MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Data-driven investigative reporting on failed oversight of local jails, scrutiny of sexual assault cases in a university city, and insightful interviews with Black residents in white rural communities highlighted exemplary journalism in the 2020 Best of CNHI editorial contest.

The Traverse City, Michigan, Record-Eagle received the Newspaper of the Year honor in the largest paper category (Division I) for superior news and opinion content across print and digital platforms. Outstanding design and photography also gleaned special praise. Judges cited a prime example of the paper’s distinguished journalism the collection of in-custody death records over a 10-year period to build a data base revealing slipshod oversight of Michigan jails. The project, titled “Death Sentence,” featured a series of stories, infographics, photos and videos, providing the first-ever comprehensive public accounting of how and why inmates die by suicide and other avoidable causes while locked up in local jails.

Responding to the nationwide outrage over the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody, The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, captured the Division I Public Service Award for exploring the issue of “Black Lives Here” in the paper’s mostly white rural communities. Insightful stories and video interviews with 10 Black residents of the Susquehanna Valley turned up a variety of concerns. They included interaction with police, shopping in local stores, religious worship and even simple things like finding a beautician or barber who could style a Black person’s hair.

The Stillwater News Press won the Division II Public Service Award for a seven-part series of stories showing scant prosecution of sexual assault cases in Payne County, home of Oklahoma State University. Public records showed authorities prosecuted fewer than 5 % of 194 reported cases in the county between 2017 and 2019. The statewide prosecution average topped 17 %.

In Division II, the Effingham, Illinois, Daily News received the Newspaper of the Year award. Judges lauded the paper for its strong local coverage, relevant editorial page, clean design and frequently updated website. Coverage of a devastating June tornado in the region came in for special praise.

Division III honors for Newspaper of the Year went to the Tahlequah Daily Press for the second consecutive year. Judges cited the paper and website for their solid reporting of Indigenous American issues, including a weekly page of tribal news and extensive coverage of the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court’s July ruling that a large chunk of Eastern Oklahoma remain an American Indian reservation under an 1866 treaty between five Indigenous tribes and the U.S. Government. The decision created confusion over criminal convictions, including those for murder, of tribal members in state courts as well as other matters.

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican in northwest New York State received the award for 2020’s “Most Improved Newspaper” from the previous year among CNHI’s more than 90 newspapers in 22 states. The award is given for overall progress in news reporting, enterprise stories, editorial writing, design and digital presence.

Allegany Magazine, produced by the Cumberland, Maryland, Times-News, won Magazine of the Year honors in Division I for its locally relevant content, design and diverse voices. The August issue, dedicated to community response to the pandemic, impressed the judges as an example of bringing the issue home with audience interaction. The accompanying images struck a compelling chord. Judges found the September LGBTQ magazine cover a brave choice and the inside content on sexual identity well done.

Southern Indiana Business, a product of the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Indiana, again received the Division II top award in the magazine competition. It was cited for engaging design, photos that help tell the story, enterprise reporting, lucid writing and overall readability about local businesses and related issues.

Moultrie Scene, a publication of the Moultrie, Georgia, Observer, captured the Division III first-place prize for magazines. It was honored for its embrace of diversity, celebrating communities of color within its readership market. Judges praised the magazine for focusing on local people and places with alluring features and sophisticated covers and inside content design.

Individual and digital category winners:

Reporter of the Year

Division I: Paul Leighton, Salem, MA News

Division II: Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara, NY Gazette

Division III: Nita Johnson, Sentinel Echo, London, KY

Best Breaking News

Division I: Traverse City, MI Record-Eagle

Division II: Norman Transcript

Division III: Gainesville, TX Daily Register

Photographer of the Year

Division I: Rick Barbero, Register-Herald, Beckley, WV

Division II: Joseph Weiser, Goshen, IN News

Division III: Les Dixon, Times-Tribune, Corbin, KY

Sports Writer of the Year

Division I: Mike Mastovich, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Division II: Clay Horning, Norman, OK Transcript

Division III: Dave Willis, Andover, MA Townsman

Editorial Writer of the Year

Division I: Jeffrey Gerritt, Sharon, PA Herald

Division II: Victor Miller, Daily Citizen-News, Dalton, GA

Division III: Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah, OK Daily Press

Columnist of the Year

Division I: Jim Zachary, Valdosta, GA Daily Times

Division II: Natalie Davis Linder, Union-Recorder, Milledgeville, GA

Division III: Bryce Ethridge, Moultrie, GA Observer

Designer of the Year

Division I: Jerry Willis, Joplin, MO Globe

Division II: Joseph Brown, Huntsville, TX Item

Division III: Mike Rogers, Washington, IN Times Herald

Digital-Best Video of the Year

Division I: Jenny Harnish, Register-Herald, Beckley, WV

Division II: Charles Mills, Effingham, IL Daily News

Division III: Jennifer Perkins, Times-Tribune, Corbin, KY

Digital-Best Innovation of the Year

All Divisions: Herald Bulletin, Anderson, IN

Recommended for you