Local Media Digital Innovation Awards


Newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and digital news sites from 70 different companies all competed in the Local Media Association’s annual Digital Innovation Contest and the results are now in!

The faculty at the Medill School/Northwestern University judged the categories and were thoroughly impressed with the quality of entries.

Some of the first-place winners will conduct presentations at the LMA Digital Revenue Summit on May 1-2 in Chicago. They will showcase their award-winning work and share details on their strategies and implementation.

“This is a highly competitive contest that recognizes the best in 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.”

Graham Media Group received the highest number of awards (9) followed by Swift Communications (6), Tribune Broadcasting (4), Shaw Media (4), GateHouse Media (3), Affect Digital/Victoria Advocate (3), Capitol Broadcasting/WRAL (3) and Pilot Media/The Virginian-Pilot (3).

The contest was free for local media companies to enter. This ensured a fair competition with no financial barriers. Nine of the industry’s most progressive R&D partners sponsored the contest including Second Street, Camilyo, Social News Desk, Leap Media Solutions, UpScribed, CitySpark, TownNews.com, CXENSE and AdMall.

Category winners are listed below with the judges comments.

Best Local Website* Sponsored by Boostability

This award recognizes the best all-around local media websites. We’re looking for the total package here. Judges will consider all aspects including: design, content (local and relevant), use of photos and videos, user interaction/load speed, presentation of advertising, mobile adaptability and more. Entries should include a link to the website along with a letter that makes the case for best local website. Judges will be looking for robust websites that are beautifully designed with strong local content. Entry should also address audience growth over the past year and other key metrics.

WINNERS (up to 750,000 monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: nwherald.com Northwest Herald (Shaw Media) – This local news site has a user-friendly, clean, mobile-friendly website design with non-obstructive advertising. Its content goes beyond simply articles and organizes community happenings well. Audience growth reflects this design. Solid metrics (unique visitors are up 25 percent YOY; page views up 35 percent).

2nd Place: https://www.parrysound.com/ Huntsville Forester/Bracebridge Examiner (Metroland Media Group) – Impressive metrics (70% YOY increase in page views). Many of the other sites looked similar in design and I appreciated that this site looked the most unique. I like the icon images for the headings that divide content in a clear way (local news, community,  what’s on, etc). Each story can be easily shared across social platforms, which is great.

3rd Place: fox43.com WPMT-Fox43 (Tribune Broadcasting) – This site is very focused on video, which appeals to a younger audience. It has a large number of followers. It also had fewer ads than many of the other sites.

WINNERS (750,001+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: www.clickondetroit.com WDIV Local 4 (Graham Media Group)  ClickOnDetroit.com is a superior local website that builds audience through news coverage as well as creative initiatives such as the 4Frenzy voting platform.  Their entry provides evidence that the site has grown its audience substantially.

2nd Place: lancasteronline.com LNP Media Group – Lancaster stood out for its demonstrated commitment to hearing from its own community and building off of their interests and desire to be heard. This is done both through their We The People project (Hearken!) and their editorial decisions (getting local high school kids to write paragraphs in response to the Parkland, Florida shooting, for example), and their multimedia experiments were encouraging, too.

3rd Place: ktla.com KTLA 5 (Tribune Broadcasting) – KTLA.com has built a strong and trusting relationship with readers — in the LA area and beyond — through consistent and in-depth coverage of breaking news (like their coverage of the Thomas Fire). They’ve notably grown their push alert-subscribing audience, but pride themselves on only posting alerts and Facebook posts when stories are “impactful and worthy of [readers’] time.” The site also get points for experimentation — with podcasts, 360 video, and Instagram Stories.

Best Social Media Strategy*
Sponsored by Social News Desk

We are looking for the most successful and creative plans when it comes to leveraging social media to extend your audience and engagement. Entry should clearly state the strategy and provide examples of your work. Tell us how this positively impacted your social media efforts and how it aligned with your goals.

WINNERS (up to 750,000 monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: Lahontan Valley News (Swift Communications/Sierra Nevada Media Group) – Love the creativity here with the #FallonWantsFallon campaign. A creative approach to building community by leveraging social media. Talk about making lemons out of lemonade! Plus, the campaign made us laugh.

2nd Place: KFYR-TV (Gray Digital Media) – Excellent on-the-ground coverage of Dakota Access Pipeline controversy that is emotional and tells the stories of real people.  They have a smart Digital+Social First strategy that they explain clearly. Solid metrics.

3rd Place: Northwest Florida Daily News (GateHouse Media) – Clear vision and strategy, and goals that aren’t too lofty. I like that they’re not limiting themselves to FB even if it’s the biggest traffic driver for them. Also, I love the idea for a local tiny desk concert! Quality of photos shared on Instagram is good.

WINNERS (750,001+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: WXMI (Tribune Broadcasting)– Creative strategy for “snackables” (short, informative video nuggets). Love the strategy of reaching out to the community to get it started in a meaningful way: asking for participation and insights rather than donations. I like that they’re focusing on targeting specific demographics and that audience seems to be at the heart of their social media strategy. The videos are eye-catching.

2nd Place (tie): KGW Media Group (Tegna)– Comprehensible strategy and evidence of success (metrics)
Shaw Media Group – Although Facebook Live hasn’t yet seen huge success when it comes to engagement, using Facebook Live to broadcast real-time weather updates is a smart strategy. And  weather is of interest to just about anyone, and is a key component of local news.

Best Strategy to Grow Digital Audience*
Sponsored by LEAP Media Solutions

This award recognizes sites that are developing high-quality content and user experiences that are increasing their overall audience. Explain your content strategies on numerous platforms and the KPIs you are using to help evolve and drive those strategies.


1st Place: Tahoe Daily Tribune (Swift Communications/Sierra Nevada Media Group) – TDT articulated their digital goals very well; they are measuring tons of excellent metrics; they have analyzed their reader behavior extremely well; and their numbers are very encouraging. The increase rate in page views speaks for itself. These are important moves for legacy media in transition to the digital future.

2nd Place: LNP Media Group – Lancaster is trying out new digital products like podcasts and video series to boost reader engagement. We’re glad to see they are recognizing “sessions” as a KPI of equal or greater importance to page views. “We the People” shows appreciation and value of their audience.

3rd Place: Swift Communications – By hiring engagement editors for their properties, they’ve demonstrated a true commitment to growing their digital audience. And they are considering time-on-site as a KPI, which is the right move.

Best Use of Video*

This category will reward local media sites that have made video a top priority in areas such as storytelling, breaking news, sports, advertising, sponsored content and more. Entry should include a link to the website along with information on the overall strategy and examples of exceptional work. It should also include metrics and monetization strategies (current or future plans). This is not a best single use of video award but rather one that recognizes a fantastic overall strategy. Judges will be looking for sites that offer a wide variety of video options across all content areas.


1st Place: Miami Herald (McClatchy) – This local news outlet’s video strategy reflected not only quality content but also quality shooting and editing. Video was a key part of the storytelling rather than an add-on.

2nd Place: Sonic 102.9 (Rogers Digital Media) – Good blend of different videos, and they are enjoyable to watch.

3rd Place: Foodlore (Swift Communications/Sierra Nevada Media Group) – Foodlore’s recipe videos were not only well shot and edited, but they also engaged the organizations’ audience and brought a personal element to food.

Best Digital Agency
Sponsored by Camilyo

We are looking to recognize the best digital agencies owned by local media companies. This entry should address structure, revenue growth, products offered, profitability and anything else that makes your agency stand out from the many others. The entry should also include some examples of your best work for a top client or two. (Award will be broken down into three size categories: agencies with revenue under $1 million; agencies with revenue between $1 million – $5 million; agencies with revenue over $5 million.)

WINNERS (under $5 million):

1st Place: Affect Digital (Victoria Advocate) – An impressive array of products and competencies.

2nd Place: Shepherd Express – A full-service marketing agency that leverages technology successfully.

3rd Place: Reimagine Main Street (Observer Publishing Co.) – An agency that is truly helping clients grow their business.

WINNERS (over $5 million):

1st Place: WRAL Digital Solutions – The wide variety of products offered allows the agency to handle any marketing challenge.

Best Native/Sponsored Content Campaign*
Sponsored by UpScribed

We are looking for the very best native advertising/sponsored content campaigns. Entry should include links to the campaign along with results (in terms of revenue and ROI for the client.) Limited to two entries per site.


1st Place: WJXT & Mayo Clinic (Graham Media Group) – A strong piece of service content that was useful for readers.  Creative use of infographics instead of text to tell a service story. We liked that there was a clear representation that this content was sponsored and a part of a partnership with Mayo Clinic. There was also a clear success with impressions and click-through rates. Very simple and useful graphs that are easy to read and understand. This seems really synergistic with Mayo Clinic’s benevolent mission.

2nd Place: Affect Digital with Jackson County Hospital (Victoria Advocate) – The synergy with the hospital’s brand and the outreach goal of the ad campaign is spot-on. Metrics are very encouraging as well, especially for a smaller market. Emphasis on mental health is especially important, given its lack of representation in media. The helpful links to other resources are also a nice touch. The campaign really underscores the importance of a health leader in a community.

3rd Place: The Herald News (Shaw Media) – Strong multimedia component, was well-designed and was useful for readers.

Best New Digital Initiative*
Sponsored by CitySpark

Did you launch a new initiative such as OTT, podcasting, virtual reality, insight selling or something else that is new and emerging? Tell us about it. We want details on strategy, revenue, results and plans to grow it.

WINNERS (Up to 750.000 monthly unique visitors): 

1st Place: Affect Digital (Victoria Advocate) – Affect Digital Media made a strong first impression on the judges by explaining the process through which they decided on building AgencyQue, a project management system. They saw the need from their customers and saw the lack of efficient products in the market. They had a very sustainable growth plan for the platform they built, actually finding a market for it. It looks like a sustainable and differentiable solution that could bring both revenue and impact

2nd Place: Everything Nevada (Swift Communications/Sierra Nevada Media Group) – They built a product that is local, community based, and content driven. They have clear understanding about the role of great content and the importance of integrating media resources. And while the idea about providing an aggregation of lifestyle-related resources is not new, a local perspective to it can still bring some difference.

3rd Place: WPMT-FOX43 (Tribune Broadcasting) – A good strategy for traditional media seeking a stronger digital presence.

WINNERS (750,001+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: The Virginian-Pilot (Pilot Media) – Automated text-based virtual assistants could be the next big trend in digital and innovative landscape. This is a creative use of this technology – we like how it can be used not only for news but also customer service.

2nd Place: Shaw Media – While it’s not a new tactic, providing a way for print advertisers to get value online is an important step in the transition to digital publishing and marketing.  The added revenue is substantial.

3rd Place: WDIV Local 4 (Graham Media Group) – A good way to retain broadcast audiences while growing digital audiences at the same time.

Best Digital News Project*
Sponsored by TownNews.com

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? This category looks to recognize journalism that is deep but also designed beautifully. This can be a single story or an ongoing topic.

WINNERS (up to 750,000 monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: WSLS 10 (Graham Media Group) – High school sports are huge in communities without professional sports teams, and WSLS built a site that became essential for people interested in high school football in their market. Using push notifications and a mobile-first strategy in a midsize market is impressive. Page views and engagement look really good, too. Well done!

2nd Place: KFYR TV (Gray Digital Media) – A good example of effective use of Facebook to deliver the news to a targeted audience.  Your engagement, views, and overall reach, via a curated social media channel, are impressive considering the market size. The emphasis on social media as your primary storytelling medium is a worthwhile experiment given the shrinkage of broadcast audiences.

WINNERS (750,001+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: Capitol Broadcasting – Great use of multiform storytelling techniques. It embedded videos and photos in texts, but it went beyond that and included JS-driven animated text message simulations and Google Earth video plotting the key points on the map. Those two more innovative techniques fit in well with the topic of the story, and showed clearly the tension and frustration that filled in the local area when rumors came in about KKK. The project made clever use of new techniques, which added strength to the narration of the story and gave readers more engaging presentation of what happened at the spot.

2nd Place: The Virginian-Pilot (Pilot Media) – This is a great example of journalistic storytelling, all the more impressive in that it was a podcast created by a newsroom with no prior podcast experience. This story is fascinating, but I also felt strange, combing through Decker’s text messages.

3rd Place: KSAT 12 (Graham Media Group) – KSAT 12’s story stood out with some highly interactive data visualizations that showcased information like the historic deadly mass shootings in Texas and a timeline detailing the shooter’s history related to the story.

Best Redesign/Relaunch

Did you redesign or relaunch your website or a digital product this year? This award recognizes the most forward-thinking product relaunches and remakes. Be specific about what you changed, why and the results it’s driven for your company.


1st Place: Capitol Broadcasting (WRAL Techwire) – I love the new WRALTechWire. It’s a well-executed issue-specific local site, with clear focus, informative content and clean design. It was smart to remove the paywall, recognizing that for a niche tech site there was more potential for revenue from ads and sponsorships.

2nd Place: WDIV Local 4 (Graham Media Group) – This relaunch was successful in expanding the scope of the site, building audience and generating revenue. The design is good and matches the sports theme. Content is easy to scan through and read along. Hover effect of the titles is helpful.

3rd Place: Click On Detroit (Graham Media Group) – The 4Frenzy site is an interesting way to cover high school sports, since it puts a lot of focus on the friends and families who drive that coverage to vote for things. I like the site’s visual-heavy design and easy-to-use surveys.

Best Use of Data
Sponsored by CXENSE

Show how you have used data to drive additional revenue, develop consumer marketing strategies or inform your coverage. The organizations that are most innovative and aggressive in their approaches will be recognized. Explain the strategy behind the use of the data, how you accomplished the goal and the results. Discuss cultural and technological advancements you made as part of your approach.


1st Place: El Clasificado Inc. – We were impressed with the sophistication of this classified-ad aggregator for Spanish-language users.  The company uses data to improve the experiences of both advertisers and businesses, generating significant growth in audience.

2nd Place: WDIV (Graham Media Group) – WDIV discovered a new market opportunity in Ann Arbor by analyzing audience metrics. It was a savvy business decision and supported with an investment of 1.5 new newsgathering positions.

Best Contest and/or Promotion*

We are looking for a contest or promotion that you knocked out of the park! The entry should include a link to the promotion and detailed information on results (revenue as well as ROI for the advertiser). Be sure to include anything else that makes this stand out – did you attach an event to it for example? Did the experience open the door to other opportunities?  The more detail the better. Judges will be looking for creativity and fantastic results.

WINNERS (up to 750,000+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: The Record Courier (Swift Communications/Sierra Nevada Media Group) – To generate $100k in revenues within a community under 10k is extremely impressive. You reached across digital and print mediums, garnered 100k+ votes from your area, and advertised more than a hundred businesses – that’s no small feat. That your awards have become prestigious for businesses in the area is one mark of a great contest; but the fact that you generate six figures for a small media business in a small media market is a huge win and an example for other media institutions who are struggling to make ends meet.

2nd Place: WSIL-TV – I applaud your contest because it functions on multiple levels: it drives revenue for the station, serves a public health/safety need, and empowers children with a powerful and positive message. Plus, using doughnuts to incentivize involvement is great – who doesn’t love doughnuts? That you promoted this contest across multiple mediums and utilized social media is especially savvy. But I’m mostly excited about the positive impact that has for the kids in the area.

3rd Place: Northwest Florida Daily News (GateHouse Media) – Revenue and participation of this contest are both impressive. Marketing was done well in different channels.

WINNERS (over 750,001+ monthly unique visitors):

1st Place: WDIV Local 4 (Graham Media Group) – The strategy behind 4Frenzy is smart on a variety of levels. Positioning yourselves with TV, digital, social media and real-world shows the power of leveraging different channels to build your brand. A really great message behind the campaign. And $220k revenue is significant.

2nd Place: Gatehouse Media – The contest encourages collaboration and problem solving within teams. The amount of revenue generated speaks for itself.

3rd Place: Post & Courier (Evening Post Industries) – Utilizing your audience’s own desire to participate and represent their interests, and turning it into a revenue-generating and value-add exercise for your business, is a clever and inventive way to make success happen for yourselves. Defining your results in more than one way – profit AND email addresses/leads – shows that you were thinking broadly about how to take advantage of the digital medium.

Best R&D Partner

Media companies, this is your chance to tell us about an R&D company/industry provider that absolutely helped you drive new digital revenue and results for your company. The more detail, the better. Judges will be looking to reward partners that have been vital in helping local media companies drive new digital revenue or create efficiencies in their operations. The entry should also address how the R&D partner went above and beyond in areas such as training, installation, troubleshooting and more. The entry should specifically explain how tools an R&D partner provided helped you achieve a goal.

WINNER: TownNews.com – Over 20 local media companies nominated and voted for TownNews.com in this category. Some of their comments included:

  • “For the past two years, I’ve seen tremendous customer outreach/service by TownNews.com to its partners proving their desire to help local media succeed in the digital era.”
  • “Rock solid technology, delivers on time what they say they will.  Probably the most innovative company out there.”
  • “Constantly pushing forward to keep customers as close to the cutting edge as possible.  Very responsive when asked for help and/or innovation.”

Congratulations to the other 5 finalists:
– AdCellerant
– Centro
– Legacy.com
– OwnLocal
– Second Street

Local Media Digital Innovator of the Year
Sponsored By AdMall, Powered by SalesFuel

We are looking for a digital media rock star that is pioneering new concepts, experimenting in new and creative ways and delivering fantastic results for their company. This award is focused on digital revenue growth. A letter from the CEO or a senior-level executive should make the case for why this person is the most deserving digital media executive in North America.

WINNER: Andrew Pergam, Vice President, Video and New Ventures, McClatchy – Under Andrew’s leadership, The Video Lab encompasses a real-time desk, a team of regional editors, producers and video journalists, as well as The Creative Lab, a branded content studio, and an innovation team. This spring, McClatchy will open the doors to a 10,000-square foot production facility in the company’s hometown of Sacramento, CA, dedicated to exploring new forms of storytelling on emerging platforms.

Local Media Digital News Innovator of the Year

This digital media rock star will be focused on the content side of the business. They should be a leader in audience development and have the results to back it up. A letter from the top news executive in the company or CEO should include examples of their work and results.

WINNER: Erica Smith, Online editor and director of digital strategy, The Virginian-Pilot (Pilot Media) – The Virginian Pilot’s Erica Smith has led her standalone newsroom in quantifiable audience growth, educating her colleagues on trends and best practices all the while. She has demonstrated superb collaboration, communication, passion and commitment to innovation (she created a Facebook bot, seeks out collaborations and partnerships with outside vendors and much more).


NOTE: Categories marked with an asterisk will be based on size of website: 250,000 monthly unique visitors and less; 250,001 – 750,000 and over 750,000. This should be calculated as follows: average monthly unique visitors over the previous 12-month period (November 2016 – October 2017) using Google Analytics.

Interested in sponsoring a category? Contact Lindsey Estes today at lindsey.estes@localmedia.org.