First place: Annie Steel, ThisWeek Community News
About this entry: “Columbus Parent’s Teacher of the Year program helps recognize local teachers from elementary, middle and high schools. Readers are asked to nominate their favorite teacher online from early Feb to mid-March. They submit a short statement, up to 500 words. Then ThisWeek’s Columbus Parent magazine turns those nominations around for the public to read and vote on from mid-March to early May. A winning teacher from each school level is chosen and winners are celebrated with ceremonies in the schools in May. These teachers are then featured in Columbus Parent’s Back to School issue in August. Columbus Parent ties this promotion to revenue with a 2015 Teachers of the Year overview: 52 nominations, 5,904 votes cast and $2,700 in prizes.” — Scott Hummel, assistant managing editor, digital
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The Columbus Parent smartly used their role as an important voice in the community to engage readers with school-aged children. Their Teacher of the Year project provided a perfect blend of reporting, community input and revenue, which should be seen as a model for other local news organizations.
Second place: Staff, Waxahachie Daily Light
About this entry: The Daily Light’s small newsroom proved itself as a major player in the audience interaction game, breaking news and answering comments about an investigation of charges of sexual harassment in the local volunteer fire department to helping followers find ways to avoid damage caused heavy rain and a tornado.
“Because Ellis County is mostly a rural area, we use social media to keep residents informed of local issues when no one else can. Many times we’ve had readers tell us they’ve heard about news first because of our ability to be quick and accurate in posting local news that can’t be found anywhere else, ultimately keeping us the No. 1 Facebook page in our county and the No. 1 news website in our county, with more than three times our daily circulation in ‘Likes’ and often reaching more than 100,000 people throughout the week with headlines and coverage that even goes to a national level.” — Shelly Conlon, managing editor
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The dogged reporting of the Daily Light staff helped their readers by going beyond the headlines of a scandal at their local fire department, not only describing the allegations but also the impact it would have on readers in terms of emergency response. Their idea to further engage readers by using Facebook for real-time updates and reader submissions was excellent.