MANKATO — The Free Press in Mankato, Minnesota won 18 awards for editorial and advertising excellence from the Minnesota Newspaper Association in its annual awards contest.

The Free Press won six first-place, four second-place and eight third-place awards.

The first-place awards are for best magazine for Mankato Magazine, community leadership for the newspaper’s series on mental health, freedom of information for its push for cameras in courts and for best website.

Judges said of the newspapers mental health series that won the Lynn Smith Community Leadership award: “Wow. The leadership displayed by this newspaper in the mental health crisis in their community was nothing short of amazing. Great job.”

Free Press reporter Mark Fischenich won first-place awards for breaking news for a story on a Waterville bar and restaurant fire and for public affairs reporting for an in-depth story on shifting tax burdens in Mankato.

Of the fire story, judges said: “The reporter does a great job of covering all aspects of this devastating fire with plenty of interviews and base information while also using good imagery and a solid writing style to convey the seriousness of the incident.”

The newspaper also won second-place awards for editorial page as a whole and coverage in a special category of public health. It won third-place awards for sports reporting, and typography and design.

Free Press staff also won individual awards. Editor Joe Spear won second- and third-place in the Herman Roe Editorial Writing award category for editorials on infrastructure and liquor laws, while intern Julia Barton won second place for arts and entertainment coverage for a story on Mankato’s silo art.

Designer Christina Sankey won third place for best house ad promoting The Free Press River City Holiday music CD, and advertising representative Jordan Greer-Friesz won third place for best use of color in advertising for Circle Inn advertisement.

Reporter Brian Arola and former Free Press reporter Trey Mewes won third place in investigative reporting for the mental health series. Mewes also won third place for government reporting for a story on business unemployment taxes. And Free Press freelance writer Drew Lyon won third place for a story in the arts and entertainment category about longtime Mankato band City Mouse.

The Free Press competes with other newspapers in Minnesota and the Dakotas with circulation over 10,000 including the Fargo Forum, Rochester Post-Bulletin, the Duluth News Tribune and the Grand Forks Herald.