2020 Daily Newspaper Awards

Writing/Reporting Awards: 2:40
Sports Writing Awards: 23:49
Design, Editing & Section Awards: 27:33
Photography Awards: 33:40
Digital Awards: 42:05
Top Honors: 47:32

Judges' Comments

Full comments for First Place winners are now available. Download the PDF presentation with graphic representations of your wins, as well as Judges’ Comments for First Place winners. First Place comments are also be available in text format in this searchable Google Sheet.

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! 

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.

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!

President’s Awards for Excellence

SCPA’s President’s Awards for Excellence are presented by circulation division to the newspaper with the overall best performance in the contest. Winners are presented a trophy that will be theirs to display until the 2022 SCPA Annual Meeting & Awards. 

Winner in the Under 10,000 Division

Aiken Standard

Winner in the 10,000-25,000 Division

The Island Packet

Winner in the Over 25,000 Division

The Post and Courier