, "Her lemon bars rock." And lastly, "Her work gets little notice because she does it with professionalism and courtesy." Strike that last quote, because Dang's work has indeed been noticed.
Headline writing: Steve Eames. News copy editor Steve Eames is an artist of the big type, recognized in copy editing circles as one of the very best anywhere. In fact, he recently won the top prize in the national headline contest of the American Copy Editors Society. Day in and day out, Eames produces winning headlines for hard-news stories and features in his core department, Business, as well as for Metro and the other news desks. But it was probably a single headline that stood out in his portfolio for 2014, for a story about efforts to preserve California’s tule elk: DEER PRUDENCE
Assignment editing: Steve Clow and Kari Howard. Steve Clow and Kari Howard were a one-two punch this year as editors overseeing some of The Times' best work. They teamed up as editors on Diana Marcum's Pulitzer Prize-winning stories about the devastating effects of the drought in Central California. Clow also was the primary editor on Richard Marosi's series about abuse of farmworkers in Mexico, which won a Robert F. Kennedy award and was a Pulitzer finalist. And he was at the heart of coverage of the Isla Vista shootings, another finalist for a Pulitzer. Howard's brilliance was also evident beyond the prize-winning drought features. She sprinkled her pixie dust on more than 100 Column Ones, displaying talents that had writers throughout the building knocking on her door with ideas or simply seeking her advice about storytelling.
Visual editing: Jeremiah Bogert. Senior photo editor Jeremiah Bogert's responsibilities literally span the globe. He is responsible for directing the photo staff on national and overseas coverage, interacting with our correspondents around the world, and engaging locally with editors and designers to provide visually compelling content for page one and The Times' ever-expanding digital report. In 2014, Bogert coordinated our visual report on the conflict in Gaza, Russian’s war in Ukraine, and the immigration crisis in Mexico and across the border in the U.S. He also edited in-depth projects including California’s Dust Bowl, working closely with photographer Michael Robinson Chavez and reporter Diana Marcum to produce a series of memorable reports on the drought's devastating effects on residents in the Central Valley.
Innovators (two winners):
Charley Bodkin, Lily Mihalik, Tenny Tatusian, Evan Wagstaff, Julie Westfall, Real-Time News Desk. The live blog revolutionized the way we report breaking news and live events. For the first time, tweets, photos, quotes and reporting were combined in a seamless design that drove readers through the narrative. Developers and designers worked hand in hand with editors and reporters to address style and reporting needs. The live blog has become one of the most powerful storytelling tools The Times has in its arsenal.
Christopher Reynolds, Travel. Like all great storytellers, Christopher Reynolds starts with a good idea, then takes it, refines it and, perhaps most important – asks himself: How is this story best told? Is the story best conveyed in words? When Reynolds was reporting from Katmai, Alaska, he arrived at a prime bear-viewing spot to find a ranger at the gate, waiting list in hand, who informed him it would be a 40-minute to one-hour wait. "At which point the Alaska of my mind began to resemble a Houston's restaurant on a Saturday night," Reynolds wrote. But he also knows that some stories are better told with photos or videos. Each week Reynolds produces a new video from his travels and gives us insight into some of the moments that don’t make it into his stories with his "Daily Detour" photo galleries. Where else would you see a snowboarder with a cigarette in his hand? A poisonous frog in San Diego? Dead soccer balls atop fence spikes?
Career innovator: Doug Smith. This is a journalist who would have had a distinguished career at the Los Angeles Times even if he'd never picked up a calculator or opened an Excel spreadsheet. From the first, Doug Smith was an outstanding reporter and a graceful writer. Ultimately, his curiosity drove him to get better answers to the questions he was asking about politics, public services, crime and the changing face of Los Angeles. He wasn't satisfied with the answers he was getting from experts over the phone or from "OPD" – other people's data – on the Web. So he taught himself how to work with statistics, how to write scripts, how to build databases and query them. He learned how to map trends and visualize data, long before those were popular terms. He taught himself. And he taught others – pretty much anyone who asked. He became the newsroom's computer-assisted reporting oracle, its touchstone for the responsible use of data to tell stories and reveal things worth knowing. Smith has been a pioneer, a truth-seeker, a selfless colleague.
Editor's prize: Diana Marcum and Michael Robinson Chavez, California's Dust Bowl. An epic event like California’s drought can be measured many ways: By the vanishing Sierra snowpack. By the water left in our parched reservoirs. By the financial losses suffered by farmers. Throughout 2014, Diana Marcum and Michael Robinson Chavez looked elsewhere for the enduring impact of the drought. They wandered down rural roads with numbers for names. They went to towns like Huron, Stratford and Terra Bella, places where the ground was sinking, taps had gone dry and crops had turned brown. They talked to the families of the Central Valley. Above all, they listened. Together, these two journalists brought a slow-motion disaster to life in portraits that evoked John Steinbeck and Dorothea Lange. Their words and pictures found revelation in the most ordinary moments.
Publisher’s prize: Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti, Product of Mexico. Great journalism makes readers confront what they might prefer to ignore. One of The Times' finest pieces of journalism from 2014 did just that. It was inspired by two simple questions about the bounty of Mexican produce on display in American supermarkets: Who picks these fruits and vegetables? And what are their lives like? The search for answers lasted 18 months and took Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti across the breadth of Mexico. Here is what they found: Farm laborers living in squalid camps, without beds or clean water. Packed eight to a room, dodging scorpions and rat. Trapped by guards, barbed-wire fences and the illegal practice of withholding wages until the end of the harvest. The four-part series "Product of Mexico" shook the international produce industry and stirred the conscience of thousands of readers. After it was published, growers, distributors and retailers on both sides of the border announced an initiative to improve conditions for Mexican farm workers.
"The Eddy": Mary McNamara. The television world was buzzing last year as favorite characters on shows from "Game of Thrones" to "Downton Abbey" were being killed off, one after another. There was no hand-wringing from TV critic Mary McNamara. "People die, for heaven’s sake,” she wrote. It was a trademark line from a writer who covers the dominant entertainment medium with insight and authority, in columns that are always smart and often wickedly funny. In 2012 and 2013, this writer was the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. For 2014, she finally won it. And now, she wins an even bigger prize.
News reporting: Alene Tchekmedyian
Photography: Roger Wilson
Editor's award: Carol Cormaci
News Reporting: Jeremiah Dobruck
Copy editing: Debbie Zucco