For the second year in a row, Civil Beat was named the best news website in Hawaii and awarded top honors for both public service and government reporting by the Society of Professional Journalist’s Hawaii Chapter.

The SPJ’s most prestigious honor, the public service award, recognized Civil Beat’s series “Taken For a Ride” about the abrupt rise in school bus transportation costs and the lack of competition between bus contractors.

Civil Beat won eight first place awards in all and was recognized as a finalist 10 times in SPJ’s 2011 Excellence in Journalism Awards. SPJ names one first place winner and up to two finalists without rank in each category. Read the full results.

The awards were for work in 2011, Civil Beat’s second year of reporting.

In awarding the best website honor, the judges applauded Civil Beat’s “use of multimedia and the organization’s understanding that the Web is a dynamic medium where images and video reign supreme.”

The public service entry was reported by Katherine Poythress and Michael Levine. The series investigated rising school bus costs, which have more than doubled in recent years, in large part because bus contractors stopped bidding against each other. State officials have struggled to find ways to pay for bus service, often taking money from other programs and classroom needs.

Taken For a Ride also won first prize for government reporting and was a finalist in the investigative reporting category. The judges wrote: “With surgical, devastating precision, Honolulu Civil Beat peeled apart a soaring budget line item to get at this disturbing truth of bus companies who’ve mysteriously decided to no longer compete — at great cost to the state’s public education. This reads like a crime story, lacking only an actual indictment.”

Civil Beat also won first place awards for column writing/news, breaking news reporting, online feature writing, best reporting using social media and best multimedia presentation.

The Civil Beat staff’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Japan tsunami and its aftermath in Hawaii won top honors in both the breaking news reporting and best reporting with social media categories. The judge wrote, “This series was really well written and placed me in the center of the action, as it was meant to do.”

A video by Diane Lee and Chad Blair about the cleanup of homeless encampments before the APEC conference won first place for best multimedia presentation. Civil Beat contributor John Hook, who worked with the website on a number of major stories in 2011, was recognized as a finalist for his photo essays surrounding APEC.

Two pieces about Hawaii’s open records law by former editor John Temple won the top prize for column writing.

Alia Wong won first place for online feature writing for her story A Lost Child of Kalaupapa about children who born to leprosy patients exiled to Kalaupapa and then separated from their parents by the government. Civil Beat contributor Jon Letman was also recognized as a finalist in this category for his story Saving Hawaii’s Rarest Orchid.

Civil Beat’s finalists were:

The awards were judged by the SPJ’s Greater Oregon chapter.

Last year, Civil Beat won its first public service award and four other first place prizes and was named a finalist eight times.