Observer captures 36 awards in state journalism contest

02/27/2014 11:00 PM

02/28/2014 7:06 AM

The Charlotte Observer won 36 awards in the annual N.C. Press Association competition on Thursday, including 14 first-place awards and recognition for an investigation of Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board.

Observer staffers took top honors in deadline news, education reporting, profiles, news features, sports features and editorials. Firsts also included: special sections, photo page, sports news reporting, news section design, appearance and design, and best video for coverage of the Charlotte 49ers’ first football game. The editorial page and sports coverage also won firsts.

A team of staffers led by reporter Gary L. Wright won the N.C. Bar Association’s Media and Law Award for an examination of the review board – established in 1997 by the City Council to examine allegations of police misconduct. Of 78 cases brought to the board, reporters found, no citizen complaint had ever been upheld. The coverage helped spur reform of the review board process.

Bruce Henderson and Gavin Off won the Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award for stories about efforts by North Carolina sheriffs to refuse access to public firearms permits.

In a separate contest sponsored by the Associated Press, reporter Elizabeth Leland won the Thomas Wolfe Award for a story called “Why did Jeffrey Williams die?” Her story examined the death by carbon monoxide poisoning of 11-year-old Jeffrey, of Rock Hill, at a Boone hotel last June. It was Leland’s ninth Wolfe award, given annually by the AP for the single best story in an N.C. newspaper.

Reporter Ann Doss Helms won first place in education reporting for a series about successes in Charlotte schools. Her work included a story on Windsor Park Elementary, which faced staffing, funding, and testing challenges. Helms also won third place in the category.

In sports news, David Perlmutt and Jim Utter won top honors for a story that examined NASCAR’s credibility following a race in which drivers manipulated the outcome.

In profiles, Théoden Janes won first for his look at the lifetime of physical, emotional and family obstacles that Charlotte marathoner Stephanie “Pezz” Pezzullo has conquered.

Gary Schwab and David Scott won in sports feature writing for a series about Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick, the star African-American running back who opted to play in 1965 at predominantly white Myers Park High.

Pam Kelley won first place in news features for a series on Pastor Belton Platt, the reformed cocaine dealer known as “Money Rock” who found redemption during incarceration.

Fannie Flono won first place for editorials about payday lending, troubling elements of the North Carolina charter school bill, and the struggles of poor people across North Carolina.

Photographer Jeff Siner won first place for a series of photographs of Jerome Davis, a paralyzed bull rider in Archdale who has overcome challenges. Siner also won second and third-place awards.

Photographer Todd Sumlin won best video for his coverage of the sights and sounds at UNC Charlotte’s first football game.

Carolina Bride magazine, produced by the Observer’s advertising department, won a first place for best niche publication. SouthPark Magazine placed third in the category.

The Observer newsroom also won eight second-place awards and 12 third-place awards at the ceremony in Chapel Hill. The Observer’s total was the most among the state’s biggest newspapers.

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