Celebrating indie talent: Localore, AIRsters bring home awards from #ONA17

(From left to right: Josie Holtzman, Isaac Kestenbaum, Jess Mador, Sue Schardt, Regina Dean, and Jaclyn Sallee)


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October 10, 2017—The 2017 Online News Association Conference (ONA) gathered daring minds in digital media for a whirlwind weekend of networking, innovative discussion, and skill-sharing from October 5-7, 2017. AIR CEO Sue Schardt attended alongside Localore: Finding America’s lead producers Josie Holtzman and Isaac Kestenbaum of “Frontier of Change,” Jess Mador of “Truckbeat,” and Stacia Brown of “Rise of Charm City.” From local newsrooms to international outlets, the Online Journalism Awards (OJA) fielded submissions spanning data news, audio storytelling, local reporting, and more. We at AIR are proud to see so many #AIRsters among the roster of winners and finalists. During the 2017 Online Journalism Awards ceremony, OJA handed top prizes in excellence to two small newsroom initiatives incubated by AIR through our Localore: Finding America production. Accompanying their contingent were Localore station collaborators Jaclyn Sallee of KNBA and Regina Dean of WUOT.

First prize in the Topical Reporting, Small Newsroom category went to “TruckBeat,” out of public radio station WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. The work was produced by Jess Mador who, as an independent producer, created and led this new initiative, along with inside collaborator, former WUOT station news director Matt Shafer Powell (now at WFYI). Over nine months on the ground, the team built new ties to Appalachian communities, produced multimedia stories that captured the reality of health disparities in rural and urban East Tennessee, and explored what Charlene Hipsher from the Roane County District Attorney General’s Office calls, “an epidemic to opiates, and it has affected just about every living room in this community, very much like it has across our entire nation.” In his remarks, OJA17 host Joshua Johnson of WAMU’s daily “1A” said, “at a time when many Americans do not feel like the media is listening to them, the judges said they were impressed by this crowdsourced project that runs counter to that notion.”

“Frontier of Change,” created by independent producers Isaac Kestenbaum and Josie Holtzman, was among the first winners of Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, a new prize category created to “recognize the innovative and explosive growth of audio and immersive digital audio storytelling.” Host Joshua Johnson, in his remarks, said “the judges loved the winning entry’s combination of on the ground engagement with the community, with powerful digital elements that brought the package to life.” KNBA, the flagship station of the Koahnic Broadcast Network of native reservation stations, incubated the production. The project’s inside collaborator, news director Joaqlin Estus (Tlingit), advised the production and guided the team’s treks to the far reaches of Alaska where they met and became involved with people adapting to the impact of climate change on their subsistence traditions. WUOT and KNBA each have one-to-two person newsrooms, placing a critical emphasis on the importance of embedded, local storytelling.

Other #AIRster public media winners included Frontline’s “After Solitary,” WBUR’s “Election 2016,” and Inside Energy, one of CPB’s local journalism centers, for “Standing Rock and Beyond.” AIR New Voice 2016 producer Jenni Monet contributed to that winning entry, as well. We are thrilled to celebrate the independent producers and inside collaborators who are working to advance public media toward a more courageous and inclusive future.

In addition to CPB, principal and on-going support for Localore comes from the Wyncote Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Localore: Finding America is a national production first created by AIR in 2008 to tap intrepid independent producers and embed them at public radio and television stations for up to a year. The teams represent new and inspiring collaborative productions formed between public radio journalists, indie producers and filmmakers, and people living and working in the “far corners” of local communities where public media seeks to deepen its service. The iterative models and best practices surfaced by the more than 400 storymakers involved in Localore so far are most recently captured in a new report, “Break Form, Making Stories with and for the People”, available at

AIR’s growing network of mission-focused talent is integral to public broadcasting and America’s growing podcasting and streaming audio industry. The 1,300 journalists, podcasters, documentarians, technicians, and media entrepreneurs forming AIR’s creative community span 46 states and 30 countries worldwide. AIR’s programs and productions enrich and expand the ecosystem where storymakers create work that brings hope and enlightenment, with the power to embolden and unify.

Watch the live-stream ceremony: (@ 1:10:08 and 1:24:35)

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