Observer captures 31 NC press awards

Ames Alexander, one of the Observer’s reporters on “Fatally Flawed”
Ames Alexander, one of the Observer’s reporters on “Fatally Flawed” Observer file photo

The Charlotte Observer won the North Carolina Press Association’s public service award Thursday night for a five-part series that revealed glaring shortcomings in the state’s medical examiner system.

The investigative series, called “Fatally Flawed,” found that medical examiners rarely go to death scenes and sometimes don’t look at bodies in cases they handle. The stories spurred promises from Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislators to reform an underfunded and haphazard system.

The Charlotte Observer captured 30 other awards in the annual NCPA contest, including first-place honors in investigative reporting for the medical examiners series. Reporters Ames Alexander, Fred Clasen-Kelly, Gavin Off and Elizabeth Leland reported and wrote the series.

In a separate contest sponsored by The Associated Press, Leland won the Thomas Wolfe Award for the 10th time for her profile of Slim Baucom, a Charlotte strip club owner who detailed his long friendship with former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon.

The Wolfe award, given annually by the AP, recognizes the single best story in a North Carolina newspaper. Leland’s story also won first place in the NCPA news contest’s profile feature writing category.

Ann Doss Helms won the Senator Sam Open Government Award, also given by the AP, for her work pressing for the release of salaries and other public records about the state’s charter school system. Her reporting prompted legislation that required charter schools, which receive public money, to abide by open records laws.

In the NCPA competition, the Observer’s staff won first place in deadline news reporting for coverage of Cannon’s resignation.

Pam Kelley won first place in arts and entertainment reporting for a profile on Katherine Faw Morris, a Wilkes County native who penned a novel about a teenage drug dealer.

Associate editor Peter St. Onge took home first-place awards for his editorials and serious columns, and Mark Washburn won top honors in criticism and lighter columns. Columnist Scott Fowler won first place for sports columns.

The paper’s sports staff won first place for its reporting on the accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr., a 20-year-old sprint car driver, at an upstate New York dirt track. NASCAR star Tony Stewart drove the car that hit Ward, who was standing on the track. Ward’s death prompted a new rule that prohibits drivers from leaving their cars and walking onto the track to confront other drivers after accidents.

Gary Schwab won first place in news feature writing for “A Binding Truth,” the tale of De Kirkpatrick and Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick, their experience at Myers Park High School, and the discovery nearly 50 years later of their families’ shared history.

The Observer grabbed first-place awards in other categories, including best editorial page and overall sports coverage. The newspaper’s website, Charlotteobserver.com, also won first in general excellence for websites.

SouthPark magazine, produced by the Observer’s advertising division, won first place for best niche publication. Carolina Bride magazine placed second in the category.

The Observer won the most awards of any state newspaper, including seven second-place awards and eight third-place awards. The awards were presented at the NCPA’s annual meeting in Chapel Hill.

McFadden: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @JmcfaddenObsBiz

Observer’s NCPA winners:


▪ Investigative Reporting and Public Service: Ames Alexander, Fred Clasen-Kelly, Elizabeth Leland, Gavin Off for a series about problems with the state medical examiner’s system.

▪ Deadline News Reporting: Coverage of Patrick Cannon’s resignation.

▪ News Feature Writing: Gary Schwab for “A Binding Truth.”

▪ Profile Feature: Elizabeth Leland for story on a Charlotte club owner connected to Cannon.

▪ Arts and Entertainment Reporting: Pam Kelley for “Dark Novel, Bright Talent.”

▪ Sports News Reporting: Staff for “Tragedy on the track.”

▪ Editorials: Peter St. Onge

▪ Serious Columns: Peter St. Onge

▪ Lighter Columns: Mark Washburn

▪ Criticism: Mark Washburn

▪ Sports Columns: Scott Fowler

▪ Editorial Page: Staff

▪ General Excellence for Websites: CharlotteObserver.com

▪ Sports Coverage: Staff


▪ Online Breaking News Coverage: Staff for coverage of Patrick Cannon guilty plea.

▪ General News Reporting: Staff for analysis “The two worlds of Patrick Cannon.”

▪ News Feature Writing: Elizabeth Leland for “Stonewall Jackson’s secrets: Children against monsters.”

▪ Feature Writing: Pam Kelley for “Sex and the store that survived.”

▪ Illustration/Photo Illustration: Jason Benavides for “Haunt this House.”

▪ Editorials: Taylor Batten.

▪ Education Reporting: Ann Doss Helms for “N.C. Brain Drain.”


▪ Profile Feature: Mark Washburn for “From a tragic past, a hopeful future.”

▪ Business Writing: Andrew Dunn for “City’s new landlords quick to evict.”

▪ Investigative (shared with the News & Observer of Raleigh): “Contract to Cheat,” a series on a construction industry scheme that costs the government millions in unpaid taxes. Reporters: the Observer’s Rick Rothacker, Mandy Locke of the N&O, and Franco Ordoñez of McClatchy.

▪ Best Multimedia Project: Staff for “Progress at the Pound.”

▪ Criticism: Helen Schwab on restaurants.

▪ Special Section: Staff for “Spring into Action.”

▪ Arts and Entertainment Reporting: Pam Kelley for “What Hollywood didn’t want from Ender’s Game author.”

▪ General Excellence

▪ Education Reporting: Ann Doss Helms for charter school coverage.