Local Media Digital Innovation Winners Announced!!

Newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and digital news sites all competed in the Local Media Association’s first ever Digital Innovation Contest and the results are now in!

The faculty at the University of Texas at Austin/Engaging News Project judged the 14 categories and were thoroughly impressed with the quality of entries that came from more than 80 different companies. “We at the Engaging News Project were honored to judge this contest and get a first-hand look at the amazing work being done at news organizations across the country,” said Dr. Talia Stroud, director of the Engaging News Project and associate professor of communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “It was great to see the variety of ways in which local news outlets are engaging with their audiences, and we were particularly impressed with the overall quality and innovation that many organizations presented.”

First place winners will conduct presentations at the LMA Digital Revenue Summit on May 9-10 at the Holiday Inn Chicago O’Hare. They will showcase their award-winning work and share details on their strategies and implementation. More information at:

“This is a highly competitive contest that recognizes the best of local media when it comes to digital innovation,” said Nancy Lane, President, Local Media Association, “There is no other contest like it. The bragging rights are huge for the winners.”

In total, twenty-two companies received awards. Deseret Digital Media, GateHouse Media and Community Impact captured the most awards with four each. The McClatchy Company was next with three awards. Advocate Digital Media, Record Journal, Graham Media, Gray Television and Rust Communications had two awards each. Single award winners included Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Calkins Media, EO Media Group, Capitol Broadcasting Company, 2060 Digital, Shaw Media, Metroland Media, The Conway Daily Sun, The Post and Courier and People Newspapers.

For the first time ever, the best R&D partners were also recognized. Second Street won first place and took second place honors.

The contest was free for local media companies to enter. This ensured a fair competition with no financial barriers. Ten of the industry’s most progressive R&D partners sponsored the contest including Second Street, Buzzboard, Social News Desk, Guarantee Digital,, iPublish media, Leap Media Solutions, UpScribed, CitySpark and Ppi Media.

Local Media Digital Innovation Award Winners:

Best Local Website – Sponsored by Buzzboard

Under 250,000 monthly unique visitors:

1st Place – Record Journal –

Judges comments: Clean visually driven layout. Well-organized on mobile. The site looks more sophisticated and elegant than many local news sites. Good advertising experience – no pop ups! Easy to navigate

2nd Place – Community Impact –

Over 250,001 monthly unique visitors:

1st Place – Deseret Digital Media –

Judges comments: We liked the classic newspaper feel of the front page. The design felt simplistic without being impractical. The navigation bar was clean with useful categories. We also enjoyed the “PopuList” and “Most Commented’ side bars that offered readers a sense of news traffic and directed them to additional stories. Visuals were prominent without feeling cluttered or distracting. We also enjoyed the “InDepth” section which allowed you to download full reports and offered engaging and visually pleasing infographics. Deseret News also boasted impressive metrics after the site redesign: a decrease in bounce rate and a significant expansion to audiences outside of Utah. Overall, the site felt like a trustworthy news website. The designed served users while promoting information and discovery without forcing content

Best New Digital Initiative

Under 750,000 monthly unique visitors:

1st Place – EO Media Group –

Judges comments: They created a local search engine for niche local sellers, primarily for agriculture, livestock, and local real estate. The interface is very clean, and they’re using a promoted search feature where sellers can buy particular keywords and push their listings higher. They’ve reached a very particular, previously untapped market and had 50% national growth in the last quarter.

2nd Place – TV – Calkins Media –

Judges comments: The site is a spin-off dedicated to breaking “space industry” stories that works directly with NASA to focus on the most pertinent events. They’re the only station with a fully dedicated space reporter. They also created interfaces for Roku, AppleTV, and FireTV. We were impressed with the uniqueness of the subject matter, ease of use, and impressive return on investment.

Over 750,000 monthly unique visitors:

1st Place – KGW-TV/Tegna –

Judges comments: KGW-TV created a full live-streaming initiative for their newsroom, which lets them live-stream any local, national, or global event seamlessly with breaking news and live social media reaction on the same screen. We liked how they used it to cover Election Night and give multiple visual perspectives for speeches and events, and how it’ll shift the way storytelling in newsrooms will occur.

2nd Place – Sacramento Bee/McClatchy –

Judges comments: The team created a 360 degree video initiative for Sonoma Raceways to create a full virtual reality experience. Their plans for the future and potential to integrate this further into other mediums makes the initiative seem very promising.

Best Digital Agency

Under $5 million in annual revenue

1st Place ­­– Advocate Digital Media –

Judges comments: Advocate Digital Media stands out for its fully in-house structure and variety of services despite their smaller team. We were impressed by their projects with DeTar Healthcare Services and especially with their use of internal solutions, like their ProjectTrack software, which streamlines their activities.

2nd Place – Digital Elements/Capitol Broadcasting Company –

Over $5 million in annual revenue

1st Place – Propel Marketing/GateHouse Media –

Judges comments: We really liked Propel Marketing’s consumer reach and growth as an agency: they operate in 32 states and reach 19 million people every single week. Additionally, they have great third-party connections that drive their agency forward.

2nd Place – 2060 Digital –

Best Native Advertising Strategy

All classes combined:

1st Place – Shaw Media –

Judges comments: Each business is assigned a writer that helps them create a monthly article, which is then spread to readers on multiple mediums. We were impressed by breadth of the audience they spread these articles to and really liked how they optimized search engine results for Google Rankings. They also had great metrics: they doubled their revenue and nearly doubled business engagements.

2nd Place – Deseret Digital Media –

Judges comments: Deseret’s example focused on connecting individuals to personal injury legal services through light-hearted and satirical articles written by the firms. We thought this was a unique way to engage a typically heavy topic, and their strategy seemed very effective.

Best Social Media Strategy

Under 250,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – Community Impact –

Judges comments: We chose Community Impact for the impressive results they had seen from implementing their social media strategy. We also liked how they focused on hyperlocal social media coverage, such as live-tweeting local government meetings and experimenting with Next Door.

2nd Place – 10/11 News -Gray Television –

Over 250,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – Graham Media Group –

Judges comments: Good use of Facebook Live, particularly in their creation of a live morning show. Also the newsroom’s engagement with Facebook comments was impressive.

2nd Place – KFYR-TV/Gray Television –

Best Native Advertising/Sponsored Content Campaign

Under 750,000 Monthly Unique Visitors
1st Place – Advocate Digital Media –

Judges comments: This campaign partnered with DeTar Healthcare System and created a native advertising infrastructure. We were impressed by their use of TrendSurveys to get opinions from local advertisers and social media integration.

2nd Place – Southeast Missourian/Rust Communications –

Over 750,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – The News Tribune/McClatchy –

Judges comments: The News Tribune worked with South Sound Together to create a native advertising strategy. We liked how comprehensive the reach of the campaign went: It not only included normal native ads but also targeted display advertising and social media interaction. These multiple channels helped South Sound Together increase their social following 400%, making the campaign a huge success.

2nd Place – Metroland Media –

Best Mobile Strategy

All Classes Combined

1st Place – Deseret Digital Media –

Judges comments: They created a widget for potential homeowners to calculate their future home payment, and it’s a fast, easy interface on their app. They also included their sponsor throughout the widget and integrated their advertising in unique ways throughout the app itself.

Best Use of Video

All Classes Combined

1st Place: Star-Telegram/McClatchy –

Judges comments: We loved the quality of the Star-Telegram’s videos, as well as their use of video in actual news stories.

2nd Place – Semoball/Rust Communications –

Best Strategy to Grow Digital Audience

All Classes Combined

1st Place – StarNews Media/GateHouse Media

Judges comments: StarNews Media strategies focus on a couple different things, including scheduling and direct involvement between reporter and reader. They keep track of running social media posts early in the morning when traffic tends to be the highest. Average Facebook Likes have increased by 42% and their Twitter followers have increased by 42%. They manage a rewards program for the reporters in having their personal pages viewed most often.

2nd Place – Community Impact –

Judges comments: Community Impact has developed a strategy that focuses on tone and innovation, especially inclusive to engaging headlines. They have worked on web features, like things to do or road closures, etc. There is an expectation to-do list for the staff to produce a certain amount of content, some of which is online-only features. They have doubled their audience year-over-year. They have focused their articles to write about what people want to see and make committed coverage decisions based on analytics reports. They make a good use of

Best Contest and/or Promotion

Under 250,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – The Conway Daily Sun –

Judges comments: This campaign featured a contest for Best Dog Photo submitted by readers. People love dogs! Animals can almost always get a good crowd involved in a campaign. The photo contest ran alongside their event, Bark in the Park Festival. They didn’t provide revenue or ROI but the event generated a lot of discussion online. The winner of the contest won some deals with pet-related local companies (and sponsors of the newspaper) like the vet clinic and pet store. Any campaign featuring pictures of puppies will succeed in one way or another. The great thing about this is that it also doesn’t target a very specific demographic other than dog owners – it’s for anyone who loves dogs.

250,001 – 750,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place– Northwest Florida Daily News/GateHouse Media –

Judges comments: The company teamed up with a regional airport to award a local veteran in the area code a free airplane trip for the holiday season. There were around 972 entries and one winner. The airport invested $9,375 for the promotion and it came with success. They did a great job focusing their audience on veterans since that demographic uses the airport services quite frequently. They made great use of their outlets by dominating both print and digital media to advertise the campaign. The airport and Northwest Florida Daily News now have a valuable partnership that could go a long way in the future.

Over 750,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – The Post and Courier –

Judges comments: The Post and Courier hosted a local contest called Charleston’s Choice for readers to nominate their favorite local places or activities. They featured a number of different categories, which we think is very efficient and organized, especially for a possible reader. They received 6,000 nominations from over 21,000 readers who cast over 200,000 votes. The Post and Courier received 220 advertisers along with this campaign and over $250,000 in revenue. While ballots are a pretty common strategy, this company did a great job at using it to their advantage. They were smart in selecting and observing specific categories. The digital promotion was impressive, as well.

Best Overall Local News Strategy

Under 250,000 monthly unique visitors

1st Place – Community Impact –

Judges comments: Community impact takes a unique approach in covering 23 hyper-local communities centered around three different metros. We liked how this hyper-local coverage is continued through their online content on their website as well, as in their social media presence.

2nd Place – People Newspapers –

Over 250,000 Monthly Unique Visitors

1st Place – WDIV/Graham Media Group –

Judges comments: WDIV’s explanation of their strategy focused on engagement, feedback, and verification and when we visited the site it was clear those attributes were engrained. In particular, we thought their innovative use of social media, video, and technology made their site stand out. The ability to utilize new tools such as Facebook Live while emphasizing the importance of reporting and verification was an important factor in our decision. This was coupled with an attention to important issues facing the community, such as their coverage of heroin deaths and addiction.

2nd Place – Record-Journal –

Local Media Digital News Innovator of the Year

Sherry Jones, StarNews Media/GateHouse Media

Judges comments: It’s clear that Sherry has had an incredible impact on her news organization. While her nomination mentions digital initiatives that she has played a role in for years, we were particularly impressed with the work she did this year, including helping the web team adopt a new website template and the Reporter Audience Growth program. We look forward to seeing what new innovation Sherry comes up with next!

Local Media Digital Innovator of the Year

1st Place – Jon Accarrino, Bonneville Broadcast Group

Judges comments: An impressive list of accomplishments made the choice clear! In 2016, Accarino led the following efforts:

  • Live video initiative from the studio
  • 36 different podcasts
  • Sales video programming and video display ads
  • 4 sponsored series
  • Search optimizing strategy
  • Downloads up by 291%
  • $1,091,811 in new annual revenue
  • Sustained mobile app, generated 159,181 sessions
  • Innovation through dashboards on radio websites
  • Grew site traffic up 72% and referral traffic by 642%

2nd Place – John Peterson, Sinclair Broadcast Group

Best R&D Partner

1st – Second Street

Judges Comments: We were impressed with the amount of praise that came from their media partners. The comments focused on Second Street’s customer service and their fantastic results in helping media companies drive more digital revenue.

2nd –

Contest Sponsors