MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Compelling coverage of a natural gas disaster that affected thousands of people in Massachusetts, the waste of tax dollars by antiquated townships in Indiana, and the dismissal of an admired college coach for misconduct in a small Iowa town highlighted distinguished journalism in the annual Best of CNHI contest for work in 2018.

The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Massachusetts, was named Newspaper of the Year in the Division I category for CNHI’s largest operations. The paper was cited principally for sustained and enterprising print and online coverage of a series of gas line explosions in three of its communities that killed one young man and forced the evacuation of 20,000 residents. Scores of local businesses, including the newspaper and many of its employees, were also affected. The devastation displaced more than 8,000 families for three months in the aftermath of the disaster while the gas lines into their homes and apartments were replaced. The paper helped hold the communities together throughout the recovery with stories about the human impact of the devastation and constant online updates on restoration of power and where to find shelter, food, water and other essentials.

The Eagle-Tribune also captured the Division I print and digital breaking news award for its swift and comprehensive reporting of the gas explosions on Sept. 13. and the immediate days of confusion that followed.

In Division II, the Gloucester Daily News in Massachusetts was named Newspaper of the Year. Judges praised its local coverage of news and feature stories and photos. The sports section won special praise for relevant content as did the local editorials. Overall, the paper was honored for a strong sense of the community it serves.

In Division III, the Gainesville, Texas, Daily Register captured Newspaper of the Year honors for fresh and frequently updated content online. Judges cited the paper for its hyper local coverage of the community, editorials that touched on subjects of interest to residents, lots of faces and names of local folks, and a solid sports section with good photos.

The Sharon, Pennsylvania, Herald earned the inaugural contest honor of  2018’s “Most Improved Newspaper” in the CNHI family of more than 100 papers. Judges praised the paper’s noteworthy progress in local news coverage and audience outreach in print and online under the direction of editor Renee Carey.

The Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Indiana, earned the top Public Service Award for Division I. It produced a series of multi-layered, in-depth stories -- supported by helpful information graphics and editorials -- on Indiana’s problematic township form of local government. The print and online project, which included contributions from the dozen other CNHI Indiana papers, scrutinized the contemporary value of townships, which date to the 18th century and have limited duties but cost Indiana taxpayers $389 million to maintain in 2018. The review found widespread problems with public access and engagement with township trustees, budget management issues and oversight controls. A statewide online poll commissioned by the project found 82 percent of those surveyed could not name their township trustee, and more than 70 percent thought township duties – helping the poor, providing fire protection in areas not covered by municipal fire departments, and maintaining pioneer cemeteries -- should be shifted to another agency such as the county commission.

The Meridian, Mississippi, Star earned the Public Service Award among Division II newspapers for disclosing serious delays in the local justice system’s processing of criminal charges against jailed offenders. Accessing public records, reporter Whitney Downard created a database that disclosed most county jail inmates without means or with mental health issues end up waiting many months or more than a year before their cases are decided. In one instance, a defendant is still awaiting trial three years after his arrest in a murder case that goes back eight years. The contest judges praised the newspaper and reporter Downard for pursuing an ignored problem that affects disadvantaged individuals.

The Daily Iowegian of Centerville, Iowa, won the Public Service Award for Division III for revealing that a prominent baseball coach and his assistant coach were dismissed by the local community college for misconduct involving foreign players and for a pattern of physical and mental abuse of players. The college tried to keep the reasons for the dismissals secret but the paper’s pursuit of the story against the college’s stonewalling succeeded in reporting the news. The judges described it as great work in requesting records and developing sources to tell a complicated story.

West Virginia South, produced by the Beckley, West Virginia, Register-Herald, won Magazine of the Year honors in Division I for its attractive design, homey features, good use of color and exceptional scenic landscape photography. The judges said the magazine, from front cover to back page, created an exceptional sense of diverse local life in southern West Virginia.

Newburyport, a product of the Newburyport, Massachusetts, Daily News, took Division II honors in the magazine competition. Boomer magazine, produced by the Washington, Indiana, Times Herald, captured the top prize in Division III. Both were cited for their attractive design, good display of photos, and stories that reflected the character and interests of their respective communities.

Individual and digital category winners:

Reporter of the Year

Division I: Michelle James, Beckley, W. Va.,  Register-Herald

Division II: Whitney Downard, The Meridian, Miss., Star

Division III: Stan Polanski, Shelbyville, Ill., Union

Sports Writer of the Year

Division I: Clay Horning, Norman, Okla., Transcript

Division II: Elton Hayes, The Meridian, Miss., Star

Division III: Kyle Gaudette, Derry, N.H., News

Editorial Writer of the Year

Division I: Jim Zachary, Valdosta, Ga., Daily Times

Division II: Jeff Gerritt, Palestine, Tex., Herald-Press

Division III: Jeff Long, Shelbyville, Ill., Union

Columnist of the Year

Division I: Samantha Perry, Bluefield, W. Va., Daily Telegraph

Division II: Susan Duncan, Jeffersonville, Ind., News and Tribune

Division III: Todd Lancaster, Washington, Ind., Times Herald

Photographer of the Year

Division I: James Neiss, Niagara, N.Y., Gazette

Division II: Matt Hamilton, Dalton, Ga., Daily Citizen

Division III: Kyle Ocker, The Daily Iowegian, Centerville, Iowa

Breaking News Print-Digital Reporting of the Year

Division I: The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Division II: Logansport, Ind., Pharos-Tribune

Division III: Gainesville, Tex., Daily Register

Designer of the Year

Division I: Heather Bremer, Anderson, Ind., Herald Bulletin

Division II: Kevin Burkett, Logansport, Ind., Pharos-Tribune

Division III: Amelia Tegerdine, Lebanon, Ind., Reporter

Social Media Use of the Year

Division I: Joplin, Mo., Globe

Division II: Jeffersonville, Ind., News and Tribune

Division III: Tahlequah, Okla., Daily Press

Digital Storytelling Innovation of the Year

Division I:  Salem, Mass., News

Division II: Meridian, Miss., Star

Division III: Gainesville, Tex., Daily Register

Best Video of the Year

Division I: Beckley, W. Va., Register-Herald

Division II: Jeffersonville, Ind., News and Tribune

Division III: No winner

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