Washington Post gun series wins VPA best-in-show

The Washington Post's yearlong investigative series on "The Hidden Life of Guns" has been honored as winner of the Virginia Press Association's award for best daily newspaper writing in 2010.


Sales specialist Scotty Wikel shows a Kel-Tec PLR 22 rifle while assisting a customer at Bob's Guns on June 9, 2010 in Norfolk, Va. (Ricky Carioti/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Of "The Hidden Life of Guns," the judges wrote, "Certainly, the content is impressive, but no amount of praiseworthy investigative work gets under your skin like this story unless the writing carries it home. And it does.

"It swings from deep analysis of gun sales and legislative 'plausible deniability' to the singular pain of people whose lives have been changed, or ended, with guns purchased in this weird shadow world of semi-legal providers.

"It puts faces on statistics and highlights the singular determination of pro-gun forces who are so determined to keep the right to bear arms that they support legal loopholes that criminals, or those that sell to them, can drive through with impunity."

The best-in-show award for writing in the specialty division was won by Amy Biegelsen of Style Weekly of Richmond for a three-story entry in the feature writing portfolio category. The judges wrote, "The selections offer behind the scenes insights into worlds unknown, such as that of riggers and stagehands. As if the story about their white-knuckle work were not interesting enough, the reporter puts it into the larger context of the intense competitive environment that exists between the old-time union hands and their younger upstarts. Just fascinating.

"Equally engaging are the profiles, especially of the anarchist couple. The details are rich and layered and varied. The story is deeply reported, with the writer offering readers the chance to draw their own conclusions based on the clear-eyed observations of the author."

In the non-daily writing division, the best in show winner was Phil Audibert of the Orange County Review for an entry in the sports writing portfolio category. The judges wrote, "This reporter consistently relies on concrete images to draw the reader immediately into the story. The writing is unadorned. Simple sentences are built upon simple sentences to drive the narrative forward. The reporter gets out of the way of the story, which gains a head of steam with smart use of direct quotes.

"And yet, when the moment calls for it, the writer introduces an element of context or 'deep clarity' to put the smaller story into a bigger context.

"Despite their length, the stories have a pacing so as not to overwhelm the reader. With asides and jaunts back in time, the writer moves deftly from past to present and back again. The stories are deeply reported and give readers a sense of place.

"Most importantly, the stories are just that - stories. They involve real, flesh-and-blood people, with all their hopes and shortcomings."

The other best-in-show winners and the judges' comments:

—Daily photography - Amanda Lucier, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk. "Incredibly powerful set of images that conveys what happens to those who are left behind when someone goes to war. It was a strong, tight edit with very well-written captions that supported the images and get to the heart of the results."

—Specialty photography - Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly, Richmond. "A community in anguish over the loss of one of its members. Relationships between people shown and done in a way that portrays the depth of grief but with respect."

—Non-daily photography - Beverly Denny, Loudoun Times-Mirror, Leesburg. "A nice human interaction from election coverage that has some humor in it as well. Strong composition, perfect moment."

—Daily artwork - Tracie Rawson, Daily Press, Newport News. "This piece on Harborfest has striking technique and concept. It highlights the story and event as something really special."

—Specialty artwork - Kerry Talbott, Boomer Magazine, Richmond Magazine. "This piece on midterm madness shows a great illustration style and has wonderful, active composition."

—Non-daily artwork - Ben Lansing, The Southside Messenger, Keysville. "Despite the breadth of the subject - 20 billion stars - this is a simple, clever, clean piece that provides a clear scope to the subject. Really shows what a good idea, presented simply, can do."

—Daily presentation - The Virginian-Pilot. "Design is content at the Pilot. It is clear that the editorial team is looking at the content, then deciding the best way to tell the story, then throwing all the resources from photo, art, infographics and design at the problem. Front pages are fluid and exciting. The design work doesn't end there, though. The section pages also push the envelope."

—Specialty presentation - Brandon Fox and Lee Aulick, Richmond Magazine. "Makes good design look effortless. Effective color, photo and story placement choices brand the design of the magazine and help the reader wade through an intriguing bounty of information. Loved how the placement of the numbered circles for 'The Hot List' matched the circles on the 'cover' of this package. Wonderful photography."

—Non-daily presentation - Charles Wilborn, The Gazette-Virginian, South Boston. "This paper gives readers a sense that things are happening in town. The news is told with good photography and text and sold with headlines and decks. Color is used wisely, not just to decorate. The section pages and inside pages are easy to navigate and functional.


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