SPJ Honors Seattle Weekly Staff With Three Firsts and Best New Journalist Award

The field was bigger, so the wins feel better.

Seattle Weekly staff writer Casey Jaywork, New Journalist of the Year. Photo by Chloe Collyer

Saturday night, Seattle Weekly took home four awards and a special recognition during the Northwest Excellence in Journalism gala held at the Hyatt at Olive 8 in downtown Seattle.

These awards, of course, are secondary to the work we do here, but they do provide me a moment to recognize some of the most impactful journalism that my staff created in 2015. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Before I get to the winners, though, a few words on this year’s competition. While in previous years, the Society of Professional Journalists placed The Weekly in an “Alternative Weekly” category with a handful of other publication from the region (which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska), SPJ reconfigured the competition this year, eliminating the “Alternative Weekly” category and placing us and the rest of the region’s alt weeklies into a much larger “Non-Daily” pool. As a result, our journalism was for the first time in competition against Puget Sound Business Journal, Portland Business Journal, Real Change, The Portland Tribune, Street Roots, and Northwest Asian Weekly.

I’d just like to go on record saying that I believe this is a very good thing. These outlets are doing some fine work and being judged against them is an honor, helping to expose us to the exemplary work of our peers, and giving us even greater confidence in the Weekly work that is recognized by SPJ. Now, if only The Stranger would join the party.

Also, on a personal note, my first ever full-time journalism job was as music editor at Willamette Week. In my three-and-a-half years there, Editor-in-Chief Mark Zusman showed me how important fearless, well-crafted journalism can be to a city. I didn’t know it at the time, but the mold for the current Weekly was cast in those years, the lessons I learned shaping the journalism that you read here every day.

In my time at Willamette Week, the paper won a lot of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. And each time, no matter the honor, we all went back to work, grinding for that next story. This is what I expect my staff to do, but only after we take a few moments to enjoy the fact that Willie Week won only two firsts to our three. Better luck next year, Zusman.

And with that, our winners …

Critique and Review FIRST PLACE

Ernest Loves Agnes Brings Simple but Superlative Italian Food to Capitol Hill

By Nicole Sprinkle, Seattle Weekly

Italian food has long been a point of consternation for Seattle. In fact, the first food review to ever appear in Seattle Weekly, 40 years ago now, was titled, “Life Is One Long Search for a Good Italian Restaurant.” Her own search for great Italian food led current food critic Nicole Sprinkle to a Hemmingway-inspired spot on Capitol Hill and resulted in a review that mixes the anxiety of development with the story of this particular restaurant and an arresting description of dishes.

Government and Politics Reporting FIRST PLACE

Anatomy of a NIMBY

By Casey Jaywork, Seattle Weekly

It is no secret that the current iteration of The Weekly tilts somewhat toward a vision of this city as a kind of urbanist utopia. It is also no secret that our city’s neighborhood preservationists are decidedly tilting hard in the other direction. Rather than dismiss or, worse, demonize these neighbors, though, Casey Jaywork wanted to know what made them tick. The result is a deep exploration of the broken promises and policies that gave rise to the modern-day NIMBY.

Health Reporting FIRST PLACE

In Georgetown, the Housing Is Affordable and the Air Unbreathable

By Sara Bernard, Seattle Weekly

Sara Bernard actually first reported on this story of nose-bleed-inducing pollution as a freelancer for KUOW. Then we hired her and she kept following it. We struggled with it some, wondering if we would just be rehashing a story that everyone had moved on from. Then, after doing some preliminary reporting on a follow-up, Sara realized that the real story was that the citizens of Georgetown couldn’t move on. She dug into the history of environmental pollution in the area and found that, because of systemic inaction and bureaucratic bungling, the air is never quite clear.

Arts and Lifestyle Reporting SECOND PLACE

How Odesza Became the Biggest Seattle Band You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

By Kelton Sears, Seattle Weekly

This headline drove some readers crazy, because, well, Odesza is huge in the realm of Electronic Dance Music. But as is the case in the ever-fragmenting music industry, no one else really knew they were huge until, suddenly, they sold out a number of dates at the 2,800-capacity Paramount Theatre. In order to figure out why they were so big, Kelton Sears did the reporting to find out how they got so big. His story, which came in second to Eugene Weekly’s enthralling profile of artist Rick Bartow, is an intimate exploration of a modern music industry that is unfamiliar to most.

Investigative Reporting FIRST PLACE

Profiting From Thrift

By Francesca Lyman, InvestigateWest

This one is not technically ours, but Seattle Weekly did act as the print outlet for this story, produced by Seattle-based non-profit Investigate West. Our version carried the alternative headline “Mislabeled,” but everything else about the story—its easy prose, its deep reporting, its damning conclusion—remained the same.

New Journalist of the Year – Western Washington Pro Chapter

Casey Jaywork

Joining fellow winners Kate O’Connell Walters of KUOW, and Ashley Stewart of Puget Sound Business Journal, Casey Jaywork was recognized for what has been a very impressive first year as a full-time staff writer, a year in which he has led our coverage of homelessness and the War on Drugs while holding down the post of City Hall reporter. Casey gets better with every passing week and the work that he has produced in 2016 has already exceeded that which he created in 2015. I’m very proud of him. And if you’re reading this, Casey, get back to work!

Read a full list of winners here. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to the SPJ folks for making these awards possible.

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