International weekly editors' group hands out annual prizes for best editorials and public service through community journalism

By Al Cross

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I., June 28, 2009 -- Meeting on Prince Edward Island, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors concluded its annual conference today after recognizing 12 weekly editors for their editorials and giving its highest award to a man whom one nominator dubbed the dean of the organization.

Garrett Ray, right, former editor and owner of the Littleton Independent in Colorado and retired faculty member at Colorado State University, won the Eugene Cervi Award for a career of outstanding public service through community journalism. "Few people have contributed more" to ISWNE and journalism as a whole, his friend Richard McCord of Santa Fe, N.M., said in announcing the award. He said Ray has won awards for "almost anything you can win an award for."

Ray's awards included the 1980 Golden Quill, which ISWNE gives to the editorial deemed the best of the Golden Dozen, 12 editorials that are recognized at the group's awards dinner and reprinted in its quarterly magazine, Grassroots Editor. For the latest edition of the magazine, with the award winners and their editorials, click here.

Most members and winners in ISWNE are rural journalists, but this year's Golden Quill winner was David Martin, a staff writer for The Pitch, an alternative paper in Kansas City, Mo. The contest judge said his editorial "exposed the shocking negligence of Deutsche Bank," the largest holder of foreclosed properties in the city. Martin has always been an urban journalist, but he struck a broad theme in accepting the award, quoting author J. H. Kunstler as saying that if he could no longer earn a living by writing books, "I am determined to run a local weekly newspaper in my town," something that can both earn him a living and serve his community.

Among the Golden Dozen for 2008, one of the more remarkable editorials was written by two-time winner Suzanne Dean, publisher of The Sanpete Messenger in Manti, Utah. Opposing a bill to outlaw renting to illegal immigrants, she announced that she was renting to one and his family, who are U.S. citizens. She wrote that the family's situation "illustrates the complexity of our immigration problem and the folly of a sweeping approach that tries to solve the problem by punishing people." The bill passed this year, partly due to the lack of immigration reform, Dean told the crowd at the awards dinner. "It's really sad," she said, "that the Congress of the United States refuses to deal with the biggest problems facing our country."

Steve Ranson of the Lahontan Valley News in Fallon, Nev., also drew on personal experience as he blasted a state senator for ill-infirmed comments about the condition of a local veterans' cemetery. The editorial said, "A member of our editorial staff, whose father is buried there, visited the cemetery on Monday and found the facility to be in excellent condition." That was Ranson himself, who told the dinner crowd that his editorials usually look at both sides, but "On this particular topic, it pretty much came from the heart. I had my Dad in mind."

Other first-time Golden Dozen winners were Vernon Oickle, editor of the Bridgewater Bulletin in Nova Scotia, who tamped down rumors and called for calm as a 12-year-old girls' murder went unsolved; and Josh Cutler, publisher of the Duxbury Clipper in Massachusetts, who displayed "deep connection with community" in an editorial suggesting ways local officials could improve residents' lives, wrote judge Kim Kierans, director of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, N.S.

Illegal immigration was on the mind of Jim Painter, managing editor of The West Valley View in Avondale, Ariz. He won for an editorial blasting Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for spending too much time on his main publicity gimmick, rooting out illegal immigrants, and giving short shrift to more serious crimes. "The bodies have been stacking up like cordwood," he wrote. The Golden Dozen award was the fourth for Painter, who was elected president of ISWNE for 2009-10 at the conference.

Conference host Paul McNeill, publisher of the Eastern Graphic in Montague, PEI, who won the Golden Quill in 2002, made the Golden Dozen for a fifth time with an editorial that deftly and pointedly picked apart Prince Edward Island's tourism policies. One speaker at the conference was PEI Premier Robert Ghiz, whom MacNeill has often criticized. Their relationship seemed ideal for a weekly publisher and the top official in a jurisdiction of 140,000; they were friendly but frank, each understanding the other's role. That may be helped by the fact that MacNeill succeeded his father as publisher and Ghiz's father was premier.

Last year's Golden Quill winner, Melissa Hale-Spencer of The Altamont Enterprise in New York, won her fifth Golden Dozen award for what judge a "thorough and thoughtful look" at development issues. Other repeat Golden Dozen winners were McCord, who won his ninth for a column in the Santa Fe Sun Monthly that deciphered complex issues about historic zoning and a new courthouse; John M. Wylie II, publisher of the Oologah (Okla.) Lake Leader, second who called "frightening and outrageous" the Oklahoma Supreme Court's "pulling court documents off the Internet and stripping key information from paper documents filed in court" and ordering local court clerks not to answer questions about the order; Richard Mostyn of the Yukon News in Whitehorse, who won his third for hammering on the government-owned utility for power failures; and Brian Wilson, news editor of The Star News in Medford, Wis., who won his second by explaining how and why the newspaper handled a complaint and a threat from local officials.

Wilson said he handled the situation with help from the ISWNE Hotline, a service in which members can ask each other for help in dealing with difficult issues. Sometimes those are business or management issues, but the organization was founded in 1955 with the goal of improving editorial pages at weeklies, and the only awards it gives are for editorial writing, with the exception of the Cervi Award. But even that award, named for the late Eugene Cervi of the Rocky Mountain Journal, requires reverence for language. The annual conferences include group critiques of editorials and opinion pages. The 2010 conference will be in Kentucky, and will be co-sponsored by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: 06/28/2009