Startland News celebrated its sixth birthday this week with news of its own — announcing nine awards from the Kansas Press Association for reporting and photography in 2020.
The honors include four first-place wins for Startland News from among a crop of competitors that range from the Kansas City Business Journal, Kansas City Star, Topeka Capital-Journal and Wichita Eagle to the Lawrence Journal-World, Manhattan Mercury, Fort Leavenworth Lamp, and Hutchinson News.
“Our division presents incredibly stiff competition,” said Tommy Felts, news director at Startland News. “For our first year of eligibility as new members of the Kansas Press Association, this is a strong and telling showing from our team.”
Each member of the nonprofit newsroom’s three-person reporting team — rounded out by Austin Barnes, programming director, and Channa Steinmetz, reporter — was represented among the award winners.
Startland News counts May 4, 2015 as its official birthday — the date it began covering Kansas City’s startup and innovation communities.
“You’d be forgiven for assuming that our awards this week are for reporting on tech companies,” said Felts. “They actually honor a pretty wide spectrum of news and feature stories about risk-takers and small businesses outside the traditional ‘startup’ label. And that represents an intentional evolution of our content to be more inclusive of the broader Kansas City entrepreneurial community.”
Keep reading for a breakdown of Startland News’ results.
The first place awards for Startland News included:
- Best Environmental Story and Best Story/Picture Combination — “Back-to-basics innovation: How two former vegetarians revived a 5,000-year-old pig breed in the hills of Platte County” (Austin Barnes and Tommy Felts), a multimedia exploration of Odd Bird Farm’s unconventional rural operation that cultivates sustainability among the second-most genetically diverse herd of Mieshan pigs outside of China. (This feature, written by Barnes, also was awarded third place in the Best Agriculture Story category.)
- Best Local Business Story — “I’m Black and a Plaza business owner — in that order; why a Main Street entrepreneur joined KC’s protests” (Tommy Felts), a feature story on serial entrepreneur Isaac Collins’ reaction to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the subsequent, nationwide Black Lives Matter movement that made its way to Kansas City.
- Best Headline Writing — “Booch! (There it is): Tea-Biotics pours onto 39th Street with its first Missouri kombucha taproom”; “Sew you want a fight? Makers across KC mobilize mask production to slow COVID-19 spread”; “To be blunt: Meowijuana sees record sales as COVID sparks deeper bonds for pets, owners” (Tommy Felts), a collection of Startland News headlines from across the year.
Recognition for the stories about Odd Bird Farm and Collins — perhaps best known for his Yogurtini franchises across the metro — are especially significant because they first resonated with readers, Felts said.
Odd Bird ranked No. 9 on Startland News’ list of most-popular stories in 2020, and the Collins feature was the publication’s most-read story in its six-year history.
“And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Isaac Collins’ commentary specifically struck a nerve with readers because of his willingness to be open and candid about his experience as a Black entrepreneur during a massive moment for our country and Kansas City — not necessarily because of the quality of the reporting,” said Felts, who wrote the June 2020 feature. “I appreciate the trust Isaac extended to make that story possible.”
Much of the year’s Startland News coverage focused on the resilience of entrepreneurs and small business owners amid a global pandemic, though judges in the KPA contest also recognized the publication’s stories that had fewer direct ties to COVID.
Additional awards for Startland News included:
- Second place: Best Agricultural Story — “‘Bray of Sunshine’ during dark times: Zen Donkey Farms juices light from lemons” (Austin Barnes)
- Second place: Best Youth Story — “Start with heart: Sisters’ yard signs offer a ‘stepping stone’ to support Black lives” (Channa Steinmetz)
- Third place: Best Series — A trio of stories over six months diving into plans for Walt Disney’s former Laugh-O-gram Studious on Troost (Austin Barnes)
- Third place: Best Story/Picture Combination — “Peek inside Tesseract HQ: Robotics startup builds future in real time (with humans on the brain)” (Austin Barnes and Tommy Felts)
“Our team is built like many startups and small businesses: with a foundation of collaboration,” said Felts, emphasizing the team win for Startland News’ inaugural awards outing. “But that also means we’re leveraging the individual expertise and talents of each member of our newsroom to reach these collective milestones.”