Local Media Digital Innovation Awards, powered by Second Street 

This contest recognizes the best in local digital media in 11 categories such as Best Local Website, Best Digital Agency, Best Branded Content Strategy and more. It is a highly competitive contest designed to recognize both large and small media companies for their outstanding and innovative work.

We want to give a big thank you to Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and his graduate students (Avery Dews, Meredith Gallo, Ju Park, Sonia Singh, Mark Stenberg and Andrew Weiler) for judging this year’s contest. Included with the contest winners’ information are comments from the judges and details about the entry.

Best Social Media Strategy* SPONSORED BY Social News DeskSocial News Desk

This award recognizes the most successful and creative plans when it comes to leveraging social media to expand audience and heighten engagement.


First Place: NBC New York | New York, N.Y.
Listen Up, a daily digital news and lifestyle show geared toward millennials, does a great job of engaging the audience. There’s a little bit of everything: weather, entertainment and news. Effective use of Instagram. The host seems more approachable than your typical news anchor. The initiative generated incremental revenue. www.nbcnewyork.com

Second Place: WDIV/ClickOnDetroit | Detroit, Mich. | Graham Media Group
Strong voice, all content seemed to be on-brand. Engagement in the comments demonstrated that the audience found the content fun and engaging. ClickOnDetroit.com

Third Place: PIX11 | New York, N.Y. | The E.W. Scripps Co.
Strong mastery of Facebook, using the platform for a variety of segment types including quick stories and sit-down shows. Kudos for using social media for more than just promotion and traffic-building. https://pix11.com

Best Digital Audience and Engagement Strategy* SPONSORED BY ppi 

This award recognizes sites that are developing high-quality content, processes, and user experiences that have proven to increase overall audience.


First Place: KPRC-2 | Houston, Texas | Graham Media Group
Robust audience and engagement strategy that meets the audience at multiple levels. Thoughtful, well-executed strategy with a strong focus on KPIs and growth. Their strategy to drive audience is centered around a three-pronged approach: 1. Own the big story of the day and do it differently 2. Create content that is fun, useful and evergreen 3. Write for the reader. www.kprc.com

Second Place: PIX11 | New York, N.Y. | The E.W. Scripps Co.
The company has cultivated a robust social media presence, making original content for these platforms, not just regurgitating what airs on TV, and generating significant audience engagement.  Its vertical video strategy is an excellent idea for local TV businesses. https://pix11.com

Third Place: Graham Media Group | Nationwide
A well-executed “best of local” initiative that has generated substantial audience engagement and incremental revenue. www.grahammedia.com

Best New Digital Initiative* SPONSORED BY iPublish Media iPublishmedia

Launching a new digital initiative takes time and resources, so this award showcases the best use of both that drove positive results. This broad category can encompass a digital initiative launched in the last year such as OTT, podcasting, virtual reality, insight selling, custom CMS, or something else that is new and emerging.


Under 750,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: Record-Journal | Meriden, Conn.
Record-Journal designed an experiment to dedicate a reporter to specifically focus on creating content related to food and drink for at least three months. They focus on new restaurants, interesting menu items, recipes, and similar content. The content has its own section on the website with a different look and feel to set it apart. Judges noted a well-planned multifaceted initiative with quality content addressing food, drink and dining in the community. It serves readers well and has generated incremental revenue. www.myrecordjournal.com/news/food-and-drink/

Second Place: WBOC | Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia)
The local TV station produced a digital-first version of a local cooking show, distributed it on social media and generated new revenue to support it. www.wboc.com

Third Place: Guelph Today | Canada | Village Media
A creative and innovative approach that has generated additional local content as well as new revenue from businesses that want to support the creation of good local stories. GuelphToday.com

750,000 + unique visitors classification

First Place: PIX11 | New York, N.Y. | The E.W. Scripps Co.
This local television station developed a new kind of video storytelling (mid-length documentaries) and distributed them on social media and OTT platforms. One series of videos spotlighting strong, driven women generated a six-figure sponsorship for a 5-episode run purely on digital platforms. www.pix11.com

Second Place: KGW-8 | Portland, Ore. | TEGNA
A journalistically strong and compelling podcast that generated 1.7 million podcast downloads. The podcast is about 23-year-old Kaylee Sawyer who went missing in Bend, Ore. The chilling story of what happened involves multiple victims, a kidnapping, a carjacking, a high-speed police chase and a murderer’s disturbing “urge to kill.” This podcast features never before heard interviews and surprising new details about the case, hosted by KGW’s Ashley Korslien. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/urge-to-kill/id1484579161

Third Place: KPRC-2 (Ask2) | Houston, Texas | Graham Media Group
In 2019, KPRC launched Ask 2, through Hearken, in an effort to answer questions they thought their readers were generally curious about. The Hearken platform and model were used effectively not only to engage with readers but also to build branding and content strategy for the station. https://www.click2houston.com/topic/ask_2/

Best Local Website* SPONSORED BY sO2 DIGITAL

This award recognizes the best all-around local media websites.


Under 250,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: Public Source | Pittsburgh, Pa.
Public Source has a clean website design and uses easy-to-read fonts. It publishes highly collaborative and well-articulated issue-based content. The judges liked the homepage layout with the main news on the top, and with a big image and the latest news on the right side. The “Get Involved” section is especially interesting, providing an effective way to make readers be engaged in the services that they provide. publicsource.org

Second Place: Herald & Review | Decatur, Ill. | Lee Enterprises
The site has a clean and intuitive website design. The typefaces they used are easy to read and the layout of the website is also very well-organized. The navbar on the top well-displays the various sections they provide. In terms of content, the judges like how they effectively embedded social media posts in articles. herald-review.com

Third Place: Black Westchester | Westchester/Tri-State area of New York | UrbanSoul Media Group
A clean, clear website layout providing valuable community-oriented journalism that provides a clear alternative to mainstream media for the black community in this suburban New York region. BlackWestchester.com

250,000+ unique visitors classification

First Place: Daily Memphian | Memphis, Tenn.
This site had the best user interface in the category and the most balanced design with graphics and text. Strong mix of regional and neighborhood/suburbs news. The site has an ad-light experience and emphasis on digital subscriptions, a tactic that seems to be working. dailymemphian.com

Second Place: SooToday | Ontario, Canada | Village Media
This site has a clean design, clearly organized. It has demonstrated remarkable local engagement. In a community of roughly 73,000 people, the site has 43,000 users who visit the site at least 15 times a month. SooToday.com

Third Place: My Record Journal | Meriden, Conn.
The Record-Journal offers a clean UI and very few intrusive ads. The news focuses on hyper-local stories, rather than collecting clickbait stories from across the web. www.myrecordjournal.com

Best Digital News Project* SPONSORED BY TownNews 

The award for best digital news project will be given to entries that display captivating, innovative, and intentional storytelling. This can be a single piece, a collection, or an ongoing series. Did you take an investigative story, a big project or an ongoing topic and tell the story like no one else could? Did you build a digital experience that was enjoyable to read and interactive?


Under 750,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: North Carolina Health News | North Carolina
With the help of a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, a reporter spent a week in France and Switzerland, two countries that have a lot of experience dealing with addiction. With the help of interpreters, the reporter interviewed addiction psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, social workers, educators, policy influencers, drug users and chemists. This series has been of interest to thousands of people, as the stories continue to trend on the website a year later. Stories from the series were the top read for their news organization in 2019.  Judge’s noted that this was interesting international reporting with a U.S. lens. Good use of video. Good user interface. nchealthnews.org

Second Place: Shaw Media | Illinois
In-depth coverage of an important story about the death of two young children resulted in high time-on-site engagement from readers and has led to conversations with lawmakers. The site also created a podcast that shows an ability to report across platforms. www.shawmediaillinois.com

Third Place: People Newspapers | Dallas, Texas
People Newspaper’s tornado coverage began Sunday night, Oct. 20, from the deputy editor’s linen closet as an EF3 twister hit. For two weeks solid, they provided hourly and then daily and then weekly updates on things their readers cared about – when the electricity would come back on, when schools would reopen, and road closures. Judges noted this entry was hyperlocal reporting at its best, presented well online. Strong reporting in a crisis situation. www.peoplenewspapers.com

Over 750,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: “Smoked” | The Miami Herald | Miami, Fla. | The McClatchy Co.
In the 1980s, racing prodigy Randy Lanier shot to stardom at the Indianapolis 500 — and funded his racing through a secret double life as one of the biggest pot kingpins in American history. Now, after Lanier served nearly 30 years in prison, the “Smoked” podcast from the Miami Herald and McClatchy Studios, along with companion text and video series, offers an unprecedented look inside the racer’s daring life of weed and speed, and his search for redemption in a world where marijuana is becoming increasingly legal. Judge’s comments: Outstanding multimedia storytelling in audio, video and text.  Website design is clean and mobile-friendly.  The story of Randy Lanier is compelling on its own – and even more newsworthy as a case study of how attitudes and laws related to marijuana have changed since the 1980s. www.miamiherald.com

Second Place: “Apollo” | KPRC 2 | Houston, Texas | Graham Media Group
Excellent, diverse mix of stories in multiple formats, all connected to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo launch. www.kprc.com

Third Place: Entravision Communications | Santa Monica, Calif.
The judges were impressed with this ambitious video-centric package about migrant children and their treatment in the U.S. Entravision did a great job of making the migrant camps personal by giving faces to the people detained there. https://noticiasya.com/podcast/

Best Consumer Revenue Initiative** SPONSORED BY AdMall Logo for AdMall, Powered by SalesFuel

This award recognizes the exceptional strategy and execution of a new consumer revenue initiative. This can include digital subscriptions, membership, e-commerce, targeted marketing, data mining, and other revenue opportunities for local media.


Large company category

First Place: The Seattle Times | Seattle, Wash.
A comprehensive audience strategy undergirded by a robust investment in tools & technology that a first-rate user experience. Curated newsletters, improved mobile page speed, and deep user analytics are all core tenets of this successful model. The Analytics Hub is an industry-leading initiative that builds buy-in and accountability throughout the newsroom by informing content decisions that resonate with subscribers. www.seattletimes.com

Small company category
First Place: The Daily Memphian | Memphis, Tenn.
From launch to ~12,000 paid digital subscribers in 18 months. The Memphian has achieved great traction with its subscription business and built tremendous brand equity with its readers in a short period of time. Iterative testing of pricing, paywall and messaging strategies drive growth, and an intent focus on a user and content experience worth paying for, all resonate with an audience that pays and stays (strong retention, particularly for a premium subscription price that is rarely discounted). dailymemphian.com

Best Contest and/or Promotion* SPONSORED BY Second Street 

This award will recognize a contest or promotion that was above and beyond expectations.


First Place: Friday Night Drive | Shaw Media | Illinois
Each Sunday during the regular football season and into the playoffs, they opened up voting for a Team of the Week. 11 players on offense. 11 players on defense. 1 great team. The player who got the most votes in any week was presented with a Team of the Week MVP belt, sponsored by Rosati’s of Crystal Lake. Judge’s comments: This contest run by a small news website showed a commitment to engaging the local audience and celebrating what they care about (high school sports).  It also generated substantial incremental revenue.

Second Place: Fuel My School | PIX11 | New York, N.Y. | The E.W. Scripps Co.
Fuel My School is a featured contest on the PIX11 Morning News dedicated to celebrating the hard work of public school teachers. Judge’s notes: A contest that generated substantial incremental revenue – and provided three schools with money to purchase school supplies. www.pix11.com

Third Place: Voter’s Choice Awards | WRAL Digital | Raleigh, N.C.
In September 2019, WRAL launched the fifth annual WRAL.com Voters’ Choice Awards ballot. It included a multi-channel promotional campaign to drive users to participate in our citywide ballot. Judges commented that this was a well-executed “best of local” contest that produced substantial digital engagement and results for the primary sponsor. wral.com

Best Branded Content Strategy SPONSORED BY NINJACATImage result for ninjacat logo

This award showcases the very best in branded content initiatives.


Under 750,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: KSL Television | Salt Lake City, Utah | Deseret Digital Media
Teaching kids how to ski can be a complicated and frustrating process for both parents and their children. While talking to KSL TV field reporter, Andy Philips, about how he taught his kids how to ski, station General Manager Tanya Vea came up with a great idea: Turn Philips’s ski lessons with his son into a video series. Philips, as both a father and former US Olympic Ski Team member, had incredible insight on how to teach skiing. A few weeks later, the first episode of Learn To Ski with Andy Phillips was released. And the KSL-TV sales team was able to secure The Rocky Mountain Chevy Dealers, the SKI UTAH ski association as well as Solitude Ski Resort as sponsors for the series. Judge’s comments: High-quality digital content that leveraged the reputation of one of its staff members and generated substantial revenue. ksltv.com

Second Place: Statesman-Journal | Salem, Ore. | Gannett
The northwest region of Kaiser Permanente, serving Oregon and Southwest Washington with coordinated health care and coverage, wanted to build brand affinity in Salem, Oregon. As their digital media partner, LOCALiQ put together a branded content plan designed to drive deeper engagement with population health topics and educate the community on local offerings. The articles were based on the annual theme of “Salem’s Top Doctors’ Guide for Healthy Living in Oregon” and showcased local physicians, and local settings, to connect the community with the experts of Kaiser Permanente and build brand affinity with patients before they walked through the door. Judges commented on the quality content featuring employees of sponsor/partner, with excellent online presentation. www.statesmanjournal.com

Third Place: WBOC | Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia)
WBOC launched a live cooking show with a goal to break the “fourth wall” by inviting local chefs to the in-studio kitchen and cooking with a host live for however long it takes to make the dish or dishes. Judge’s comments: Well executed initiative that produced high-quality video content and incremental revenue. www.wboc.com

Over 750,000 unique visitors classification

First Place: Newsday | New York, N.Y.
P.C. Richard & Son, Long Island’s leading electronics retailer, partnered with Newsday’s custom content studio, Brand360, to create and execute a cross-platform, brand-building and sales-boosting custom content campaign to launch their Smart Home initiative. The year-long campaign was content-based, interactive, educational, and socially shareable. Judge’s comments: High-quality editorial content that provides value for consumers as well as the lead sponsor. newsday.com

Second Place: WDIV-Local 4 | Detroit, Mich. | Graham Media Group
This branded content initiative highlights high school students and their accomplishments, plus unsung heroes behind the scenes who make a difference and often go unrecognized. Judge’s comments: Impressive incremental revenue was generated by this branded content initiative. ClickOnDetroit.com

Third Place: Entravision Communications | International
NoticiasYa branded content was created three years ago. Initially, they classified clients according to five different verticals: SaludYa, DiversionYa, AprendeYa, NegociosYa and TrabajaYa (English translations: Health, Entertainment, Learn, Business, and Job Opportunities). They have simplified the process for clients and sales teams in 2020 but kept the same mission: to create a lasting connection between the business and NoticiasYa audiences. Judges commented that the company’s branded content initiative produced good engagement results for the sponsors. www.entravision.com

Best R&D Partner 

Congratulations to Social News Desk! Below are some comments from customers that nominated Social News Desk for this year’s Best R&D partner.

“SND and their team have been great at thinking of new and innovative ideas to help local news organizations get their news out to the public in a timely fashion. The program is also a great way for our newsroom to keep track of local police department pages, city pages, fire pages and competitors as we can make columns specifically to track those all in one place.”

“SND supports our Sponsored Content revenue. We are finally able to track and monetize social posts (Facebook) – complete with forecasting and impression (posts) so we can make sure we’re selling at the appropriate CPMs. It also takes the guesswork between coordinating posts from the newsroom and the sales team, so the workflow has been seamless using the SND platform.”

“The entire software they provide for our news station is an incredible tool. The ability to schedule posts, post to multiple platforms, etc. is as powerful of a resource as any for the digital department. The reception addition of an advanced Facebook messenger experience is already opening up a new platform for sponsored content and an immediate increase in clicks and Facebook referral traffic.”

Local Media Digital Innovator of the Year SPONSORED BY Modulist 

Mitch Pugh, executive editor, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., was named LMA’s Local Media Innovator of the Year. Read more in the press release.

Local Media News Innovators of the Year SPONSORED BY BlueVenn

Jennifer Mitchell, senior vice president, content development, ABC Owned Television Stations, has been named one of Local Media Association’s News Innovators of the Year. Learn more about Jennifer here.

Daniel Alvarez, VP, product and design, NBCU Owned Television Stations, has been named one of Local Media Association’s News Innovators of the Year. Learn more about Daniel here.

*Categories based on size of website: 250,000 monthly unique visitors and less; 250,001 – 750,000 and over 750,000. This is calculated as follows: average monthly unique visitors over the previous 12-month period (November 2018 – October 2019) using Google Analytics or any other acceptable analytics platform.

**Categories based on company size: small-medium companies (15 or less media brands such as TV stations or newspapers) and large media companies (more than 15 media brands such as TV stations or newspapers).