Honolulu Civil Beat has been named the best overall news website in Hawaii by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii chapter. It’s the sixth year in a row we’ve won the award, which is every year since we started in 2010.

We also took home the top prize of the night — the public service award for “The Harbor: This Waianae Homeless Camp Is Not What You’d Expect,” a multi-part, multimedia series by reporter Jessica Terrell and photographer Cory Lum. Jessica, who grew up homeless herself, spent three months living in Waianae and getting to know the people of The Harbor. This series clearly brought more understanding to Oahu’s unique homeless problem, including debate within government agencies about how to address this particular community. Readers donated a wealth of supplies including food, toys and even portable generators to the encampment.

Our news outlet was among dozens of newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations and online news sites that competed in the 2015 Excellence in Journalism Awards sponsored by SPJ. The awards were announced at a banquet Friday night at the Japanese Cultural Center. (Robbie Dingeman and Keoki Kerr did their usual fabulous job emceeing the event.)

Twinkle Borge is The Harbor's de facto governor, bringing a sense of order to hundreds of residents.
Twinkle Borge is The Harbor homeless encampment’s de facto governor, bringing a sense of order to hundreds of residents. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Civil Beat won 14 first-place awards in the two sections we compete in: All Media, which as its name implies is where all the different media enter their best work, and Internet, which is online sites. The contest names finalists along with first-place winners and our staff was honored as finalists 13 times.

HuffPost Hawaii, our sister publication, was named a finalist in three categories, including best overall website. It’s the second year HuffPost has been a finalist for best website out of the three years it’s been in business.

Nancy Cook Lauer’s All Hawaii News was also a finalist for best news site. Nancy is a veteran West Hawaii Today reporter who spends much of her own time every day putting together this detailed daily compilation of news stories from around the state. (PS: This is a nonprofit effort that relies on donations from readers; just sayin’.)

Needless to say, there is some great journalism being done in Hawaii. Here are some of the highlights of the year as seen through this journalism contest, and if you want a closer look at the good work that is being done all over the state, click here to read the full list on the SPJ site.

All Media:

• Civil Beat writers swept the public service reporting category. Besides the first-place winner, The Harbor, our multi-part, multimedia series on Micronesian immigration, “An Untold Story of American Immigration,” was honored as a finalist. Reporter Chad Blair and photographers Mark Edward Harris and Cory Lum spent months traveling throughout Micronesia as well as to communities on the mainland and in Hawaii where Micronesian immigrants are finding new lives. Nathan Eagle’s work bringing attention to the politics and practices of the adult care home industry was the other finalist. (Both The Harbor and The Micronesians have been honored with regional and national awards.)

A graveyard on Majuro.
This graveyard on Majuro in Micronesia is being washed into the sea as a consequence of climate change and rising sea levels. Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat/2015

• Nick Grube of Civil Beat took home the top investigative reporting prize for his examination of the circumstances behind the death of Aaron Torres, who died as he was being arrested by Honolulu police. Nick and Bob Porterfield, a special correspondent for Civil Beat,  were named a finalist for their series “Off Track,” that is looking into the expenses and cost overruns of the Honolulu rail project. Brian Perry of the Maui News was also named a finalist.

• “Living Hawaii,” Civil Beat’s ongoing exploration of Hawaii’s high cost of living and what can be done to bring it down, earned special projects editor Eric Pape a first-place award for explanatory reporting. Lavonne Leong of Hawaii Business magazine was named a finalist twice in that category — one for her story on trash and a second time for a piece on water.

• Veteran journalist Ian Lind won first place in column writing for his Civil Beat column that appears weekly. Longtime political science professor Neal Milner was named a finalist in that category for his bi-weekly Civil Beat column. Matt Lowenthal of the Maui News was the other finalist in this one.

• Jessica Terrell won first place for government reporting for her series on The Harbor. Finalists were Nancy Cook Lauer for her work investigating and exposing Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi’s questionable use of his county expense card. Nancy was the first to uncover and report on Kenoi’s actions, which she accomplished through persistent public records requests. Other reporters soon picked up on her work, including Rick Daysog of Hawaii News Now who won a first-place award in the TV division of the SPJ contest for his version of the Kenoi story. Lavonne Leong of Honolulu Magazine was also a finalist in this category for a story called “Talking Trash.”

• The Maui News won the top prize for breaking news reporting for its coverage of the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea. Anita Hofschneider of Civil Beat was a finalist for her coverage of the legislative action on Gov. David Ige’s failed effort to get Carleton Ching confirmed as head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

• Nathan Eagle of Civil Beat won first place in health reporting for his work on the adult care home community including the debate over posting care home inspections online and surprise inspections. The judges called his stories “incredibly well-researched. … No stone was unturned in the phenomenal eye-opening report.” Finalists were Ilima Loomis for a story called “Anxious, Traumatized, depressed” in Hawaii Business magazine and Don Wallace for “Facing a Silver Tsunami” in Honolulu Magazine.

• Civil Beat’s Nathan Eagle also took home first place for data journalism for reporting efforts that led to the creation of a database that allows people to easily search the financial disclosure records of state and Honolulu officials. This was an issue Nathan had covered throughout the legislative session. Lawmakers voted unanimously to require public disclosure from more state boards, including the University of Hawaii Board of Regents and the Land Use Commission. But some board members including a couple of regents fought the release so Civil Beat went to court to force the issue. The records were eventually made public and Civil Beat built the new database including inputting hundreds of records by hand. We are still updating it as new reports are filed. Finalists in this category included Jessica Terrell for a data-driven analysis of school disciplinary records that showed Micronesian, Tongan and Native Hawaii students have a disproportionately higher rate of suspension than other students. Hawaii Business magazine was also a finalist for its annual Business Outlook and Sentiment Survey.

• The Civil Beat Editorial Board won first place for editorial and opinion writing. Finalists were Leo Azambuja, an independent journalist based on Kauai, and Walter Chiara of the Lahaina News.

Mauna Kea supporter hugs DLNR law enforcement officer after announcing that the the DLNR was turn around and headed back down to regroup. 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
A Mauna Kea supporter hugs a state law enforcement officer during the standoff over the Thirty Meter Telescope in June 2015. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

• Civil Beat’s Cory Lum won the top prize in the news photography/videography category for his coverage of the TMT protest on Mauna Kea and the arrests of some of the demonstrators. Finalists were Matthew Thayer of the Maui News and Hollyn Johnson of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.


• Civil Beat swept the online news reporting category. First place went to Anita Hofschneider for her in-depth look at the plight of a disabled homeless woman. Two of Nathan Eagle’s stories, one on a bill that would have forced patients out of adult care homes and the other on the legislative politics behind the gubernatorial appointment of Carleton Ching, were finalists.

• First place for feature writing went to Nick Grube for his look into the mysterious disappearance of an American fisheries observer off a boat. Nick also was named a finalist for his behind-the-scenes look at embattled Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha. HuffPost Hawaii’s Carla Herreria was a finalist for her story on the Seed restaurant in Kaimuki, which offers a fresh start for former convicts, prostitutes and others who need a hand.

• The award for best one-person online features site went to Kim Steuterman Rogers for her blog chronicling a voyage to save Hawaiian monk seals. Catherine Toth Fox, who writes the popular The Cat Dish blog, was a finalist. So was Ray Tsuchiyama for his site, Pacific Visions and Memories.

One last thought: Journalism contests tend to focus on the reporters and photographers who work on the front lines of our business. But all these awards, whether part of a local, regional or national contest, are really due to the efforts of many behind the scenes people — talented editors and designers and developers and support staff who at Civil Beat don’t hesitate to dive right in and work alongside the field reporters on a project or stay up well past midnight (when most of our stories publish) to make sure all the tools are working and the final product is as flawless as possible. So a big thanks to all you guys!

Civil Beat took home a lot of awards in the 2015 Excellence in Journalism Contest sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii chapter.
Civil Beat took home a lot of awards in the 2015 Excellence in Journalism Contest sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii chapter. Patti Epler/Civil Beat

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