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Indiana Lawyer racks up 8 statewide journalism awards

April 29, 2019

The Indiana Lawyer editorial staff received eight awards Friday, including three first-place entries, in the Society of Professional Journalists Best in Indiana competition for work published in 2018.

Senior reporter Marilyn Odendahl, managing editor Olivia Covington and reporter Katie Stancombe received first-place honors in the coverage of government or politics category for their reporting on the ongoing sexual misconduct scandal involving Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.

Covington was a recipient or part of a team that shared in three awards, including first place in the Best in Indiana criminal justice category for her article, “Elkhart wrongful conviction case latest in county’s justice system.”

Odendahl also received a first-place award along with IL editor Dave Stafford in the business or consumer affairs reporting category for a series of articles on rent-to-own housing that blur the dream of homeownership. Judges described the stories as “gripping work on the confusion surrounding rent-to-own deals.”

The staff of Indiana Lawyer also received the following honors:

The awards were presented in the publications under 30,000 circulation division.

The honors were an unprecedented success for Indiana Lawyer and parent company IBJ Media, as IL’s sibling publication, the Indianapolis Business Journal, took home 11 awards — including top honors in six categories.

IBJ reporter John Russell won four awards, while the newspaper’s art team swept the Page 1 design category, led by winner Jill Doyle.

IBJ competes in the category for the state’s largest newspapers, digital publications and wire services.

For IBJ, reporter Hayleigh Colombo won the top award in the category for series and non-deadline stories for her work on “One City, Worlds Apart,” a series about the economy, poverty and growth in Indianapolis. The series examines the gap between those who are achieving in Indianapolis and those who struggle to get by.

“By combining data and human anecdotes, the reader gets a sense of how tough one must work to climb out of poverty without a helping hand from government or society,” the judges said of the series.

IBJ placed first in the breaking news reporting category for a story about a planned health center complex at 96th Street and Spring Mill Road by reporters John Russell and Lindsey Erdody, with help from editors Greg Andrews and Lesley Weidenbener.

At the time, St. Vincent had not publicly announced its interest in the property, but the IBJ story showed that real estate companies were amassing land and seeking to buy additional residential property for a $1 billion health complex. St. Vincent eventually acknowledged it had options to buy much of the property — and later did so — but has said it has no specific plans to build there.

The SPJ judges said IBJ “pulled off a small miracle with this comprehensive, well-sourced, solidly-written story. They launched full-on attack on a potentially dull, one-dimensional subject, and gave it life with local resident interviews, photos, relevant statistics and official comments.”

Russell also placed third in the breaking news category with a story about Endocyte’s $2.1 billion deal with Novartis.

In addition, Russell won the top award in the medical or science reporting category for his work on stories about Eli Lilly and Co., Anthem Inc., Roche Diagnostics and other companies.

The judges said Russell “tackles some of the most critical issues in health care with sweep and authority. But what really sets him apart is his ability to write about complex topics in a clear and accessible way. His writing is crisp and engaging, something you don't always find in health and medicine writing.”

Russell also won third place in the business or consumer affairs reporting category for his health care coverage.

Sam Stall won top honors in the personality profile category for a story he wrote for IBJ about philanthropist Frank Basile when he won the newspaper’s Carroll Award, which honors community engagement. The judges said the story “is next to the word ‘profile’ in the journalism glossary.”

“Basile's biography becomes a colorful mystery tour, peppered with anecdotes from friends, humor and pearls of wisdom, the highlight being his twist on philanthropy that the people whom he gives to are actually doing him a favor by allowing him to make a difference,” the comments said.

Cartoonist Shane Johnson won the top award in the editorial cartoon category for a cartoon about Colts season ticket sales. The judges said the cartoon was “a simple and humorous look at the struggles faced by Indianapolis Colts employees after their 2017 struggles. By the way, the repairman may disappear after their recent improved season.”

IBJ swept the category for Page 1 design, with first place going to Jill Doyle, whose entry included her work on IBJ’s “One City, Worlds Apart” series. The judge in the category said Doyle’s work “clearly tied all of the design elements into a user friendly piece.”

IBJ’s creative director, Wendy Shapiro, placed second in the category and designer Audrey Pelsor finished third.

Andrews, IBJ’s editor, won second place for editorial writing for an editorial — headlined “Legislative leaders seemed OK to sweep Hill scandal under rug” —about the way Indiana House and Senate leaders reacted when they learned that a lawmaker and legislative staffers had accused Attorney General Curtis Hill of groping them.

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