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VQR Interactive Website Wins 'Digital Ellie'

March 17, 2011 — The Virginia Quarterly Review topped National Geographic and three other publications to win a 2011 National Magazine Award for Digital Media in the multimedia package category for its interactive project, "Assignment Afghanistan."

The American Society of Magazine Editors, in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, announced the 12 winners of digital media awards Wednesday in New York. The "Digital Ellies" are named for an Alexander Calder sculpture, "Elephant," replicas of which are presented to the winners.

VQR's award "recognizes the imaginative use of interactivity and multimedia in the coverage of an event or subject."

"Assignment Afghanistan," brings together the reporting and photography of independent journalist Elliott Woods, who began covering Afghanistan for VQR in October 2009. Jesse Dukes and his colleague, Shea Shackelford, both of Big Shed Audio + Media, produced the audio story combining Woods’ materials for the website, designed by Bluecadet Interactive.

The site's interactive functions include a timeline, map and software tool that allow Woods to update stories from the field and others to upload their stories into a public forum. The site already features added content from American troops, an Afghan translator and an Afghan journalist, among others.

The award marks the second year in a row that Virginia Quarterly Review has garnered a Digital Ellie. Last year, the magazine won in the news reporting category for Jason Motlagh's story, "Sixty Hours of Terror," about the Mumbai terror attacks.

Thomas C. Skalak, U.Va. vice president for research, under whose office the magazine is housed, said, "This national award, against high-level competition such as National Geographic, is really impressive."

One thing all three winners have in common: they are all U.Va. alumni of the College of Arts & Sciences. Motlagh graduated from U.Va. in 2004, Woods in 2008 and Dukes in 1999.

"Not only are these honors welcome recognition of VQR's efforts to forge a new kind of storytelling for the digital era, but they also reveal the remarkable talent that exists among the student body at the University of Virginia," VQR editor Ted Genoways said. "U.Va.'s grads are forging new paths in digital reporting in an era of such flux in the news and publishing industries."

Woods sent an e-mail from Kabul, where he is again on assignment, telling what the award means to him.

"I'm humbled, and more than anything I'm compelled to keep building the project. Working in Afghanistan alone for long periods of time is taxing on the mind and body, and recognition like this goes a long way to reassure me that people are taking notice," he wrote.

This year, 100 publications submitted entries in the 12 digital categories, ranging from the design of magazine websites to the best edition for mobile devices.

The 2011 National Magazine Awards for Digital Media were presented in conjunction with MPA Digital: E-Reading, the premier e-reading conference for magazine-media leaders. The awards were sponsored by Adobe.

The National Magazine Awards, established in 1966, are the preeminent awards for magazine journalism. The nominations for print magazines will be announced April 4, and the print magazine winners will be honored on May 9.

— By Anne Bromley

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