Maui News lands 15 Excellence in Journalism awards


For coverage of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, profiles of sports figures and photos of key Maui moments, The Maui News earned 15 Excellence in Journalism Awards.

The Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter held the 2020 Excellence in Journalism Awards via Zoom on Wednesday night.

Reporters Kehaulani Cerizo, Rob Collias and Dakota Grossman received first place in the Feature Writing/Short Form category of the Daily Newspapers division for “Personal Stories Behind the Pandemic.” The series highlighted businesses fighting to stay alive, workers struggling to file for unemployment, high school students studying from home and other people impacted by the pandemic.

“This series chronicles the toll of the pandemic on the people of Maui,” judges said. “The snapshots are concise yet enlightening. Kudos to the reporters and editors who played a role in expertly documenting this time in history!”

Judges awarded second place to Dakota Grossman for her feature on a Maui family reflecting on relatives who died at Pearl Harbor, and third place to reporter Melissa Tanji for her profile on Native Hawaiian leader “Uncle Les” Kuloloio following his death at age 79.


Tanji and then-Assistant City Editor Colleen Uechi captured first place in the General News/Enterprise Reporting category for Daily Newspapers with a series of stories on the first COVID-19 cluster at Maui Memorial Medical Center, which grew to include more than 50 patients and staff. Tanji and Uechi chronicled the cluster’s rise and officials’ candid discussion of where things went wrong.

“Solid reporting that showed the chaos and confusion around a COVID-19 cluster,” judges remarked. “Stories like these highlight the importance of communication during a crisis.”

Grossman earned second place in the category for “Possible detonation of ordnance off Molokini is raising concerns,” while Uechi took third place for “Remembering Charli,” an account of the day Carly “Charli” Scott’s family was allowed to see their daughter’s remains for the first time.

A sports and news reporter, Grossman also finished third in the All Media Sports Reporting category for “AOY Rewind: McLean vaults back into life on the Valley Isle,” part of a limited series by The Maui News Sports Department catching up with former Athlete of the Year winners from Maui County.

In the Feature Writing/Long Form category, photographer and staff writer Matthew Thayer came away with first place for his story, “Time to rethink shaking hands?”, which weighed different perspectives on the meaning of shaking hands before and after the coronavirus.


“This story featured a perfect mix of endearing first-person accounts and insightful interviews,” judges said. “The writer let the story evolve, reflecting the trajectory of the pandemic in its early days in a well-written, easy-to-read feature.”

Collias won second in the category for “Treasuring every moment,” about the family of a local wrestler pressing on despite their mother’s tragic cancer diagnosis, while Uechi received third place for “Mission accomplished: Lee Imada reflects on 40 years with The Maui News,” profiling the paper’s outgoing managing editor.

Thayer also won multiple awards for his photography, placing second in the All Media division’s News Photography/Videography category for “Idled rental cars fill landscape,” and third place in the same category for “Witness hears suspect say ‘go to hell,’ then hears a ‘pop,'” a photograph of a witness recounting the gunshot he heard in a Napili murder case.

Thayer also took third place in the All Media Sports Photography/Videography category for photos of high school soccer coverage.

His photo essay, “Once upon a time on Maui,” chronicled the empty beaches, roads and neighborhoods around Maui as travel and everyday life shut down, and earned third place in the All Media Photo/Video Essay category.


In the All Media Best Explanatory Journalism category, Thayer won third place for his photos and story, “Rising seas impacting shores — and it will only get worse,” spotlighting the problem of climate change and sea level rise in vulnerable coastal locations around Maui.

“Maui News drew on experts, local knowledge and harrowing photos to highlight a problem that ought to be raising alarm all over Hawaii,” judges said.

SPJ Hawaii entries this year were judged by the Louisville chapters.





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