And the iReport Awards go to ...

Kurt Weston and his guide dog Ambrose accept the Personal Story award from CNN International anchor Michael Holmes at Saturday's iReport Awards ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia.

Story highlights

  • The iReport Awards recognize CNN's most compelling participatory journalism
  • Nominees are selected from nearly 15,000 iReports approved in 2011
  • You can share your stories at CNN iReport
Eyewitness footage of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, a collection of powerful images from a blind photographer and a dispatch by 14-year-old twins at Occupy Wall Street were among the recipients of the 2nd annual CNN iReport Awards on Saturday night.
A tribute to a closing Border's bookstore, a photo essay documenting the return of South Sudanese refugees and a collection of interviews with union workers at Wisconsin's state capitol in 2011 also took home awards.
"iReport was at the heart and center of CNN's coverage of all of the major stories of the year," said CNN Digital Participation Director Lila King, who leads the iReport team, as well as the network's social media efforts.
The recipients were chosen from 36 nominees in six categories by a panel of CNN and outside judges: Vadim Lavrusik, journalist program manager at Facebook; Andrea Allen, director of production and community at Vimeo; Solana Larsen, managing editor at Global Voices, Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify; producer, director and writer Issa Rae; CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin; and CNN International senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.
CNN iReport Awards nominees
CNN iReport Awards nominees


    CNN iReport Awards nominees


CNN iReport Awards nominees 02:43
The community choice award -- selected by popular vote -- went to iReporter Chris Morrow's interview with Michelle "Bombshell" McGee, the tattooed entertainer who became a household name after her affair with celebrity motorcycle builder Jesse James.
CNN International's Michael Holmes hosted the iReport awards ceremony at Ventana's in Atlanta. The event was the center piece of the iReport Awards weekend, which brought iReporters together from all over North America for a series of seminars, panel discussions and hands-on lessons.
The nominees were chosen from the almost 15,000 iReports that were approved for use on CNN in 2011.
See the recipients
Breaking News
Indiana State Fair stage collapse
Jessica Silas
Jessica Silas was in the bleachers on August 13, 2011, waiting for the popular country duo Sugarland to perform, when she saw dust blowing and heard people starting to yell. She pulled out her video camera just seconds before the stage collapsed and killed seven people in the crowd.
Why it was chosen:
Burt Herman, Storify co-founder:
"The video captures the entire event as it happened from a perspective where you can see everything. It's chilling to see the panicked reactions after the stage collapsed and gives you a sense of being there and feeling the horror that the audience felt."
Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook journalist program manager:
"Because she was able to capture the key moment of the collapse, she's able to tell the very core of the story. Not only was this video timely and captured dramatic footage, but was impressively shot with composure and without panic. A great reporter is able to keep calm amid the chaos to capture the story. Silas keeps the camera steady, and even zooms several times to get closer footage of the damage, all while people are running for their lives around her.
Brooke Baldwin, CNN anchor:
"This video communicates the sheer terror of this stage collapse. I felt like I was there."
Andrea Allen, Vimeo director of production and community:
"I reviewed every entry twice, and my top three entries three times each. This was the only story that never lost its initial shock."
Original reporting
Return to South Sudan
Roseann Dennery
Roseann Dennery was working for the aid organization Samaritan's Purse in Haiti when she was sent to southern Sudan to document the historic referendum dividing the country. She was in the Bahr el Ghazal region in southern Sudan when a bus full of people arrived after years in exile. She said the first man she spoke to had fled 15 years ago and only came back after the historic referendum.
"Great storytelling. The reporter's words and narrative moved me and I love that it's an optimistic story about progress. The reporter caught the moment and documented it in a way that would be appreciated by the Sudanese of Khartoum."
Vadim Lavrusik:
"The narrative is detailed and provides context about some of the broader history for readers. It also has a strong personal perspective from the author, which makes the reader feel very much a part of the story. The narrative arc keeps the reader engaged and the story ends nicely. On top of the written story, the photographs help visualize the scene and the characters."
Compelling imagery
Occupy Wall Street, day 23
Anna and Rachel Otto
Anna Otto and her 14-year-old twin sister Rachel got their father to take them to New York so they could be a part of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park. They edited their video of the experience into a creative and energetic music video.
Why it was chosen:
Burt Herman:
"This vignette of the Occupy protests gives a nice panorama on the protesters and what they represent."
Vadim Lavrusik:
"The video is newsworthy as this movement took the country by storm and spread to other parts of the world, and demonstrates some great instincts in editing and production. In many ways, the video - with protest signs, protesters and conditions - shows the story behind the movement: a protest against the 1% and the income gap."
Ode to Borders
Melissa Fazli
Melissa Fazli was disappointed when her local Borders closed as the bookstore chain went out of business. She didn't really shop there, but said it was a nice place to meet people and it had nice activities for her children. Her video showed that for her the store wasn't just a business, it was part of her community.
"Quirky comment on change we're all experiencing, and the well chosen images add to the enjoyment."
Andrea Allen:
"Ode to Borders wins out on the creativity!"
Burt Herman:
"Nice personal story and photos to see things from the author's perspective."
Personal story
From blind vision to vision beyond sight
Kurt Weston
Kurt Weston has lived with HIV/AIDS since his diagnosis in 1991 and has pursued his dreams of being an artist even after the disease robbed him of most of his vision. The legally blind photographer shared how he has struggled with the disease over the past 20 years and how it has inspired his work.
Why it was chosen:
Issa Rae:
"Excellent story of personal triumph over tragedy. Instead of letting his ailments victimize him, he turned it into something beautiful."
Vadim Lavrusik:
"Incredible story of personal struggle and how art has enabled personal healing. The emotions in this personal story aren't just reflected in words, but also the images of the art and photography. It's really unique and the story is quite extraordinary."
Wisconsin Protests
Jason Seher
Jason Seher interviewed union workers at the Wisconsin State Capitol who were protesting Gov. Scott Walker's plan to restrict the collective bargaining rights of most state workers. He described the scene as "peaceful mayhem" and said everyone there seemed very passionate about the issues. At one point in his interview, a woman bursts into tears because she was upset that the changes could hurt her family's future.
Why it was chosen:
Brooke Baldwin:
"You can tell the questions were good based upon these responses, and it was COLD out there! Nice work!"
Issa Rae:
"I feel the Wisconsin protests most resembled an actual news report in terms of production quality and coverage and this definitely promotes discussion and questions."
CNN also recognized six iReport Spirit Honorees whose enthusiasm and collaborative spirit help make the iReport community a better place. This year's honorees are Jerry Gonzales, Egberto Willies, Matt Sky, Veronica Mendoza, Mark Ivy and Marie Sager.
iReporters share personal and provocative stories like this every day and we hope these iReports inspire you to share your photos, videos and perspectives with CNN. You can go to to post your stories and become a part of the iReport community.