Serving their readers with hyper-local coverage is the focus for HSPA Foundation’s 2010 Blue Ribbon newspapers.
The Indianapolis Star and the Brown County Democrat (Nashville) won the coveted awards during the Newsroom Seminar and Better Newspaper Contest awards luncheon Dec. 4.
A community emphasis will continue to be the backbone of both papers, their editors said.
The Blue Ribbons were among nearly 560 examples of journalistic excellence honored during the 44th annual event at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.
The Story of the Year award went to Dann Denny of the Herald-Times (Bloomington) for his series Easing the Journey.
Justin Rumbach of The Herald (Jasper) received the Photo of the Year honor for his multiple picture group Anderson.
In the General Excellence category, awards are given to papers in each of the six circulation divisions based on a point system from awards received.
General Excellence first-place winners are:
Division 1: Hendricks County Flyer (Avon)
Division 2: Brown County Democrat (Nashville)
Division 3: The Evening News (Jeffersonville)
Division 4: Daily Journal (Franklin)
Division 5: The Herald-Times (Bloomington)
Division 6: The Indianapolis Star.
Competition in the HSPA Foundation’s Better Newspaper Contest is stiff, said Director Karen T. Braeckel.
“All winners – regardless of place – should take pride in their awards, as they represent the best in Indiana journalism,” she said. “Each category is judged by peers in another state, and they can be ruthless evaluators.”
In the photo categories, for example, a panel of three judges selects winners. HSPA Foundation also requires panels of judges to select the Photo and Story of the Year and the Blue Ribbon awards.
The Star’s Blue Ribbon win marks the third time the paper has received the honor. The Democrat has won the award five times.
Blue Ribbon judges examine newspapers’ depth of coverage, quality of reporting and copy editing, news judgment and other aspects to choose one daily and one nondaily winner, regardless of circulation size.
Judges said of The Star: “With great resources come great expectations. You all exceeded those. Layouts are clean, and the reporting is artful and thorough. The emphasis on localized sections is the right step to take today in the industry and at your paper. Job well-done all around.”
The Star set the course for its coverage more than a year ago to make even more of a difference in the community, said Michael G. Kane, president and publisher. In that effort, the paper has developed a community leadership series (Our Children, Our City), compelling editorials and aggressive government watchdog enterprise, he said.
“We structured, planned and pursued these passions on behalf of central Indiana, and I think we’ve made great impact,” Kane said. “I’m proud of our work, and it will only magnify in the year ahead. These aren’t special projects; this is part of our core mission and commitment to our readers.”
The Star’s Better Newspaper Contest entries reflected the paper’s priorities on community leadership, watchdog work and innovation in presentation, said Dennis Ryerson, editor and vice president.
“Every day, our charge to the staff is to provide information people don’t know or don’t expect to know,” he said.
In the nondaily Blue Ribbon category, judges said: “The Brown County Democrat found a way to balance hard-hitting news with relevant features. Creative typography and compelling photography allowed judges to peer into a piece of Brown County and really understand the area.”
The Democrat staff is honored to receive the designation, especially considering the caliber of competition in the category, said editor Sara Clifford.
“It’s been quite a year for us,” she said. “I only started at The Democrat in November 2009, as did reporter Tom Lotshaw, and within the first three months, our three-person newsroom had produced two series that ended up winning first-place awards in this competition.”
The staff’s priority is to its readers, Clifford said.
“We only publish in print once a week, but we live this job as if we were a daily paper,” she said. “I’m so proud of my team for their dedication to this community.”
For the Story of the Year honor, Denny chronicled the final months in the life of Bruce Hoffman of Monroe County. The Herald-Times health reporter spent many hours with Hoffman and his wife, Leslie, as they utilized hospice. Denny detailed the optimism and humor the Hoffmans displayed during a heartbreaking time.
Judges said of Denny’s work: “Easing the Journey was the clear winner this year, with powerful writing that showed the compassion of hospice in a heartbreaking situation. It was deeply moving without ever becoming maudlin.”
Easing the Journey was as much a love story as it was about the dying process, Denny said.
He didn’t know the Hoffmans prior to the series but quickly learned they had a strong and loving relationship.
“It was a difficult series to write because during my six months with the Hoffmans I became quite close to them – much closer than I thought I would,” he said. “Watching Bruce and Leslie deal with Bruce’s declining health was inspirational in one sense because of their upbeat attitudes. But I was also saddened to see him suffering and declining.”
In his Photo of the Year effort, photojournalist-turned-managing-editor Rumbach captured the people and places that make summer camp special at Anderson Woods in southern Indiana.
Judges said of Rumbach’s work: “Each photograph is technically sound storytelling and compositionally beautiful. Very nice story.”
“I was thrilled to hear that I had won Photo of the Year,” Rumbach said. “After seeing the other winning images, I am even more honored.”
Anderson Woods focuses on helping individuals with special needs make good friends and memories. Rumbach visited the camp five or six times over the course of about eight weeks.
“The weather wasn’t cooperative that summer, and most of the scheduled activities that I arrived to photograph were rained out,” he said. “I soon realized that the story wasn’t really about the array of different activities but about the campers themselves and the freedoms they enjoyed just by being away at camp.”
Next year’s Better Newspaper Contest entries will be submitted electronically for better efficiency, Braeckel said. Contestants will submit the same online registration form as this year and then attach PDF tearsheets online.
“We used this system with the advertising contest this year and received no complaints,” Braeckel said. “On the contrary, our members told us how much time it saved.”