MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Investigative reporting revealing government’s failure to notify residents about contaminated well water, holding a small town mayor accountable for a toxic work environment and leveraging public records laws for powerful local reporting highlighted the 2021 Best of CNHI journalism awards. 

For the second consecutive year, the Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle received Newspaper of the Year honors in Division I, the company’s largest newspapers, for exemplary watchdog reporting, lucid writing, compelling photos, persuasive editorials and pursuit of public records.

The newspaper uncovered documents revealing dangerous contamination of groundwater drawn from residential wells near the city’s airport, a serious health risk local and state officials neither disclosed nor corrected over a period of eight months. Evidence from the record requests fortified the series of stories and forceful editorials, resulting in public pressure that moved officials to address the problem. The Record-Eagle also received the Division I Public Service award for the contaminated water series and the accompanying editorials. To top it off, the Record-Eagle won the CNHI Freedom of Information Award for its vigorous pursuit of public records, forcing a board of education to turn over records in a two-year legal battle that had statewide implications on the public’s right to know.

The Newburyport (Massachusetts) Daily News received the Division II Newspaper of the Year designation for robust local news coverage of Covid-19, superior photojournalism and clean design – all of which created a strong sense of place for the coastal community. The paper’s explanatory reporting showed how maintaining water quality while conforming to state and federal regulations requires serious coverage and delicate balance. Other laudatory reporting included coverage of affordable housing issues and small business development.

The Tahlequah (Oklahoma) Daily Press won the Division III Newspaper of the Year competition for its strong local news content, especially coverage of the Cherokee Tribe headquartered in the community. Highlights included comprehensive reporting on the consequences and complexities of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision (McGirt vs. Oklahoma) that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation. As a result, the Daily Press has been viewed as an authority on this topic -- which is exactly what a reader-focused community newsroom should do.

The Public Service award for combined Divisions II and III went to the Gloucester (Massachusetts) Daily Times for a series of stories about the harbormaster’s claims -- which led to a lawsuit -- that the woman mayor had harassed him and created a toxic work environment. As other complaints surfaced, the paper stayed with the story, filing multiple public record requests to get to the truth. The once popular mayor lost her bid for re-election in the aftermath of the complaints and the paper’s persistent reporting and accompanying editorials.

Division I Magazine of the Year honors went to Allegany Magazine in Cumberland, Maryland, for its diverse coverage, vibrant photography, numerous local feature articles and taylored content -- with stories and departments related to the focus of each edition. 

The Southern Indiana Business magazine in Jeffersonville, Indiana, captured the Division II Magazine of the Year designation. Each edition featured a wide variety of local business content, complemented by clean design and quality photography. The magazine set itself apart by taking on ambitious projects in the region.

The Division III Magazine of the Year winner, Moultrie (Georgia) Scene, provided everything a lifestyles magazine should reflect in its community: A focus on local people and places with alluring features, sophisticated covers and inside content design.

CNHI’s Rising Star Award for the newspaper that made impressive improvements during 2021 went to the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune for quantity and quality of local reporting, digital growth, enterprise reporting and improved editorial pages. 

The 2021 Rising Star for Magazines went to Huntsville (Texas) Living for plentiful human interest stories, strong community focus and easy-to-navigate design. 

Individual winners:

Reporter of the Year

Division I: Whitney Downard, CNHI Indiana state reporter 

Division II: Taylor Six, Richmond (Kentucky) Register 

Division III: Mike LaBella, Haverhill, (Massachusetts) Gazette 

Best Breaking News

Division I: The Eagle-Tribune staff of North Andover (Massachusetts). 

Division II: Matt Weinstein and Emily Wunderlich, Logansport (Indiana) Pharos-Tribune

Division III: Erin Cox, Jarrod Mills and Emily Adams-Bentley, Corbin (Kentucky) Times-Tribune 

Photographer of the Year

Division I: Jenny Harnish, The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Division II: James Neiss, Niagara (New York) Gazette 

Division III: Laurie King, Rockwall (Texas) Herald Banner

Sports Reporter of the Year

Division I: Jared Porter, Joplin (Missouri)  Globe 

Division II:  Austin Hough, Goshen (Indiana) News 

Division III:  Dave Willis, Andover, (Massachusetts) Townsman 

Sports Columnist of the Year 

Divison I: Elton Hayes, CNHI Pennsylvania Sports

Division II: Michael Lindsay, Crossville (Tennessee) Chronicle 

Division III: Becky Taylor, Tifton (Georgia) Gazette 

Editorial Writer of the Year

Division I: Scott Underwood, Anderson (Indiana) Herald Bulletin 

Division II: D.E. Smoot, Muskogee, (Oklahoma) Phoenix 

Division III: Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah (Oklahoma) Daily Press

Columnist of the Year

Division I: Samantha Perry, Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph

Division II:  Robert Cairns, Oneonta (New York) Star

Division III: Chelsea Weeks, Claremore (Oklahoma), Daily Progress

Designer of the Year

Division I: Damon Cain, Register-Herald Beckley, West Virginia 

Division II and III: John Zavinski, Allied News, Grove City, Pennsylvania 

Video of the Year

All Divisions: Jenny Harnish, Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia 

Digital Storytelling of the Year

Division I: Annie Jennemann, Mankato (Minnesota) Free Press 

Divisions II and III: Chris Peters, Michelle Charles, Beau Simmons Stillwater (Oklahoma) News-Press

Freedom of Information 

All Divisions: Traverse City (Michigan) Record-Eagle

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