Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news
Your connection to industry & member news  |  Nov. 4, 2021
Bland
Whitaker
Jenkins
Hammond

SCPA names top daily, weekly winners

During SCPA's 2020 Virtual Meeting, held Oct. 28-29, we honored our state's top daily and weekly newspaper journalists. If you missed the awards presentations, you can watch the videos and view First Place comments.

President’s Awards for Excellence:

  • Daily Under 10,000 Division: Aiken Standard
  • Daily10,000-25,000 Division: The Island Packet
  • Daily Over 25,000 Division: The Post and Courier
  • Weekly Under 3,500 Division: The Star, North Augusta
  • Weekly 3,500-7,500 Division: Myrtle Beach Herald
  • Weekly Over 7,500 Division: Greenville Journal

Daily Top Honors


Journalist of the Year: David Travis Bland, The State

This year’s recipient is dedicated to telling the stories of everyday South Carolinians. As a public safety and breaking news reporter, he has built a career on the most noble of journalism ideals: giving a voice to the less privileged. A review of his work from 2020 finds stories that brush aside official pronouncements and detail people’s pain, turmoil and angst. 2020 was a tsunami of illness, death, protest and racism. With each crisis, this reporter told the story of people on the front lines. He also wrote stories about renters in danger of eviction because they lost their jobs during the pandemic and workers at a local chicken processing plant who were protesting for safer work conditions and higher pay. He covered protests after the death of George Floyd.
A signature effort was Losing Brooks, a 5-part series Travis Bland wrote with Isabelle Cueto about the death of a 21-month-old boy. The gut-wrenching project took 13 months to produce, with reporters reviewing more than 500 pages of documents, conducting more than 15 hours of interviews, filing FOI requests, and pushing key sources to talk. The reporting showed that a state law prevents Brooks’ parents from learning details about the child’s death and the criminal investigation. The law says those records can’t be released, even to the parents and even if the case has been closed.
The depth and range made this an especially strong entry. Bland did good work during difficult times. He took on stories that really mattered… seemingly routine stories… but handled them in a way that made them special. An impressive body of compelling work.

Photojournalist of the Year: Andrew J. Whitaker, The Post and Courier

This contest was very close but when judging all 10 images this photographer showed the highest level of photo quality, creativity, relevance, ability to communicate the subject, impact of photos and editing. The choices made for composition and angles played a pivotal role in the ways these photos told the story and the emotion could be seen in every photo. Well done! 

Montgomery/Shurr FOI Award

First Place: The State
Out an impressive group of entries, The State takes top honors for the targeted significance of the Hidden Earmarks project, which raised important questions and followed the money. This entry tackled how millions of state tax dollars are secretly spent each year. The State illuminated the horse trading, power of politics and how political philosophy has little to do in some instances where there is an appetite for pork. This in-depth public service journalism required the newspaper to file 70 FOI requests to 13 state agencies, plus a few additional FOIs to the General Assembly and several follow-up FOI requests to state agencies. The State – fueled by FOI know-how and a dedicated team of reporters – accomplished the complex feat of exposing the secret process by which millions of state taxpayers’ dollars were being secretly funneled to pet projects in lawmakers’ home districts each year. We are hopeful that this work will lead to reform of South Carolina’s earmark system.

Honorable Mention: The Post and Courier
The Post and Courier flooded the zone with this entry. The newspaper files open records requests on an almost daily basis to bring crucial information to light for their readers. The Post and Courier showed special dedication to using the FOI to understand the challenges our state faced and how crucial decisions were crafted related to South Carolina’s uneven response to COVID-19. The P&C staff uses the Freedom of Information Act to the fullest. It’s in all that they do. Keep pushing!

Assertive Journalism Award


First Place: Kacen Bayless, The Island Packet
When Island Packet reporter Kacen Bayless discovered that some of the county’s highest elected officials planned to meet in secret at a high-end resort restaurant to discuss a $300 million roads project, he drove to the meeting and decided to listen in. A meeting of the county’s highest elected leaders regarding such a massive project should be open to the public, he thought.
At the ritzy restaurant, Bayless approached the leaders’ table and asked to listen in. The group of elected officials expressed shock. They told Bayless to leave and accused him of “ambush journalism.”
Instead of leaving, Bayless decided to observe the secret meeting from a booth inside the restaurant and tried to uncover what was being discussed.
Through his own observations and off-the-record interviews with helpful restaurant servers, Bayless was able to piece together who was invited to the meeting, what was being discussed and who paid for the dinner.
Judges said this entry was simple, but great. It speaks to the culture of the county and its problems… and this is probably what’s going on everywhere. We applaud Bayless for his assertiveness, persistence, deep knowledge of the officials’ behavior and dogged pursuit of the truth.

Weekly Top Honors

Journalist of the Year: Travis Jenkins, The News & Reporter

Any journalist who has ever worked at a weekly newspaper knows that the job does not end at 5 o’clock on Friday. Travis Jenkins, editor of The Chester News & Reporter personifies the dedication, persistence and courage required to qualify for this award. From covering Chester’s beloved sports teams to facing down public officials who, through ignorance or arrogance, deny the public the opportuning to see how life-affecting decisions are made, Jenkins is unflagging. Not only does he make sure the public’s right to know is protected, but he also plays it on the front page and backs up his paper’s news coverage with editorials that explain to readers why FOI matters. Last year, his effectiveness was most evident in his reporting on a sensational fatal shooting of a shoplifting suspect in a Walmart parking lot. Long after rival news media had relegated this story to inside pages – if not, dropped it altogether — Jenkins’ persistence netted The News & Reporter exclusive access to key video and audio recordings that enhanced readers’ understanding of what happened that tragic day. Similar incidents in other communities have led to acrimonious, sometimes violent confrontations with authorities. It is no stretch to think that Jenkins’ comprehensive and even-handed reporting helped Chester avoid such incidents.

Photojournalist of the Year: Thomas Hammond, The Post and Courier Columbia/Free Times

From top to bottom, this photographer showed the best use of composition, lighting, emotion, photo quality and creativity in all their images making them the Photojournalist of the Year. The story of each of these photos is clear and impactful. They creatively used the entire frame of the composition to tell the stories, the subject matter of each image is clear and the foreground & background play vital roles in the story telling of each photo. 
Assertive Journalism Award

Montgomery/Shurr FOI Award 


First Place: Myrtle Beach Herald
The Myrtle Beach Herald displayed proper outrage when local governments in its community violated open meetings laws and took the public’s business behind closed doors. On its news and editorial pages, the paper reminded readers and public officials about the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and forced local governments to open their meetings. In an editorial the paper noted that “If the public is to have any faith in elected officials, citizens must be able to see how leaders reach the decisions that impact their lives. There can be no trust without transparency.” The newspaper stood up for the public’s right to know and did a hell of a job explaining that a crisis like COVID-19 should not be an excuse for doing the public’s business in secret.

Honorable Mention: Travis Jenkins, The News & Reporter
For months, The News and Reporter filed FOIA requests to every agency in possession of body and dashcam videos related to a police shooting in the Walmart parking lot. Travis Jenkins was denied — but kept requesting — and Chester Police eventually gave the newspaper the body camera footage. He was also the first to obtain police dashboard camera footage and recordings of every radio communication and 911 call that took place during and immediately following the shooting. Jenkins provided this information to the public to present as clear a picture as possible of what happened that day. Jenkins also worked for months to obtain a financial audit of the sheriff’s department, which showed a possible pattern of financial corruption for which the former sheriff was eventually indicted.  In other examples, The News and Reporter worked to remind local bodies of the importance of adhering to the Freedom of Information Act.

Assertive Journalism Award


First Place: Travis Jenkins, The News & Reporter
It takes courage for a small-market news organization to take on the local police department the way The Chester News and Reporter did. In November of 2019, an incident took place in Chester County that would become part of a worldwide narrative in the months to come when a young African American male was shot by police in the Walmart parking lot. The paper relentlessly pursued the video and audio recordings from the police shooting until its community was informed about exactly what had happened. After being rebuffed by the City of Chester, the Chester Police Department, SLED and the state Attorney Generals’ office for months, Jenkins continued to push news and opinion coverage on the subject. He successfully obtained every piece of video and audio related to the shooting, which The News and Reporter shared with the public.

Honorable Mention: Christian Boschult, Katie Powell and Charles D. Perry, Myrtle Beach Herald
Throughout a difficult year, Myrtle Beach Herald reporters challenged local leaders about their decisions related to COVID-19 and aggressively pursued stories that were in the public’s interest. They pushed back when Horry County Council held secret meetings – especially troubling during a pandemic when openness was critical. County leaders reversed their position. As COVID-19 cases surged across the Grand Strand, reporters fought for information on reopening Horry County Schools, and reported on how the district could protect students and teachers. The newspaper staff also pressed state health officials to release more information about where COVID-19 patients lived.

SCNN payouts return more than $65,000 to SCPA member papers

S.C. Newspaper Network (SCNN), the sales arm of SCPA, mailed quarterly advertising network payments totaling more than $65,000 to SCPA member newspapers last week.
These totals include the QuarterPage+ Ad Network payout of $48,036 and the Small Space Display (2x2/2x4/2x6) Advertising Network payout of $14,669. This is for ads run July-September. Classified revenue is paid out annually in January.
“We are thankful for the continued support of our participating newspapers,” said Randall Savely, Director of Operations. “The SCNN networks are a great source of added revenue for member newspapers and the income from these networks is vital to the continuing operations of SCPA.”
Every daily newspaper and virtually every weekly newspaper participates in SCNN's ad networks.
If your newspaper is an SCPA member and does not participate in one of the SCNN networks, contact Randall to learn how these networks can provide added revenue to your newspaper.
Mary Nahorniak, Google News Lab’s U.S. teaching fellow

ICYMI: Tip sheet and recordings of Google training series available

We hope you enjoyed our free Google Tools training in October. Here are the links to the training session recordings if you weren't able to make it: 
We also have a tipsheet with information about these powerful Google tools and how to best use them! If you're interested in learning more about all of the tools Google offers you can contact the host of the training series, Mary Nahorniak, for more information!

"Trick-or-Treaters" by Robert Ariail

If you can't get enough of award-winning Camden cartoonist Robert Ariail, enjoy his new strip featured every week in the Charleston City Paper, which has granted us ongoing permission to republish it. Called "Lowcountry," the weekly feature, which is available for syndication in South Carolina newspapers, focuses on politics, human nature, the environment and public policy. More: Contact publisher Andy Brack.

FOI Briefs

USC admin never planned to ask SC lawmakers to rename Thurmond building, emails show

Despite months of effort, the University of South Carolina never really planned to ask the state legislature to rename multiple buildings on campus, documents show. Several campus buildings, such as those named for the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, slave owner and former USC President Thomas Cooper and the late lawmaker/segregationist Solomon Blatt, have drawn controversy in recent years because of their connection to slavery, racism or segregation. Months before the publication of a highly detailed report from a USC committee recommending potential name changes for buildings, the university had already prepared public statements saying both the state’s Heritage Act and lawmakers prevented them from changing the controversial building names.
In one email exchange, a top university official shared with Interim President Harris Pastides a July article from The State Media Co. quoting S.C. General Assembly leaders saying they wouldn’t allow a vote on renaming USC’s buildings. In response, Pastides said in an email, “Don’t they know that we weren’t planning to ask?” The story was first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which used records obtained through the state Freedom of Information Act. The State later obtained those records from USC.
By Lucas Daprile, The State | Read more

Industry Briefs

Prospects have dramatically dimmed for federal legislation to help local journalism

A plan to offer federal payroll tax credits to help pay the salaries of local journalists is still in play as budget bills advance — but it faces a giant hurdle.
When I last wrote about it three weeks ago, the measure, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, was included in the House draft of a $3.5 trillion spending bill. Advocates hoped that the Senate would quickly follow suit. Optimism was running high.
That quick resolution didn’t happen, of course, and the target total from the Biden administration has been cut in half to a $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill.
Looking for savings, the House late last week dropped the assistance as part of hammering out a new draft version to send to the Senate.
The proposed aid to local news, potentially costing around $1 billion, would have been tiny compared to big ticket items like clean energy and child care.
Even with bipartisan support and 78 co-sponsors, however, it fell in the category of a lesser priority when crunch time came for budget drafting.
That leaves the Senate, where the bill was late getting sponsors and has not passed, as the best hope for having the aid restored as a budget is finalized over the next several weeks.
The payroll tax credit under consideration would have paid half the salary of local journalists earning up to $50,000 for one year after passage and 30% for four subsequent years.
Journalists from newspapers, local broadcast outlets and digital startups would all have qualified.
That money would provide big and timely help after advertising declines during the pandemic, which worsened already shaky finances for newspapers and some digital startups.
By Rick Edmonds, Poynter | Read more

Cancel culture: Why do people cancel news subscriptions? We asked, they answered.

What was the last news subscription you canceled, and why?
Media Twitter may be full of people threatening to cancel their (for instance) New York Times subscriptions over some recent op-ed, but we wondered how many people actually went ahead with their threats to cancel news subscriptions.
Public data on cancellations is sparse. It’s not something that news organizations like sharing. It can also be surprisingly annoying to cancel news subscriptions online, often requiring an actual call to customer service. (It doesn’t have to be this way!)
So we asked our readers for their most recent cancellation stories, and received over 500 responses. Keep in mind as you read this that Nieman Lab readers are a weird (great! but weird) bunch. They’re more into news, and more likely to pay for it, than the average person; this isn’t an “ask some guy on the street” survey. Many of our respondents alluded to paying for more than one news subscription, which is not the norm. (2017 data suggests that about half of Americans pay for some kind of news, including making donations to public radio.) Only about one in five Americans pays for online news, according to the most recent data from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The responses we received were largely thoughtful and detailed, and in many cases it was clear that people felt bad about canceling and hadn’t made the decision lightly. (Make sure you read to the end of this post!)
By Nieman Lab Staff | Read more

Medill launches groundbreaking subscriber engagement tool

Northwestern University has launched the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, a tool that allows local news organizations to see what content encourages subscribers to stick around and lets publishers benchmark their performance against outlets in comparable markets.
Forty-four newsrooms of various sizes across the country are now participating in Medill’s index, and about 100 outlets are expected to be on board by early next year.
Participants include large metro news organizations such as the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald, mid-tier outlets like The Idaho Statesman and Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, and smaller markets such as the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette and Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat.
Many U.S. local news outlets are moving from an advertising-based revenue model to a subscriber model, so acquisition and retention of paying customers is vital to their ability to stay financially viable. Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications has been a leader in research on what drives subscriber retention, and the new index is a major step forward in that mission.
“Reader revenue is now central to the sustainability of local news organizations,” said Tim Franklin, Medill Senior Associate Dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News. “This Medill Index is a powerful tool to help local news leaders measure the behaviors of their paying readers and benchmark with peers across the country.”
By Mark Jacob, Local News Initiative at Northwestern | Read more

Adobe and news orgs are working on a new tool that could identify a photo’s origin — and combat misinformation

Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative is developing tools and standards that allow people to capture, store, and verify key details about a photo — its digital provenance — with an eye toward creating standards that can be used across the internet.
By Sarah Scire, Nieman Lab | Read more

Obituaries

Venturella

Former State newspaper night editor Bob Venturella dies

Robert Joseph "Bob" Venturella, 71 years of age, passed away peacefully at his home on Oct. 31, 2021. Born in Oil City, Pennsylvania on May 31, 1950, he was the son of the late Joseph and Mary (Vieira) Venturella.
He worked as a newspaper reporter, photographer, and editor for several newspapers in northwest Pennsylvania before moving to Columbia, South Carolina in 2000 to work as a night editor for The State newspaper. In 2010, he received the rarely given Publisher’s Award for distinguished service. He retired from the newspaper in 2015.
Robert was an active member of Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Columbia. He was an avid reader, photographer, and golfer, and loved spending time with his family.
He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Judith (Schultz) Venturella; daughters, Jennifer (Brian) Harris and Sarah Venturella; son, Matthew (Amy) Venturella, along with a sister, Mary Lou Anderson, and grandchildren, Madeline, William, Olivia, and Evelyn. He was preceded in death by an infant brother.
The family wishes to thank Amedisys Hospice for the compassionate care he received during his illness.
A memorial service for Robert will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 6, 2021 at Saint Andrew’s Lutheran Church, with burial in the church cemetery. The family will receive friends from 10:00 until 11:00 a.m. at the church prior to the service. Read more

Compelling Writing

By Jerry Bellune

Why not tell it to Mom?

Many of us have problems writing conversationally.
As fact gatherers, we often write stenographic reports.
We hold our readers at arm’s length.
Here’s an example:
Our friend George James reported on crime for The New York Times. 
One of his stories was about an apartment house fire that killed the owner and four tenants.
Neighbors told George the big-hearted building owner collected used furniture for apartments he rented to people who could not pay him.
The article he sent to the city desk read like a police report.
It contained 47 words with the who, what, when, where and how of the story.
He showed me his original lead. It read:
“Samuel Smith collected people and furniture.”
The editors made him rewrite a story told in human terms.
Some editors are unwisely wed to the inverted pyramid.
Think about this: If you were to tell your mother about this story, what would you say to her?
You might write: “Mom, this guy Samuel Smith had a big heart.
“He let people live in his building even if they could not pay rent.
“In a fire last night, he and four of them died.” 
You can write to your readers similarly.
If you can tell it to Mom, you can tell it to the world.
 Next month we’ll discuss how to open with a story.
Writing coach and editor Jerry Bellune is author of “The Art of Compelling Writing, Volume 1” available online at Amazon.com. You can reach him at JerryBellune@yahoo.com.

Columns

By Andy Brack,
Charleston City Paper

Verify, then trust: How to get more out of your news diet

When word came this week that a former journalism professor passed away, it led to thoughts about how people’s consumption and understanding of news has evolved. 
For 50 years, Donald Shaw taught students at the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, arguably one of the best in the nation. A man who sometimes seemed the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, he was wickedly smart as he labored to drill the tenets of basic newswriting and editing into the thick skulls of know-it-all grad students, some of whom would become know-it-all columnists.
During this training, Shaw’s mild but tough manner belied something that he didn’t talk much about: how he was a rock star in academic journalism circles. In the early 1970s, he and a colleague published research on how the media helped to set the agenda of people in a democracy. That may seem obvious today, but in pre-Internet days, this was the stuff from which legends are made.
In a groundbreaking paper followed by more research and a book, the authors described how news gatherers helped to shape political reality: “Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues — that is, the media may set the ‘agenda’ of the campaign.”
When there were just a few networks and every town of any size had a newspaper, media were powerful voices in our communities. But as the Internet evolved, they started losing ground in influencing people. Read more
By Jim Pumarlo

Don’t let shortcuts thwart quality content

Many newsrooms, already strained by lean staffs, have seen resources exacerbated by the economic toll of the coronavirus. Circumstances have prompted editors and reporters to take shortcuts in gathering and publishing the everyday churn of news.  
Some of the practices have merit and can make for an easier read.
Question-and-answer profiles: A few paragraphs introduce the significance of an individual, followed by a Q&A. The reporter poses the questions, the newsmaker provides written responses, and the story often is ready to go with minimal editing.
Top things to know: A variety of statistics routinely crosses editors’ desks – for example, monthly employment reports or the latest COVID-19 tally of positive cases, vaccinations, hospitalizations and deaths. The crux of the report often can be summarized in relatively brief verbiage followed by bullet points identifying the highlights. This format might also be used to report the “top five things” to know from a local government meeting. Read more

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