NASHVILLE -- Richland Source captured four national first-place awards Friday night at the Local Independent Online News Publishers Summit in Nashville, Tenn.
The local site claimed the most honors of any news organization in the country. Richland Source earned top honors for LION Publisher of the Year, Technology Innovation of the Year, Best Solutions Journalism Project of the Year, and Best Breaking News Coverage. The site was also a finalist for Best Visual Journalism Project.
"It's really amazing what our team has accomplished," Richland Source founder Carl Fernyak said. "I'm very proud of their awards.
"This stems from our commitment to innovation and community engagement with our readers," Fernyak said.
Richland Source President Jay Allred offered a nod to other online agencies across the nation in his acceptance speech for Publisher of the Year.
"Our peers in the room tonight are a constant source of inspiration to us," Allred said. "The work of independent journalism entities across the country is the future of journalism. We are honored and humbled to be part of that future."
Mansfield's locally-owned online news agency competed with newsrooms across the country in the biggest division, the category for sites that average more than 500,000 page views per month.
Judges for the national contest included Jim Rutenberg, of the New York Times; Christine Schmidt and Laura Owen, of Nieman Lab; Kristen Hare, of Poynter Institute; Jane Elizabeth, of the Charlotte News & Observer; Reuben Stern, of the University of Missouri; Jessica Pucci, of Arizona State University; Julia B. Chan of Mother Jones; and Amara Aguilar, of USC Annenberg, among others.
In the LION Publisher of the Year award, the judges noted Newsroom After Hours concerts, use of Open Source as an engagement tool with readers, and multiple Solutions Journalism projects among other items.
“Phenomenal. You’re hitting audience engagement from every angle – because they’re all important! – and proactively innovating using technology, partnerships, curiosity and experimentation/measurement," the judges stated. "You’ve found a way to make both sponsored content AND artificial intelligence useful and meaningful. Bravo!
“Richland Source offers important and valuable local news on a clean site with a good user experience. Your solutions journalism projects and funding should be templates for all local newsrooms.”
Richland Source's 18-month Rising From Rust series won the top honor in Best Solutions Journalism Project of the Year category. This honor was presented by the Solutions Journalism Network and included a $2,000 grant to produce another solutions journalism project in the next year.
Solutions and Engagement Editor Brittany Schock and Ashland Source reporter Tracy Leturgey combined to spearhead this series.
“Impressive in scope, audio and Hearken-generated interaction. Like how other cities’ experiences were brought into the picture," the judges stated. "Shows both community commitment and the use of journalism to get beyond the day to day coverage to the big picture issues lived by communities.
“Tangible impact with the skate park and a good job incorporating Hearken to bring the community voice into the series.”
In the Technology Innovation of the Year award was presented by Facebook to Richland Source.
The Mansfield outlet won for its creation of Lede Ai, an artificial intelligence program that uses unique software coding combined with data from the national Scorestream sports app, to produce sports briefs across the country. The judges lauded Lede Ai for a new way of doing business.
“The complete automation of the story creation process is laudable as is its value to the publisher for driving traffic. And let’s not forget that, for many, high school sports coverage puts the L in local," the judges stated. "Admirable too is the national recognition of the product. Sales to other media organizations of the technology speak of the value of this innovation for both the Richland Source and other media organizations as well, Well done!
“Good implementation of AI technological solution on local level. Clear potential for this to further organization’s goal of driving pageviews.”
In the Best Breaking News Coverage category, Richland Source won for Schock's work on the Shelby tornado. Judges noted her intimate knowledge of the community in the reporting of this story.
“This is hyper-local news as its finest and fulfilling its highest calling. Great use of social media, excellent photography and thorough reporting on what must have been a difficult story to cover. The stories showed intimate knowledge of the community and how much that matters in this kind of coverage," the judges stated.
“Excellent work with visuals and community engagement.”