American Journalism Online Awards – 2023 Winners

From Baltimore to Los Angeles to India, this year’s AJO Award-winners dug into issues including killings of transgender Americans, squalor inside Rikers Island Jail, celebrity justice, food and drink in the American South, and a 50-year-old rape case.


The Winners

1. Best Non-Profit News Source

Judged by Michael de Yoanna

Calmatters logo

Winner: CalMatters

As debate over the meaning of the word “objectivity” swirls in journalistic circles, CalMatters has a different word: “nonpartisan.” The organization, which serves an audience in California, provides an excellent model for nonprofits that seek to explain, investigate, and look for solutions while holding those in power to account. Their work goes after the stories that other news organizations miss. Reporters also strive to fill the void left by cutbacks at traditional news outlets in the state. CalMatters’ in-depth and persistent coverage of education, housing, justice, and other issues makes it a standout worthy of recognition.

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Public Source .org Logo

Honorable Mention: PublicSource (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

PublicSource is a reliable, trusted, and authoritative source of information. The organization clearly puts the time and resources where it is most important: editing and reporting. PublicSource then presents its stories and other content clearly and directly, letting readers know what they need to know.

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2. Best Debunking of Fake News

Judged by Mark Joseph Stern

Lindsay Ellefson Headshot

Winner: Lindsey Ellefson for BuzzFeed News

Jail Time for an Imaginary Crime

This piece is a brilliant and astonishingly well-reported look at how law enforcement exploits fear of fentanyl to arrest people for a “crime” that is physically impossible. Gripping, infuriating, and in service of the public interest— ”Jail Time for an Imaginary Crime” is an important work that deserves recognition, especially as both political parties have urged us to give our unquestioning faith to the police. I also think the piece is an incredibly useful article given how frequently police departments claim that officers are poisoned by touching fentanyl. For better or worse, it will remain relevant for a long time to come. 

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Honorable Mention: Tyler Kingkade, Ben Goggin, Ben Collins, and Brandy Zadrozny for NBC

How an urban myth about litter boxes in schools became a GOP talking point

Given the subject matter, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect to rank this one too highly when I first clicked. But I quickly realized that the authors used the litter box myth to tell a much bigger and more important story about the bizarre, twisting paths that conspiracy theories take on their way to becoming a political talking point. The revelation that this myth began with a school preparing for mass shootings felt like Rosebud in Citizen Kane, a crucial bit of information that, once uncovered, ties everything together.

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3. Best Use of Public Records

Judged by Cerise Castle

Deaths in the Family logo AJO 2023

Winner: Deaths in the Family by Insider

Today, the LGBTQIA2S+ community in the United States is under attack. The team at Insider behind “Deaths in the Family” took on the task of accounting for the human toll of hate ideologies by creating the most comprehensive examination of transgender killings to date. Their resolute and decisive reporting on a subject where public records are particularly difficult to obtain and navigate should be an inspiration and model to reporter’s across the country, and the world.

Congratulations to the entire team behind this work:
Reporters: Hannah Beckler, Bradford Davis, Matt Drange, Nicole Einbinder, Madison Hall, Quispe López, Michelle Mark, Haven Orecchio-Egresitz, Narimes Parakul, Cecilia Reyes, Keenan Trotter
Editors: Esther Kaplan, Sophie Kleeman, John Cook
Editorial Consultants: Diamond Stylz and Rayna Momen

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Matt Katz Headshot

Honorable Mention: Matt Katz for Gothamist

Never-before-seen images show Rikers inmates locked in caged showers, left in soiled pants, more poor conditions

This groundbreaking report gives the world the first look inside of one of the most notorious jails in the United States. The reporting confirms the worst of our fears: Rikers Island subjects people to horrific abuses and potential human rights violations with the knowledge of the New York State government.

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Jyoti AJO 2023 Headshot

Honorable Mention: Jyoti Yadav for The Print

A rape forgotten—50 years ago, Mathura was denied justice. Then society betrayed her.

In this reporting, Jyoti Yadav recounts of the story of Mathura, a young Indian woman whose case of horrific rape made way for legal reform in India. Yadav manages to track down a woman for whom no official records exist and collect her thoughts on the culture shifting event over 50 years later.

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4. Best Data Visualization

Judged by Ann Choi

Warehouse Nation Screenshot

Winner: Warehouse Nation in Insider

Summarizing a compelling finding in a single chart is a rare feat. Showing the human toll behind the analysis while holding bad actors – the world’s largest retailer in this case – accountable is even harder. Katherine Long, Shayanne Gal, and animator Alonso Guzmán Barone accomplished both in this piece for Insider. Their work is a prime example of how data-driven reporting can expose systemic problems and demand answers.

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Scientific American Logo

Honorable Mention:
Discrimination is breaking people’s hearts in Scientific American

Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Amanda Montanez, Miriam Quick, and Gioncarlo Valentine delved into two daunting subjects – institutional racism and heart diseases –  with authority and empathy for Scientific American. Their informative piece reminds us that behind every health statistic there is a person and a network of people who deeply care for them.

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5. Best TikTok Explainer

Judged by Max Foster

Baltimore Banner Logo for AJO 2023 Awards

Winner:  Baltimore Banner

This was a powerful way into an important universal issue: how to respond to homelessness. Every good TikTok need an intriguing hook, and in this case Baltimore Banner audience engagement editor Krishna Sharma said he noticed “something odd.” Then there were all sorts of elements the Baltimore audience could relate to, from the way it was filmed, to the use of music and the location of the speaker. We then go on the journey with Sharma and co-reporter Brenda Wintrode, which is a smart way of covering an investigation through social video. Each stage of the story built on the next, without losing audience attention. The main revelation is that this method of using music to drive the homeless away is being used at all. That’s what resonated and started an important debate in the comments. TikTok journalism at its best – intriguing, thorough, relatable, important, surprising and viral.

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6. Best Solo Newsletter

Judged by Jackie Bryant

The food section logo

Winner: Hannah Raskin

The Food Section

Hanna Raskin’s “The Food Section” is an excellent example of the kind of in-depth culture reporting disappearing from mainstream publications. She herself left Charleston’s Post and Courier in 2021 to take her talents to Substack, where she has essentially replicated the type of work she did at the paper while also adding other contributor voices and other editorial bells and whistles. Basically, the newsletter format appears to have given Raskin the freedom and support to do even better what she had already done quite well. A dogged and thorough reporter, Raskin is considered by many in the food writing world to be one of the top, and it’s easy to see why. Raskin treats local subjects, sources, and storylines with reverence and an intellectual curiosity typically reserved for more hard news beats in other local markets, proving that food reporting need not be fluffy. In fact, quite the opposite: a region’s foodways and the people operating in it are vital parts of social and economic ecosystems and deserve journalistic scrutiny, as well as a microphone. Raskin excels at offering both.

7. Best Non-Traditional News Source

Judged by Will Schick

Long Lead Logo

Winner: Long Lead

The journalism on Long Lead is nothing short of stunning. Launched in 2021, Long Lead describes itself as a “story studio focused on finding, funding, producing, and publishing original, in-depth journalism,” and they are truly breathing life into their stories. Every article is an experience that is both immersive and informative. Their platform blends what have typically been viewed as distinct genres of storytelling – multimedia, audio, graphic design, photography and print – and packages them all into one unique news experience. This is what I imagine long-form news will look like in the future. Throughout the judging process, I encountered many interesting websites; but Long Lead just kept making me want to read more and see more. I’m excited to see what they come out with next.

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8. Best News-Based Podcast

Judged by Chenjerai Kumanyika, Matt Shaer, Claire Tighe

Embedded NPR Logo AJO 2023

Winner: Embedded: Changing the Police

NPR and The Marshall Project, Hosted by Kelly McEvers and Dan Girma

Embedded: Changing the Police is a strong inside look at one community wrestling with structural change in law enforcement. In this artful audio documentary, NPR and The Marshall Project elevate the experiences of Yonkers residents, their quest for justice, and a team of officials working on the messy process of reform. The podcast poses an important question for our political and cultural time period: What should the future of policing look like? And can a government right its past wrongs?

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9. Best Media Criticism

Judged by Parker Molloy

Kois Headshot

Winner: Dan Kois 

My PR Day of Yes

In “My PR Day of Yes,” Dan Kois of Slate has crafted an engaging, well-written piece of service journalism, offering readers a glimpse into the media’s inner workings and into the intense and frequently overwhelming world of unsolicited press releases. For one day, Kois decided to respond “yes” to every pitch he received from publicists, accepting their offers to converse with their clients. His findings were unexpected, leading him to ponder, “Could the daily deluge of seemingly futile pitches actually be a hidden window into American ingenuity, optimism, and desperation?” 

Some of the most effective media criticism involves simply drawing back the curtain for the general public in an accessible manner, fostering much-needed trust and transparency in an industry that, quite frankly, can often appear unnecessarily secretive. Kois accomplished this in a manner that was both enjoyable and lighthearted.

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AJO 2023 Winner Alissa Quart Headshot

Honorable Mention: Alissa Quart

Let’s Make Journalism Work for Those not Born into an Elite Class

Alissa Quart’s piece in the Columbia Journalism Review highlights a problem that runs rampant through the world of media. Her insightful examination of the economic disparities within the journalism industry earned her an honorable mention in the Best Media Criticism category. 

Quart’s work is a testament to the power of media criticism in instigating change and fostering inclusivity. By shining a light on the lack of economic diversity in journalism, she has opened up a necessary dialogue and set a high standard for future discussions on this topic.

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10. Best News-Based Twitter Thread

Judged by Kat Tenbarge

Headshot of AJO 2023 Winner Ashton Pittman

Winner: Ashton Pittman

Brett Favre Mississippi Welfare Scandal Timeline

When Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brett Favre was implicated in the largest public fraud case in Mississippi history, Ashton Pittman of the Mississippi Free Press traced the path of over $5 million of the more than $100 million misused funds in a Twitter thread. Multimedia elements included texts between Favre, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, and other state officials as they negotiated the use of welfare funds to build a volleyball facility at Favre’s alma mater, where his daughter played volleyball. By mastering the medium of Twitter threads, Pittman unpacked a complex state story with a compelling angle of public interest that elevated his reporting to a national audience.

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Meghan Cuniff Headshot

Honorable Mention: Meghann Cuniff

Tory Lanez Verdict

In December, rapper Tory Lanez was convicted of three felonies for shooting hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion in the feet and injuring her. But before, during, and after the star-studded trial, social media was awash with misinformation and bias that sought to undermine and vilify the victim. Meghann Cuniff, an independent journalist who now runs the Legal Affairs and Trials website, rose above the gossip by delivering trustworthy reporting and witty commentary based on her extensive trial coverage experience. Her credibility and ethic paid off as her tweets went viral the day the verdict came through.

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11. Feature Most Likely to Inspire Future Journalists

Judged by Alma Milisic, Lilian Manansala, David Ben Moshe

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie Headshot AJO 2023

Winner: The People Vs Rubber Bullets

By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie for Long Lead

The judges voted unanimously for “The People vs. Rubber Bullets,” a groundbreaking work that investigates U.S. police use of kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs). Featuring six individual stories and an interactive timeline, the project took two years to produce and is the most extensive multimedia work on rubber bullets ever published, according to its publisher Long Lead. 

McRobbie and a team, which included Amelia Lang, Eoin O’Carroll, and Decimal Studios, weaved together a stunning, gut-wrenching account of the real-life impacts of so-called less-lethal munitions on civilians and journalists. The story covers the history of KIPs and how police have used them to enforce crowd control. It is truly a must-see/read piece of journalism that takes the digital format to another level: by taking deeply researched reporting, enhancing the storytelling with an assembly of more than 100 photographs and dozens of videos, and presenting the narrative in a way that won’t let a reader soon forget.

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Matt Drange Headshot AJO 2023

Honorable Mention: He was my High School Journalism Teacher. Then I Investigated his Relationships With Teenage Girls.

By Matt Drange for Insider

Reporter Matt Drange was at first reluctant to tell this story of how his beloved high school journalism teacher was grooming teenage girls because he felt too close to it. But he and his editors decided to lean into his unique perspective and the result is an intimate, heart-wrenching investigation. This piece is a layered and compelling look at how teachers groom children for sex, the normalization of such abuse, and the lifelong impacts on the survivors. Drange’s research was meticulous, and included his former teacher’s texts, inappropriate yearbook notes, and a voicemail that serves to structure the piece. The judges appreciated how difficult it must have been to write about his former teacher, one who helped inspire him to become a journalist himself.

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The Judges