LOWELL THOMAS TRAVEL JOURNALISM COMPETITION
27 Years of Rewarding Journalists for Outstanding Work in the Field
Awards for Work Published in 2009-2010
Faculty members of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication, coordinated by Winston Cavin, judged the competition. There were 1,161 entries. For questions, contact: Mary Lu Abbott, SATW Foundation administrator, 713-973-9985, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The results and comments also may be viewed online at the Foundation Web site, www.satwfoundation.org.
Category 1: Grand Award — Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year
Gold: Andrew McCarthy, freelance writer
The versatility and power of Andrew McCarthy’s writing is clearly evident throughout his portfolio of entries. Whether he is recalling the accidental death of a 16-year-old girl in the Wyoming wilderness or seeking out the best soda bread recipe in Ireland, readers experience the highs and highs of excellent reporting, writing and storytelling. In “Going Back In” McCarthy tells the story of how Katy Brain died attempting to cross the Snake River. He explains exactly how it happened and readers get to see the horror unfold and awaken to a shocking reality. “Katy was not hurt, not missing, not in trouble — she was dead.” The gut-wrenching story chronicles the feeling of loss and thawing of emotions. “A Slice of Ireland” is on the other end of the emotional spectrum. McCarthy writes: “Chasing a memory is usually a losing battle” as he goes on an odyssey in search of the perfect brown soda bread. He writes, “I like my soda bread the old-fashioned way — firm, a little crumbly, and with that slightly sweet aftertaste that lets you know there’s baking soda in there.” Word by word, paragraph-by-paragraph, entry-by-entry, McCarthy earns the gold the old-fashioned way — by treating readers to excellent writing and poignant stories.
Silver: Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor, Los Angeles Times
What in the world will Las Vegas build next? The Los Angeles Times Travel section answers that question in spades with the planning, coordinating and editing of Catharine Hamm in coverage about the $8.5 billion project to build hotels, private residences and “super-chic retail” in Sin City. Hamm introduces the project in her blog and follows up with a well-executed section, which includes a full-page graphic illustration of the components of CityCenter, touted as “the largest privately funded construction project in North America.” An editor who also is a writer and reporter, Hamm treats readers to a mouth-watering story in “Kansas City BBQ.” According to Hamm, Kansas City BBQ is among the best in the nation, and she reveals her tastes without ruffling the feathers of BBQ lovers from other locales. She writes: “Forgive me, Lexington, NC. Your pulled pork is fabulous. A tip of the hat to you, Memphis. Ribs at the Rendezvous are always memorable.” But Kansas City serves up the cuisine just right for this Hamm (pardon the pun). From blogs to feature stories Hamm’s writing is informative, thorough, entertaining and yes — excellent. She earns the silver for outstanding reporting that puts it all on black — as in news type.
Bronze: Gary Stoller, reporter, USA Today
Gary Stoller knows the airline industry and keeps consumers informed by reporting facts that are frequently alarming. For example, since 2003 approximately 65,000 U.S. airline flights that shouldn’t have taken off because of maintenance problems took off anyway. As an investigative reporter, Stoller did a six-month look into lax oversight of airline maintenance problems, providing a great service for millions of readers and the global flying public. In “65,000” he illuminates the performance of FAA inspectors, the NTBS and airline mechanics by analyzing data obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The story is detailed and factual and frightening for anyone who has ever flown. If you wonder what it will take to force the airlines to fix the problem, Stoller reveals more in the sidebar article, “FAA levies $28.2M in fines, proposed fines in the past 6 years.” Broadening his portfolio with the article, “Airlines still offer fliers a high-class amenity: wine,” he interviews a host of experts and again gives us the facts. For instance, even with a downturn in the economy “the world’s airlines annually buy about 4.3 million gallons of wine.” In short, you can still find top-quality wines served in the air. From new airline fees to hotel tipping guidelines, Stoller delivers the goods, and readers are the better for it. For his outstanding reporting and service to traveling consumers he earns the bronze.
Category 2: Newspaper Travel Sections
2A — Newspapers with 350,000 or more circulation
Gold: The Washington Post, Joe Yonan, Travel Editor
The Post offered a vibrant package each Sunday that was both imaginative and traditional. The latter is hardly an insult. The Post still takes readers on in-depth voyages to the wine regions of Georgia (the former Soviet Union); western Canada (with the clever headline “Chill Before Serving”); Brazil; Romania; and Mexico (where the angle was H1N1 and “You could have Isla Mujeres all to yourself”). The Post, thank goodness, can still cover all the ground while adjusting to current realities. The sections helped tourists find a cheap hotel in New York (“Bed Check,” a regular feature reviewing lodgings); deals on land, air, sea adventures (a regular feature called “What’s the Deal?”); and two ways to take a “roots vacation” in Ghana, family-style, for $2,000 to $2,500 per person.
The Post also pleased with clever angles on familiar destinations. In its Caribbean issue, for instance, the lead feature, “Face to Face With Jamaica,” encouraged travelers to forget the gated resorts, get out and meet the locals. We saw plenty of photos reflecting the diversity of the island’s population and met a government-sponsored volunteer ambassador who welcomes strangers into her home, gives them embraces and fixes juice-and-ginger cocktails. The writer spent an hour in the home, exchanged contact information and left having made a friend.
For pure reading fun, it was hard to beat “Spy vs. Spy,” a lighthearted peek into the world of snoops who “mystery shop” hotels. “Dapper in a dark suit and a silk tie the color of a blushing rose in bloom, AAA Man blended in with the other guests at the Hays-Adams, the storied hotel a stone’s throw from the White House. He could have been in town for a tete-a-tete with a congressman or to attend a fundraiser for the Kennedy Center. Yes, he was that good.”
Silver: Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Kerri Westenberg, Travel Editor
How impressive is the Star Tribune? How about a staff-written climb of Mount Kilimanjaro? While one doesn’t want to swoon too much over a single piece, the sheer budgetary hurdles facing travel sections makes this package a surprise. Jackie Crosby took us to Tanzania: “As we plodded through the rain forest where the blue monkeys played, and farther into the misty heath forest and moorlands beyond, other hikers would pass us. Maeda [her guide] would shrug. ‘What’s the rush to get to some tent? Enjoy the mountain,’ he said.”
The Star Tribune offered reader-service features on destinations — including “Where to Roam Guilt-Free,” about the developing world’s 10 best ethical nations — along with advice on buying the best luggage scales, getting refunds from airlines and how to buy just the right tent, with six types including “pet-friendly” and “headroom.”
In sum, it’s a classy, newsy, entertaining section that mixes close-to-home with the exotic. The Family Camping issue featured free-lancer Chris Welsch’s trip with his 7-year-old nephew. “This was Torrin’s first outdoor adventure, and it was likely to leave a strong impression. I wanted it to be a good one.” He took us to the Root River in southern Minnesota, where “a seamless blanket of gray clouds sealed off the last fragment of blue sky. The canoe glided between the bridge pillars, and the clouds scattered droplets over the water’s smooth surface.” Despite the rain, the trip ended as a success.
For its cruise issue, the Star Tribune sent a writer and his wife on one of the shorter, cheaper cruises out of Miami — and they hated it.
“As I pulled the lever on the giant slot machine inside the ship’s glitzy casino for a chance to win our next cruise for free, my wife and I shared a nervous glance that said — for once — we were on the same page about our vacation ideas.
“Neither of us wanted to win.”
Surprises. Consumer advice. Personal journeys. Nicely done.
Bronze: Los Angeles Times, Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor
The Los Angeles Times has weathered the decimation of newspaper travel sections with style. The authors bring destinations to life while finding news angles that inform or amuse the reader.
A centerpiece on the lake at Coeur d’Alene, ID, began with a family settling down to fish with the mountains in the distance. “…But the city is not without its controversies.” Christopher Reynolds wrote: “Say no to fancy French pronunciation. Say no, also, to white supremacy. And say no, thank you, to the Rocky Mountain oysters at the Snake Pit restaurant east of town, unless you like bull testicles.” The piece took readers to a notorious white supremacist clubhouse, shut down in 2000. And it took us home: “That cloud bank from my ride was a full-blown thunderhead, obliterating the low sun, throwing lightning sheets at the lake. Even the teenagers were impressed.”
A rivalry turned recession-minded with the Ultimate Guide to California, which pitted “SF vs. SD,” and it wasn’t about baseball. It was the Golden Gate Bridge against the Gaslamp Quarter. The author: “If your wallet has you worried, here are four getaways that can make you feel far, far away.” The package included sights, costs, distance from L.A. and contact information.
The Times regularly offered plenty of frugal getaways such as “Dodgers Deal” during spring training in Arizona and Vancouver for the Olympics, along with updates on air fares and baggage fees.
2B — Newspapers under 350,000 circulation
Gold: San Francisco Chronicle, Spud Hilton, Travel Editor
The Chronicle provided the most cohesive, reader-focused package. While themed section fronts stole the show, the inside pages provided a breadth of coverage that set this Sunday section apart. For instance, an “Info to Go” graphic with a map gave readers tips on wildfires, labor unrest and which country is switching from the right side of the road to the left (Samoa). This is reader-service information you wouldn’t expect from the chambers of commerce.
The 50th-anniversary Hawaii section included tips on fun things to do away from the water on Oahu’s North Shore, including a hike. “The view from the top ridge, overlooking the Kaipapau Valley, will make you want to weep the next time you see concrete. An added bonus: You’re unlikely to meet another person on the [2.5-mile] trail.”
Each Sunday section offered a quick graphic “Weather to Go,” giving forecasts for three worldwide destinations.
The Palm Springs-themed issue, “Swingin’ It in Style With Ol’ Blue Eyes,” opens: “It’s OK for a newspaperman to go looking around Palm Springs for Frank Sinatra these days, as Mr. Sinatra is no longer in a position to get sore about it.” You can rent one of his houses for $1,950 a night — $50 extra if you want the pool heated, the writer tells us. And “You can push a button in a city park and hear Sinatra’s voice coming from a loudspeaker hidden in a bed of petunias. He talks about the scenery and the breeding habits of desert bighorn sheep.”
Silver: The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), Gary Warner, Travel Editor
The Orange County Register had a knack for timing its sections to cultural events. Ahead of Ken Burns’ documentary on “America’s Best Idea,” the Register offered a breathtaking (visually) and inspiring overview of U.S. national parks. In addition to the usual features (off-the-beaten path things to see, for example), the package provided potentially life-saving tips for tourists (“Grand Canyon Is Fraught with Peril for the Unprepared”).
Another section used a new airline and low fares to help readers “speed-date” to San Francisco for a one-night stay. The catchy headline: “New airline. Low fares. Quick trip. Pack light. Move fast.” And the story kept a fast-pace approach.
The Register is heavy on useful news, such as a reminder that beginning June 1 (2009), passengers would need passports to visit Mexico or Canada. The point was illustrated by a photo of long lines of cars and buses trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico — the primary method of transit from the L.A. area.
And the Register is fun to read. A delightful column by travel editor Gary Warner begins: “I have LAX attitude toward JWA,” referring to John Wayne Airport. If you’ve ever wondered about the sometimes-nonsensical three-letter abbreviations for airports, now you know. Some, wrote Warner, “cause giggles, groans or blushes when those tags are wrapped around your luggage by a skycap.” Among the monikers: YYZ for Toronto and OGG for Kahului, Maui.
Bronze: The Ottawa Citizen, Laura Robin, Travel Editor
The Citizen has recognized the economic downturn by emphasizing closer-to-home travel. Just in time, on Dec. 19, the section featured “12 Days of Christmas,” a dozen destinations within reach of Ottawa. From sleigh rides at Montebello to walking tours of Quebec City, from sipping fruits of the vine in Niagara to viewing art masterpieces in Syracuse (the farthest destination), this package was well-crafted for its audience.
While the Winter Olympics dominated the stage in Canada, plenty of coverage was given to British Columbia, including an entertaining four-day bicycle tour with travel editor Laura Robin. The headline pulled the reader in: “Four days with the chain gang: It’s all downhill on B.C.’s famous Kettle Valley Rail Trail.”
Yet the sections also covered Spain, Mexico and Canada’s North. One cover took us to Merida, Mexico, a city that “shines after the sun goes down.” Paul Gessell gets off a nice lead: “The capital of the state of Yucatan is, like an old, vain Hollywood movie star, best seen in the softer, kinder light of evening.”
Another feature is about a gourmet restaurant near Seville that gives you the renowned fare of its sister restaurant, El Bulli, without the yearlong waiting list. It describes a cake made of foam, which dissolves on the tongue, “leaving a bit of ice-cold sweetness … ethereal.”
Category 3: Magazines
3A — Travel Magazines
Gold: Afar, Greg Sullivan, Editorial Director
See, Connect, Go. I like the formula and love the magazine. From the World Gallery (love the shoes) forward, Afar presents a stunning mix of standing features (travel with a purpose, unusual places to stay) and stories on truly different topics (bog snorkeling in Wales?) from all over the world. The writers waste no time in grabbing my attention, and their first-person tales bring to life true adventures as wide-ranging as baking baguettes in Paris and gathering road kill in Tasmania. Add beautiful pictures and well-plotted design and this new magazine leaps to the top.
Silver: National Geographic Traveler, Keith Bellows, Editor
I had trouble skimming through this magazine — because I wanted to stop and read everything. It’s no surprise that the pictures were stunning, but the story titles and the topics are what really drew me in. I appreciated how the type of transport (motorcycle, sports car, motor home) provides a unifying link for road trip stories in three different countries. Add to that a healthy dose of travel tips and other helpful articles and you have a winning mix.
Bronze: Via, Bruce Anderson, Editor
The destinations are more mundane, but Via knows how to serve its readers. These are journeys I can actually make, and information I can really use. The design is lively and the writing is bright. The magazine also does a great job of getting readers involved by printing their travel tips and letting them share their favorite spots to eat, shop and gaze in wonder.
3B — Travel Coverage in Other Magazines
Gold: Midwest Living, Kendra L. Williams, Travel Editor
I quickly felt involved with everything travel in Midwest Living. The story ideas seemed more refined (leaving big cities out of the top food towns, focusing on autumn leaves in southeast Iowa), and the short takes seemed livelier (making a package on the good, old Lake of the Ozarks seem fresh and new) than in its competitors. What’s more, I felt involved when I read about traveling with a dog, camping with a kid and watching the stars in Nebraska — I heard the voices of real people. Add to that beautiful photos and superb packaging and you have a clear winner.
Silver: Southern Living, Warner McGowin, Executive Editor
The travel section is as rich as a Southern dessert, with lists galore and articles broken down into tasty morsels. You’re led to bargains on tickets, rooms and travel. You get to hear from interesting chefs. Short first-person pieces give me a feel for good bourbon as well as good hikes and unusual places to stay. I enjoyed the trip, though I occasionally longed for articles that called for longer stays.
Bronze: Bon Appétit, Victoria von Biel, Executive Editor
The focus is on the food, as it should be. But in addition to the lists of best in barbecue, ice cream and farm dining, Bon Appétit leaves room for some slightly longer articles, on the food scene in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, spirits in Portland, OR, and California’s influence on how we all eat. It’s a pleasing mix.
Category 4: Newspaper Article on U.S./Canada Travel
Gold: Tony Perrottet, “America’s Outback: Southern Utah,” The New York Times
This is an engaging narrative that blends the author’s story of discovery, the entertaining history of the region and its legendary characters and enough travel information for the potential visitor. A truly enjoyable read, it will make visitors want to wander away from the most popular portions of southern Utah’s great parks.
Silver: Reed Glenn, “End of the Road: Alaska,” The Miami Herald
The author expertly weaves his story — from his childhood nightmares about a land where the sun never set and a yearning to drive to the end of the road — into this recap of his journey across Alaska from bottom to top. The writing is fun and engaging, and there is a great deal of information in here for the potential traveler to note.
Bronze: Barney Mann, “Across the Snowy Crest,” The Oregonian
This wonderfully written recount of history may be enough to prod some adventurers to try to replicate the feat of traversing the Pacific Crest Trail. I love how the author reached back into history to retell a tale that had been forgotten.
Category 5: Magazine Article on U.S./Canada Travel
Gold: Wells Tower, “The Tuber,” Outside
Give a short-story writer an inner tube and some north Florida waters and just sit back and enjoy the read. “The Tuber” is one hilarious account by a man of waters and of letters. Wells Tower paddles along on his alligator-infested odyssey, and slapstick ensues. “Spurring myself along with a kayak paddle, I can churn forth at a decent pace. There’s only one problem: Each stroke swings me around about 45 degrees — now clockwise, now counterclockwise — so I don’t so much glide as swivel like a hockey puck under heavy English.” The hilarity is accompanied by acute descriptions of place, and a traveler’s advice on how to proceed from one to another. “Today, I plan to tube a portion of the Ichetucknee River, a cherished aorta of north Florida’s freshwater vasculature.” Each sentence is artful.
Silver: Tony Perrottet, “Behind the Scenes in Monument Valley,” Smithsonian
Tony Perrottet paints a film history of Monument Valley’s hidden stage. He goes behind the scenes with a Navajo rancher and shows us an area off-limits to trespassers. He introduces us to the beauty John Ford saw there, the beauty he shared in “Stagecoach” and six other Westerns. Along the way, we learn the Navajo Nation’s connection to the first tribal park. And we realize this hidden corner of the world is “fixed in the popular imagination as the archetypal Western landscape.”
Bronze (tie): Guy Saddy, “Big Apple Turnover,” enRoute
“In a sixth-floor suite, a stone’s hurl from Rockefeller Center, I lie on my back while a nice woman smears bird droppings all over my face.” Now, who among us can stop there? In his quest to recline and unwind in the spas of New York City, Guy Saddy will not let his readers rest. He seeks quiet and quietude, while his readers seek to know more about those bird droppings. A spa journey in New York of all places. The hook works.
Bronze (tie): Andrew McCarthy, “Driving: The Maui Loop,” Travel + Leisure
Circle an island with a car and some introspection? Been there. But Andrew McCarthy takes readers on a ride around and through and into Maui, where he lived for 10 years. McCarthy lends his eye to the place he knew and knows. He stops to take in views and to visit towns, including Lahaina: “It’s a place where you can have your picture taken on the street with multicolored parrots perched on your own person, or you can spend $1,400 on a ukulele made of curly koa wood.” McCarthy’s descriptions are of such concrete details throughout, and his pacing matches the stops along the way.
Category 6: Newpaper Article on Foreign Travel
Gold: Amit R. Paley, “A Village, or a Zoo? I Wanted to See Thailand’s Long-Necked Women.
Some Would Say That Makes Me Part of the Problem.” The Washington Post
The headline of this piece is certainly attention grabbing, and the story itself delivers on what the headline promises. The author goes beyond a traditional “what I saw in Thailand” piece to include a brief but enlightening discussion of ethical tourism. Mixing understated humor with an adequate sense of irony, Amit Paley explains the history of the Padaung women’s neck coils and the controversy surrounding the practice. You can sense his internal conflict, as he is amazed at the graceful quality of the women’s elongated necks yet also fully aware of the pain and skeletal damage caused by such a tradition. But Paley does not preach. He lets the women speak for themselves through numerous direct quotations, and as a result, the reader learns that the issue is more complicated than might be originally thought. The story is descriptive and informative but not judgmental. It allows readers to decide for themselves whether a tourist trade should be built on the elongated necks of women.
Silver: Andy Isaacson, “Pamir Mountains: At the Crossroads of History,” The New York Times
The lead of this story is beautifully descriptive, and it focuses appropriately on the location rather than the writer. A sentence in the first paragraph sums up the point of the story and sets the mood: “All were mingling this bright Saturday at a weekly market held throughout the year and, in one form or another, for thousands of years here in the Wakhan Valley, which divides Tajikistan and Afghanistan.” The reader understands from the opening of the story how important tradition and history are to the Pamir Mountains. The story itself is a nice mix of present-day description and historical narrative. The writer is respectful to the local residents while not glossing over the political and economic challenges they face. He introduces us to colorful individuals, such as the 19-year-old man who claimed to already have nine children and could not comprehend how a 32-year-old could remain unmarried. Andy Isaacson shows us how visiting a remote historical “crossroads” can be difficult, though the richness of the location and its people makes it worth the trouble.
Bronze: Spud Hilton, “River Murray Keeps Australia Riverboats Afloat,” San Francisco Chronicle
Spud Hilton captures the laziness of the River Murray and the laid-back nature of Australians perfectly in this story, and he manages to do so without insult or cliché. His “no worries” voyage on the flat-bottom Murray Princess may not have been luxurious, but it comes across as entertaining and educational and clearly a departure from the typical cookie-cutter American cruises. The author mixes description with humor, and the result is an informative and fun read. Of course, it helps to start with material such as a pageant of sheep dressed in panties, bras and boxers. No worries, indeed.
Category 7: Magazine Article on Foreign Travel
Gold: Neil Shea, “Africa’s Last Frontier,” National Geographic
This is a compelling story, superbly told, about change in African society. The writing is clean and concise, and the story is framed in a way that demands we read it all in one sitting. The reader wants to know what will happen to the main character as he tries to lead in a modern society while not failing to disappoint his family. It certainly deepens the understanding of Ethiopia that any traveler to the country will have.
Silver: Toby Saltzman, “War Song,” Zoomer
This is an excellent telling of a deeply personal journey in which the author traces the path her Jewish parents took through Poland during WW II. The piece includes enough how-to and where-to to prepare the reader for any similar travel plans. The writing is remarkably restrained considering the emotions the author must have experienced while at the keyboard.
Bronze: James Vlahos, “Nepal’s New Path,” National Geographic Adventure
This is an extraordinarily comprehensive piece in that it covers the logistics of such a trip, a history of the area and of adventure tourism and an analysis of the current political climate. On top of that, it’s an excellent read.
Category 8: Newspaper Photo Illustration of Travel Article
Gold: Andy Isaacson, “Pamir Mountains: At the Crossroads of History,” The New York Times
If the challenge of the travel photographer is to “take us there,” then Andy Isaacson, with his keen eye for great light and decisive moments, does just that. In dazzling photos, Isaacson whisks us to Tajikistan, giving the reader an intimate view of life on the “Roof of the World.” Isaacson’s narrative images are further strengthened by his documentary imperative and a palpable sense of place.
Silver: Kari Bodnarchuk, “Picture Perfect,” The Boston Globe
Kari Bodnarchuk’s colorful images of Panama transport the reader to a land of extraordinary beauty, diversity and visual richness. In this splashy photo-quilt presentation, the reader “gets it” in a glance. In spite of what many art directors say — square is boring — Bodnarchuk defies the critics with a delightful poster-like spread that makes you want to hang it on your wall and frame it as art.
Bronze: Torsten Kjellstrand, “All Aboard for Angling,” The Oregonian
Looking at Torsten Kjellstrand’s gloomy Northwestern f/8 photographs from the rails-to-river fishing trip, we can almost feel the clouds hanging low with that damp chill. Making this a winner, his photos also have the added appeal of a story line, so that the reader is treated to a visual narrative and the satisfaction of a “once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after” package.
Category 9: Magazine Photo Illustration of Travel Article
Gold: Jimmy Chin, “Why Am I Here Again?” Outside
Give me a photo that makes me exclaim, “Wow!” and it deserves gold. Of all the entries, Jimmy Chin’s heart-pounding photo of the crazed 45-year-old climber hanging out of his tent while perched improbably on the near-sheer rock face of India’s “Shark Fin” is the money shot. Colors aside (and they do “pop”), one has to wonder how Chin managed the shot, as he too must have been hanging out there in space, risking life and limb for the photograph. Secondary shots also contribute greatly to the spread, especially the portrait and the overhanging climbing shot, in which Chin again risks it all.
Silver: Jad Davenport, “Greenland’s Ghosts,” Islands
When a photographer illuminates a subject about which the reader knows little or nothing, and does it in such a hauntingly visual way as to command our attention from start to finish, then it earns our respect. In his moody visual essay on the resurgence of Greenland, Jad Davenport transports the reader to a place that feels like the back of the moon, but now with a future, due to global warming. Several images deserve special comment, including the heroic portrait of the Inuit man and the photo of the fishing village teetering precariously on the rocks above the sea, like a toy village about to be swept away.
Bronze: Brown W. Cannon III, “Lost in Time,” Islands
Eschewing the predictable glam shots of the Mediterranean, Brown Cannon instead takes us inside homes, cafes and marinas to meet the real people of this place “Lost in Time.” In this photo-essay on the Greek island of Patmos, Cannon’s images appear almost as homage to Henri Cartier-Bresson with many “decisive moments” in the quiet chaos of the heart. It feels like a love letter to the island, as if photographed for the people/subjects first, and then for publication. The alternating mix of black-and-whites with color — a risky art direction decision (but which works for this essay) — further strengthens the presentation. Cannon has convinced me — I’m ready to pack my bags for Patmos.
Category 10: Special Package/Project
Gold: Jill Schensul, “Namibia,” The Record and northjersey.com, Hackensack, NJ
Jill Schensul took her audience along for the ride when she went to Africa. The readers voted to send her there on a volunteer vacation, and she picked a project helping rescue big cats and restore their habitat in Namibia. Starting with pre-departure preparations, she posted blogs about the experience the entire way and, despite limited electricity, sent reports and photos from the field. She wrote insightful narratives for the newspaper and incorporated audio and video in coverage. Each medium was used to its best.
Silver: Cruisecritic.com staff, “Oasis of the Seas Launch Party,” Cruisecritic.com
It’s not possible to cover an event more comprehensively than Cruise Critic covered the launch of the largest cruise ship ever to set sail. Videos, live blogs, text reviews and interaction with the audience made this a compelling package on a single event.
Bronze: The Seattle Times staff, 2010 Winter Olympics and Vancouver guides/coverage, The Seattle Times print/online
The staff of The Seattle Times was able to piggyback nicely on a major international sporting event that occurred right in their backyard. The staff provided street-level intelligence of everything that was happening outside the venues. That intelligence came in the form of written and visual reports, a multimedia map, professional reporting and blog posts from readers known as “community contributors.”
Category 11: Article on Marine Travel
Gold: Kristen Bellstrom, “Cruise Ships on Steroids,” SmartMoney
“Cruise Ships on Steroids” is front-line reporting on the modern-day “arms race” to build the largest and most luxurious cruise ship. Kristen Bellstrom reports on the carpet grass and seemingly endless amenities aboard the $700 million Celebrity Solstice. Who in the world would have imagined a ship sporting a half-acre of grass for “passengers to spend an afternoon picnicking, playing croquet or just lying around, watching the waves — that is, when it’s not being mowed.” This piece gives us much more than oohs and ahhs about over-the-top cruise ship extravagances. It examines the quest to outdo what’s been done before in shipbuilding and reveals what this arms race is doing to the cruise line industry and passengers. Take a guess — prices are increasing and extra fees are popping up everywhere. Bellstrom captures the gold by revealing this madness.
Silver: Matt Hannafin, “Here Be Monsters: The Secret Story Behind Cruising’s Most Cherished Traditions,”
“Here Be Monsters” is a real eye opener. From the ship christening to the captain’s cocktail party, seagoing traditions are laid bare. Did the blood from a human sacrifice precede Champagne as the liquid of choice to christen ships? Throw in the requirement to appease the gods along with a new Viking longboat and the answer is yes. Matt Hannafin reveals other surprising discoveries, too. “Here Be Monsters” is a collection of excellent stories that seagoing readers and land lovers will delight in reading.
Bronze: Chris Riemenschneider, “The Reluctant Cruisers,” Star Tribune, Minneapolis
Chris Riemenschneider lends a reporter’s precision to all the reasons not to take a cruise. He does so in a refreshingly forthright way. And he does so without making fun of those who enjoy cruises. His complaints are plentiful, but so are the laughs. His insights give voice to the frustrations experienced by those who have never taken a cruise before, and he balances the piece with his own admission that he actually did enjoy a moment or two along the way.
Category 12: Article on Adventure Travel
Gold: Patrick Symmes, “Hugo’s World,” Outside
Patrick Symmes’ piece on traveling the wilds and the cities of Venezuela takes the reader across this country’s political and cultural landscape, as well as its literal one. The writer’s mix of practical advice, curious details and historical perspective makes this an outstanding story.
Silver: Patrick Symmes, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Outside
Talk about adventure. A journey from Haiti to Florida in a 21-foot homemade boat is certainly bold, maybe even a little crazy. Yet Patrick Symmes turns this striking idea into a reality, and he wisely sets the story against the backdrop of the troubled history of Haiti. This is an exciting and fascinating read.
Bronze: Jordan Rane, “Three Men and a Mountain,” Los Angeles Times
Jordan Rane’s story is one of friendship and bonding. It’s a classic tale of men against a mountain, in this case California’s Mount Whitney. The writer’s timeline-based approach to the article serves this story well, as does the denouement describing the three friends reminiscing about their triumph over dinner back in Los Angeles.
Category 13: Travel News/Investigative Reporting
Gold: Gary Stoller, “Since 2003, 65,000 U.S. flights with maintenance problems have taken off anyway.”
This classic investigative story involved six months of research, digging up documents and analyzing data. Conclusions here truly shock the reader and open the powers that be to change and accountability. The writing style is very accessible. This is a fine piece of investigative journalism.
Silver: Joshua Hammer, “Heartbreak. Chaos. Mayhem. Hope?” Outside
Joshua Hammer’s harrowing first-person account of life in Chad is penetrating and shocking. It leaves the readers with the feeling that they have gotten to know firsthand what is happening in central Africa. This is written beautifully, and at some risk to the author. It’s an excellent piece of journalism.
Bronze: Catharine Hamm, “A Different Journey Than the Bride Bargained For,” Los Angeles Times
Catharine Hamm presents a fascinating and engaging tale of true crime as told by an excellent writer. The reader was enthralled from the start when Hamm was unjustly stiffed for a phantom booking for a venue for her own wedding. This is a good piece of narrative, first-person journalism.
Category 14: Service-Oriented Consumer Article
Gold: Arianne Cohen, “The Budget Travel Challenge: The Connected Traveler,” Budget Travel
This article gives an incredible amount of advice to travelers on how to use cell phone apps and social networking sites to get the most out of a trip to a foreign city. In this case, Arianne Cohen used her iPhone and a Blackberry to get around Istanbul to connect with friends, who had been to the Turkish city in the past and could offer tips, to navigate its transit system and to meet locals who could provide inside information. She even compared the pluses and minuses of the two phones.
Silver: William J. McGee, “Think Flight Times are Being Padded? They Are,” USAToday.com
Everyone who plans to get on an airplane this year and do some serious flying should read this article. It explains how airlines are manipulating the federal government’s ratings of on-time flights to their advantage and what consumers can do about it. When you’re waiting in an airport for a flight’s crew to arrive, you’ll know what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Bronze: Paul Eisenberg, “Are ‘Operation Vacations’ Worth the Trip?” FoxNews.com
Paul Eisenberg explores a growing trend among American consumers who book vacations to countries where they can also have medical procedures performed — at a fraction of the U.S. cost. He pulls no punches, offering both the pros and cons of such trips and the dangers involved.
Category 15: Environmental Tourism Article
Gold: Jeff Greenwald, “Bedeviled Island,” Afar
Jeff Greenwald does a masterful job of making the readers care about Tasmania Island by making us care about a strong central character (Geoff King) and his decision to turn his cattle ranch into a wildlife preserve. The move ostracized King from his neighbors and his own family, as the fate of the area remains a divisive issue as proponents on both sides struggle to find the correct balance between environmentalism and tourism.
Silver: Paul Kvinta, “Cat Fight,” National Geographic Adventure
The author compels the reader to care about the tigers in India’s Rajasthan sanctuary by introducing us to a strong central character (Dharmendra Khandal) and his fight against poaching in the reserves. Khandal created his own intelligence network and smashed a smuggling ring with almost no help from the forest service. His efforts led to an overhaul of how India manages the wild tiger population.
Bronze: Bob Morris, “A Fish With Hair,” Islands
Bob Morris immediately captures the reader’s attention with his description of 14-year-old Abdul and how Abdul helps him discover and come to appreciate Fua Mulaku in the Maldives. The reader revels in the description of Maldivians’ relationship with the sea and the author’s description of how, in the end, he turns Abdul into “a fish with hair.”
Category 16: Cultural Tourism Article
Gold: Daniel Brook, “The Architect of 9/11,” Slate
“The Architect of 9/11” is not your everyday article. Granted, it has all the essentials of good journalism: an attention-grabbing lead, sound reporting and facts that challenge conventional thinking. It also takes readers on a journey while telling the story of the contributions of other cultures. And then it does the unthinkable by allowing us to see through the eyes of Mohamed Atta. Yes, Atta, the Egyptian terrorist who flew a plane into the World Trade Center. Daniel Brook recounts that most of the hijackers were Saudi “street toughs tapped for their brawn” but not Atta. He was a trained architect who studied city planning in Hamburg. Brook retraces Atta’s intellectual footsteps and writings about architecture, history and urban planning. Readers are taken from apprehension to belief as he examines Atta’s writings about the historic architecture and culture of Aleppo, Syria. Could cultural vandalism in the form of modern highrises in Aleppo have nurtured Atta’s hate for the West? “The Architect of 9/11” offers insight into this question. Daniel Brook earns the gold with excellent writing that invites us to look at a part of the world through the terrible eyes of hatred.
Silver: Edward Readicker-Henderson, “Everything Is Illuminated,” Westways
“Everything Is Illuminated” begins with a lighthearted quest to buy the world’s ugliest chandelier and evolves into a treatise about art and the native light in which it was created. Along the way we get to visit Venice, the City of Water, known the world over for its artists, gondoliers and untold beauty. This wonderful story opens readers’ eyes to the effects of natural light on paintings and how the latter come alive in the rooms in which they were created. The writer paints a masterpiece of his own while taking us on tour. Ducking into Santo Stefano, a 13th-century parish church, Edward Readicker-Henderson writes: “Inside, I discovered what Venetian light was all about.” He sees a painting by Tintoretto and realizes he is standing where the artist had stood to create the work. “It was like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the world shifts into color.” Edward Readicker-Henderson captures the silver by revealing Venetian art in original light in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Bronze: David Noyes, “The Sacred City of Shiva,” Lifestyle + Travel
Reading “The Sacred City of Shiva” leaves you with the sense that you have actually visited India — and that’s an understatement. David Noyes takes descriptive writing to a whole new level while painting the cultural tapestry of Varanasi, India’s most sacred city. He starts off fording crowded streets filled with a sea of humanity. “Cars, rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, and sacred cows all competed for space in a disorderly ballet.” The sights and sounds of Varanasi come at you fast and you feel the heartbeat of a 5,000 year-old city. Noyes tells the story of the city’s origins, its religious importance, and brings us up to date on Varanasi’s modern veneer. “It is a place where the past and present have always collided, and the boundaries between life and death are blurred for the devout in search of liberation.” With wonderful writing, David Noyes claims the bronze.
Category 17: Personal Comment
Gold: Tim Wu, “Bipolar Disorder,” Slate
I love the topic — travel to the Earth’s poles — and the angle the author takes, looking at the magnetic effect these destinations have on many travelers. He explores the lures — for him, a search for Eden. “If you really want to get back to Adam and Eve, you must seek the poles. The signs of Eden are everywhere in Antarctica.” The piece is well organized and nicely reported. Overall, it was the best read in a category with dozens of very strong entries. I found it to be the best combination of commentary, personal angle and, of course, travel information.
Silver: Daisann McLane, “Why Not Linger?” National Geographic Traveler
This is an outstanding personal essay on travel and its impact on personality and character. The author has the best observation of all 102 entries in the category when she ruminates on the offsetting relationships of time and money when we travel. This is expertly written.
Bronze: Ed Hewitt, “What’s Wrong With Airport Security (and What to Do About It),” Independenttraveler.com
The author fashions a stellar example of the classic opinion piece: State the problem, report the supporting details and propose a solution. This is a strongly written, persuasive piece that we can only hope someone in Washington will read — or has read already.
Category 18: Special-Purpose Travel
Gold: Don J. Snyder, “Clubbed,” Outside
You don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate the value of a well-trained caddie. Don Snyder’s “Clubbed” illustrates with demanding detail what it feels like to shadow a professional caddie and endure 15-hour days picturing every hole in his mind. Snyder takes you on a caddie’s “blind date” outside legendary St. Andrews, the home of golf. What began as a midlife crisis turns into a fun yet serious story of love and respect. While reading about the duties of a professional caddie, we come to understand the brotherhood of caddies, the respect for a struggling golfer and the love of a father for his son. Against this backdrop readers experience what Snyder describes as Scotland’s stunning physical beauty and fairways swept along the windy North Sea. Don Snyder, an acclaimed novelist and screenwriter, earns a hole in one and the gold for “Clubbed.”
Silver: Jad Davenport, “Greenland’s Ghosts,” Islands
Imagine being on an expedition where one of the passengers decides to redirect a multimillion-dollar cruise ship to a remote glacier inlet in search of a colony of ancient Viking settlers. Jad Davenport did just that and vividly tells the ghost story about the fate of 1,500 Vikings who suddenly vanished in 14th-century Greenland. In “Greenland’s Ghosts” he reports on Norse history with the help of a modern-day Viking tour guide. Next he goes on to describe the current-day Inuit people and the municipal building color-code systems. As Davenport writes about Skraelings and tourists venturing in rough seas without nautical maps, his fellow passengers discover a plausible twist to the mystery. “Greenland’s Ghosts” earns the silver in the mysterious glow of the northern lights and Jad Davenport’s writing.
Bronze: Steven Rinella, “Me, Myself, and Ribeye,” Outside
If you’re planning a trip to Argentina, “Me, Myself, and Ribeye” is definitely worth reading — even if you’re a vegetarian. Steven Rinella uses sharp and self-deprecating humor to describe the people who farm, butcher and grill cattle in Argentina’s meat-heavy food chain. He equates the obsession and difficulty in searching for the best steak in Argentina to “trying to pinpoint the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden.” It is a fascinating quest, which requires dividing Argentina into three districts — Beef Zones I, II, and III — to sample the best ribeye. The writer begins in Buenos Aires and traces the history of cattle among early colonists. Steven Rinella earns the bronze in tasty ribeye fashion.
Category 19: Short Travel Article
Gold: Laura Daily, “Decoding the Alphabet Soup,” Dallas Morning News
In a short piece, it is essential that the author stick to a well-defined topic. Laura Daily does so in this piece about the origins of airport codes. The writing is very funny and informative. Why does Chicago’s O’Hare have ORD as its code? It’s right there, along with some other very interesting information. The author focused on a topic that stares us all in the face every time we fly.
Silver: Rick Steves, “Ride the Buses for City Sights,” Tribune Media Services/The Seattle Times
The author has a great tip for tourists: Avoid the subway when moving through a major city and take the bus. He relies on his knowledge of cities like Paris and Vienna to demonstrate how much we all miss when we go underground, and he recommends key bus routes. The article is tightly written, concise, entertaining and informative.
Bronze: Jason Overdorf, “Watching Over Delhi’s Soul,” Afar
For the tourist who wishes to get off the well-trodden route, this is the right kind of travel journalism. The author shares the historical, social and religious context of Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti through the insights of the caretaker for the 700-year-old shrine that’s the center of the neighborhood. This is an engaging piece that will greatly enhance a traveler’s visit.
Category 20: Travel Book
Gold: Rick Steves, “Travel as a Political Act,” Nation Books
In “Travel as a Political Act,” Rick Steves distills more than 30 years of experience exploring the world into a 200-page, candid reflection on what he calls “the ultimate souvenir … a broader outlook” — as well as the other byproduct of traveling, a renewed appreciation for his own country. Along the way, he provides vivid accounts and concise political histories of dramatically different locales. His personal explorations of the fears people harbor about other people and other places are as likely to entertain as to inform, all the while helping to dispel the reader’s own fears — whether those fears include terror at the thought of “hair-raising traffic” in Tehran or an “always naked” spa in Germany.
Silver: Tom Coyne, “A Course Called Ireland,” Gotham Books
Tom Coyne’s account of his thousand-mile walk around the perimeter of Ireland, to stop at nearly 60 golf courses (and countless pubs) along the way, is often hilarious, sometimes suspenseful but always engaging and enlightening — even if golf isn’t your game. While the narrative is strong enough to satisfy most readers, those who want to try the journey themselves can benefit from Coyne’s hindsight, organized handily at the back of the book into lists of favorites, best bets, most memorable and the all-important what to bring and what to leave at home.
Bronze: David Farley, “An Irreverent Curiosity,” Gotham Books
David Farley takes readers on a quest to a place they’ve probably never considered to explore a cause they’d be unlikely to consider otherwise — and the result is captivating. His historical research and first-hand experiences bring to life for the reader the tiny Italian town of new and old Calcata and the mysteries and mystique of religious relics.
Category 21: Guidebook
Gold: Andrew Mersmann, “Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference,”
John Wiley & Sons Canada
This volume has a very intriguing and relevant angle: a guidebook for those with philanthropic interests. The book is nicely organized by topic, so whether your interest is medicine or human rights or conflict resolution or animal welfare, you can easily find information about organizations that need — and welcome — your help. Brief descriptions of the organization’s goals and point of view are provided, along with explanations of what the “helping experience” involves and contact information. When I first saw the title, I thought, “How brilliant.” For individuals who want to help but don’t know how, this book makes it possible to take that necessary first step. Indeed, brilliant!
Silver: Brian Kevin, Compass American Guides: “Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,”
This guidebook is simply breathtaking. It is filled with the most amazing color photography that puts the traveler right in the middle of Yellowstone with a front-row seat to the beauty and challenges that await. Even the chapter on the area’s history includes beautiful old photos that show how earlier tourists enjoyed their vacations. But this book is not just about the photography — it is full of helpful and up-to-date details about sites to see, tours to take and places to eat and stay. It is well organized and covers activities that would appeal to the physically hearty and those less active. This book both looks great and features valuable information — what a winning guidebook should do.
Bronze: Jeanette Foster, “Frommer’s Hawaii Day by Day,” Wiley Publishing
Visitors to Hawaii often wonder how they’re going to see all the beautiful sites and sights in the short time they have for vacation. They often lack the knowledge necessary to put together an efficient itinerary that allows them to spend their time and vacation dollars effectively, and that’s where “Hawaii Day by Day” enters the picture. This book allows travelers to plan their trips wisely, regardless of how much time or money they have. Depending on travelers’ priorities, they can focus on food or aquatic adventures or historic tours and know that each day will be full of activities that match their interests and abilities and that their travel time from island to island will not be wasted. This volume is as beautiful as it is functional. The photos present Hawaii in all its tropical glory, and the plentiful maps show how easy it is to get from location to location. This book is especially perfect for the first-time visitor to Hawaii — it’s like having a seasoned native as your best friend.
Category 22: Online Travel Journalism Site
Gold: BudgetTravel.com, Budget Travel, Stephen Merrill, General Manager Online
Amid a wide variety of travel sites, Budget Travel stands out for its quality of information, layout, design and navigation and its community. Other sites had one or more of those characteristics, but this year Budget Travel shines as having a bit of the best of all worlds.
Silver: MatadorNetwork.com, Matador, David Miller, Senior Editor;
Julie Schwietert Collazo, Managing Editor
Matador is more than just a high-quality online travel site. It is a great community of travel enthusiasts who mix expert advice and local knowledge through blogs, forums and destination pages. The network goes beyond creating a place to aggregate eyeballs and cheap user-generated content for advertisers. Its unique Matador U is aimed at helping get better — and not just more — travel content on the Web. The training and advice in Matador U is a model that other fields of journalism should examine.
Bronze: Traveler.nationalgeographic.com, National Geographic Traveler, Jerry Sealy, Web director
The National Geographic Traveler site is rich with evergreen multimedia content as well as updated news and information. The site has high-quality content — both writing and especially photography — across an incredibly broad and diverse range of topics. But unlike the gold and silver winners, it didn’t have much interactivity between the content creators and the audience.
Category 23: Travel Broadcast — Audio
Gold: Joseph Rosendo, “South African Adventure,” Travelscope.net podcast
Joseph Rosendo makes you feel as if you are standing beside him in South Africa — and certainly makes you wish you were. His enthusiasm is infectious, his on-the-scene descriptions are vivid, and he weaves natural sound and music into these radio stories with a storytelling style that is both smooth and sophisticated. As he visits a variety of locations — from vineyards to wharves — Rosendo puts the people he meets at ease, chatting casually with them. We learn a lot from Rosendo and his newfound friends at each stop — and wind up wishing we could linger even longer. His stories are conversational treats, and he’s a pleasure to travel with.
Silver: Ron Bernthal, “Lost & Saved,” WJFF Public Radio
Have you have ever inwardly cringed to see wreckers pulling once-beautiful old buildings apart? If so, you will inwardly cheer when you hear Ron Bernthal’s heartwarming tales of people who have pulled decaying, endangered edifices back from the brink of destruction. In this series of radio stories Bernthal takes us to, and makes us care about, aging buildings on the edge of oblivion. The structures saved by these conservation efforts comprise an eclectic mix, including a 1920s gas station in Bowling Green, KY; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff Estate in Buffalo, NY; the first home of singer Ray Charles in Greenville, FL; the oil boom-era Mayo Hotel with its remarkable Crystal Ballroom in Tulsa, OK; and a group of simple, utilitarian homes in Tucson, AZ, that were part of the historic post-World War II building and baby boom. Bernthal has a gift for bringing stories to life. In these tales he draws out the reminiscences of people who have taken a stand in an effort to keep some important building. By the time Bernthal finishes each of his stories you find yourself wishing you could jump in your car and go to see these great old places for yourself. Thanks to these grassroots efforts the endangered buildings won’t be forgotten and — thanks to Bernthal — neither will the caring citizens who saved them.
Bronze: Laura Del Rosso, “San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Embarcadero,”
Visual Travel Tours, CD/podcast/mobile phone
Laura Del Rosso introduces old-fashioned tourism to the full power of modern multimedia. She has produced an elaborate but easy-to-understand travel guide to San Francisco that you can put in your computer — save on your iPod — or simply slip into your pocket stored on your cell phone. Wherever you keep it, you’ll be glad you have it. With a quick click you find a photograph of a place you plan to visit, as Del Rosso’s voice describes what you will see and what you should do when you get there, complete with occasional musical interludes. Prefer print? No problem. Del Rosso’s guide includes a map and a series of .pdf files that alternate between photos of destinations and pages of print explaining what you should know and do when you visit each. The copy is concise, and Del Rosso’s advice is spot on. If you follow it, you’ll hit all the highlights and avoid a lot of the hassles. This is a remarkably sophisticated effort — but easy to use. It’s the closest equivalent you’ll find to having a good friend show you around a city she loves. Travel can be tricky. With Del Rosso’s guide, it should be a treat, instead.
Category 24: Travel Broadcast — Video
Gold: Patricia Conroy, Richard Bangs and John Givens, “Richard Bangs’ Adventures
With Purpose/Assam, India: Quest for the One-Horned Rhinoceros,” American Public Television
This piece is beautifully shot and tightly edited. A very crisp pace keeps it moving. The crew makes good use of music, time-lapse photography and natural sound. The producers take an interesting approach to how people and wildlife co-exist, and the payoff, close-ups of the one-horned rhinos, really captures the viewers’ attention.
Silver: Joseph Rosendo and Julie Rosendo, “Guatemala — the Maya of the Western Highlands,” PBS stations
The producers give a good explanation of the mixture of Catholicism and indigenous peoples and how that combination forms the social fabric of the area. The piece brings back memories of my time in Antigua and the laid-back lifestyle there near the volcanoes. It makes me yearn for a return trip.
Category 25: Travel Blog
Gold: Ben Mutzabaugh, Today in the Sky, USAToday.com
Today in the Sky is the gold standard of travel blogs. As someone else has already said about another of USA Today’s travel blogs, it covers air travel as if it were a sport. For people who need more than can fit in the paper, the blog has breaking updates, comments and questions from seasoned travelers, links and visual content.
Silver: Chris Gray Faust, Chris Around the World, caroundtheworld.com
Former USA Today travel editor Chris Gray Faust provides on her blog almost daily updates of industry news, personal travel experiences around the world, travel tips and product reviews. She also regularly writes posts that respond to readers’ questions. This blog shows how a journalist can build a brand around herself or himself with quality content, well organized and connected to the audience. Well-written, newsy, informative and interactive.
Bronze: Kayt Sukel and Jamie Pearson, Travel Savvy Mom, travelsavvymom.com
The blog has smart tips about family-friendly hotels, gear and destinations, a clean layout, good links and apparently uncompromised reporting. It is a good example of a great niche travel resource, even though it doesn’t have the community interactivity such as discussion boards and social media that you find on the gold and silver blogs.
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