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It’s that season. Not erratic spring, but the reliable roll-out of journalism awards, aka a free education in the best of this work and how it’s done. You can roll your eyes at the glut of awards given in the profession — and there are more than a lot. But no amount can adequately honor the compelling work being done, how it serves a challenged society, how it archives needed history and what it can teach us as journalists and citizens.

We can’t mention all the awards here. And it’s always dangerous to offer a list, because someone gets left out.

But we’re keeping tabs as we can, especially on those at the national level that set the bar for literary nonfiction. More to come, including the Pulitzer Prizes, which will be announced May 9.

For a peek behind the scenes at some of this year’s big winners so far, you can find Storyboard interviews or analyses below. Our picks wouldn’t win much at the racetrack, but it’s fun to see familiar bylines.

We offer our congratulations to all the winners in whatever journalistic world they play in. We also want to say, with conviction, that the stories named as finalists are as worthy of congratulations and study as the top winners.

The 2002 Ellies, or National Magazine Awards, given by the American Society of Magazine Editors

The Feature Writing award went to “Twenty Years Gone: What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind,” by Jennifer Senior of the Atlantic. Senior explored the various facets of grief experienced by those who knew and loved Bobby McIlvaine, a quirky and brilliant charmer who was killed, at age 26, in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In her piece, Senior reveals her own connections to McIlvaine and his family, and what it took to revisit their collective pain. In an interview with Storyboard contributor Trevor Pyle, she walked through her process, her emotions and how she set nontraditional source boundaries.

Ed Yong of the Atlantic was a finalist in ASME’s Public Interest category for his continued coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ellies honored three of his 2021 stories: “Delta Is Driving a Wedge Through Missouri,” “How the Pandemic Now Ends” and “We’re Already Barreling Toward the Next Pandemic.” Those pieces were the focus of a Storyboard conversation between Yong and writer Kim Cross about how he interviews everyone from top policymakers to health workers on the front lines to patients. (Yong won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for his COVID coverage, and worked with Storyboard’s Monique Brouillette to annotate one of those pieces.)

News Leaders Association Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence

The News Leaders Association is the merger of the former American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Associated Press Managing Editors. ASNE’s non-deadline writing award was considered by many in the newspaper profession as equal to the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. The award honors “the best story on any topic, with preference given to strong and stylish writing. Sponsored by Advance Publications, Inc., this award is dedicated to former editor Deborah Howell who loved compelling writing.

First place went to Jason Fagone of The San Francisco Chronicle for “The Jessica Simulation,” a three-part series that profiled a grieving man and his dive into artificial intelligence as a way to retain a connection to his dead girlfriend. From the judges:

The Jessica Simulation is a breathtakingly intimate and somewhat shocking exploration of love, grief, and the boundaries of a relationship with a digital simulation of someone who has died. With remarkable detail, fueled by excerpts of dialogue between a man in mourning and a carefully constructed chatbot, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Jason Fagone takes readers inside a world that is alternately fascinating and disturbing. Fagone forces readers to confront difficult questions about the future, and themselves.

Fagone spent time with Storyboard contributor Chip Scanlan to annotate his series.

The Investigative Reporters and Editors

IRE’s top award for work in 2021 triggered by breaking news went to “What Parler Saw During the Attack on the Capitol,” by the staff of ProPublica. Judges’ comments:

A massive undertaking of data collection that uniquely captured the Jan. 6 insurrection from a wide range of vantage points. ProPublica’s exhaustive review of riot-related videos resulted in a unique interactive that provided the public with an early archive of history — work that would later be cited in criminal affidavits and Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing.

Former Nieman Fellow and multimedia journalist Alexander Trowbridge analyzed ProPublica’s work in a “Why’s This So Good” essay for Storyboard.

In the audio category, IRE honored “Hot Days: Heat’s Mounting Death Toll On Workers In The U.S.” The work was the result of an impressive partnership among NPR, The California Newsroom, The Texas Newsroom, Columbia Journalism Investigations and Public Health Watch. From the judges:

Outstanding collaboration and compilation of stories uncovering the dangers workers face outside in the heat from just doing their job. The team does a superb job of explaining the multiple levels of failures. From OSHA and its soft penalties and lack of inspection, to the companies that hire these men and women, and ultimately the federal government which could set the standard with a law. In fact, establishing that there’s no regulatory standard for heat in the workplace was revelatory! Furthermore, with a warming planet and climate change, this is an issue workers will continue to face, which makes such an investigation even more critical.

Among the journalists were Julia Shipley of Columbia Journalism Investigations and Jim Morris of Public Health Watch. The two spoke for a Storyboard conversation on why Morris left a top position at the Center for Public Integrity to launch his own start-up.

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