Honolulu Civil Beat was honored with one of the Online News Association’s top prizes Saturday evening at the Online News Association’s annual awards banquet.

Civil Beat won first place for general excellence in the small newsroom division. The Wall Street Journal took home the award for large newsrooms and ProPublica for medium newsrooms. Each award was accompanied by a $5,000 prize and engraved trophy.

The ONA, which is the world’s largest association of journalists, technologists, executives, students, educators and other digital media professionals, hosts a three-day annual conference that features numerous workshops and training opportunities on a wide range of subjects. This year’s conference was in New Orleans and drew more than 2,000 registered attendees.

Civil Beat journalists were on hand for the ONA19 awards dinner in New Orleans. From left, Ben Nishimoto, Nick Grube, Alana Eagle, Nathan Eagle, Brittany Lyte, Jim Simon and Jessica Terrell.

The awards banquet was emceed by NPR correspondent and host Sam Sanders. In announcing Civil Beat’s award he cited judges comments:

“The judges for this category were impressed not only by the overall excellence of the winning site but also by its incredible breadth of coverage,” Sanders said. “For anyone living in this area it’s become an indispensable source of news but also life-saving information.”

This year’s competition looked at work from June 2018 through June 2019. In that period Civil Beat produced a number of in-depth and investigative projects, as well as focused continuing coverage on  issues like Hawaii’s cost of living, politics and the 2018 elections. We ramped up our efforts to engage readers in the important issues facing Hawaii through expanding our events — like Hawaii Storytellers and Civil Cafes. And we took the discussion out of the newsroom and into communities in our Civil Beat van, aptly called The Wavemaker.

“Journalism is a team sport, certainly this is really a team award for Civil Beat,” Managing Editor Jim Simon told the crowd of hundreds of journalists gathered at the dinner. “We all aspire at Civil Beat … to build a culture where we can innovate and experiment with our storytelling but really also keep the  focus on our core role and our core values as journalists, our core role as a watchdog and keeping government and private interests accountable.”

Simon noted that becoming a nonprofit news organization has been essential to building relationships in the community and developing better stories.

“There’s a lot of mistrust toward the the media in general, toward the press in general, some of it well earned on our own part,” Simon said. “But we’ve found in Hawaii … there also is really a hunger for in-depth, tough-minded and well-told coverage on critical issues in the community.”

Simon cites some of Civil Beat’s in-depth coverage in the previous year, including in the areas of police accountability, climate change, the cost of over-tourism, black market adoptions involving the Marshall Islands, and the mentally ill on the streets of Honolulu.

“All those kinds of issues, people really respond to that kind of deep important coverage,” he said.

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