The Charlotte Observer won 41 awards in the annual N.C. Press Association competition Thursday, including eight first-place awards, a public service third place and separate recognition for its open government reporting about Electrolux and the sale of Charlotte icon Belk.
The press association awarded reporter Fred Clasen-Kelly and editor Doug Miller third place in public service for stories about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s secret use of cellphone surveillance in investigations. The stories revealed that CMPD sought permission – which judges rarely denied – to use a powerful technology, commonly known as StingRay, more than 500 times since 2010.
The cellphone surveillance allowed investigators to intercept information from criminal suspects and innocent people.
Elizabeth Leland and Jonathan McFadden won top honors in general news reporting for their story about 69-year-old Odell Williams, a prominent Chester, S.C., city councilman, former police officer and longtime businessman who was gunned by gang members.
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Pam Kelley won a first place in feature writing about the Southern charm shown passengers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Mark Washburn took first place in arts and entertainment reporting for a story headlined “Some enchanted thieving,” about vandals and thieves stealing artifacts from the shuttered Land of Oz theme park atop Beech Mountain.
In a separate competition by the Associated Press, announced on the same day, reporters Ely Portillo and Ames Alexander won the Senator Sam Open Government Award from the Associated Press for their extensive coverage of Electrolux. The stories raised questions about whether the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory was breaking its promise to make government more transparent.
The AP also awarded reporter Katie Peralta the Walter Spearman Award for her coverage of the $3 billion sale of hometown Belk to Sycamore Partners, a New York private equity firm. The sale ended local control of the 127-year-old retailer that began in Monroe and became a Charlotte icon.
Education reporter Ann Doss Helms grabbed first place in education reporting for her story about former N.C. Teacher of the Year James Ford leaving the classroom for the Public School Forum of North Carolina. Karen Garloch took first place in news enterprise reporting for her story on 17-year-old transgender and social justice advocate Blake Brockington, who committed suicide last March.
In general news photography, Jeff Siner won first place for his photos of the trial of Randall “Wes” Kerrick, the former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in 2013. And Todd Sumlin won first place in best video for a video of the return to the scene where Kerrick shot Jonathan Ferrell.
Steve Harrison was awarded first place in city/county government reporting for his coverage of disgraced Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, who was sentenced to 44 months for accepting bribes in an FBI sting.
The Observer’s NCPA winners
▪ General News Reporting: Elizabeth Leland and Jonathan McFadden. “Gang murder tears at small town’s seams.”
▪ Feature Writing: Pam Kelley; “Welcome to Charlotte. Here’s a paper towel.”
▪ Arts and Entertainment Reporting: Mark Washburn; “Some enchanted thieving.”
▪ Education Reporting: Ann Doss Helms; “After triumph and pain, Ford charts new path.”
▪ News Enterprise Reporting: Karen Garloch; “Transgender activist fought past loss, disapproval.”
▪ Photography, General News: Jeff Siner; “Tension follows Kerrick trial.”
▪ Best Video: Todd Sumlin; “Revisiting the scene of Jonathan Ferrell’s death.”
▪ City/County Govt. Reporting: Steve Harrison; “Cannon and money.”
▪ General News Reporting: Michael Gordon and Elizabeth Leland for “One life gone, another unraveled.”
▪ Deadline News Reporting: David Perlmutt, Jane Wester and Joe Marusak for “After tragedy, church embraces family.”
▪ Online Breaking News Coverage: Staff for “Chiquita exit raises questions.”
▪ News Feature Writing: Pam Kelley for “A traffic jam.”
▪ Feature Writing: Mark Price for “Shelter in a shed.”
▪ Profile Feature: Michael Gordon for At key moment, CMPD eyes potential new chief.
▪ News Enterprise Reporting: Staff for coverage of Wes Kerrick trial.
▪ Business Writing: Rick Rothacker for “One time rising star moves on from banking.”
▪ Photography, General News: Todd Sumlin for “Newton injures his back in wreck.”
▪ Photography, Feature: Robert Lahser for “98 degrees.”
▪ Sport Feature Photo: Jeff Siner for “Logano the toast of Daytona.”
▪ Photography, Sports: Jeff Siner for “Newton, Panthers somersault to win over Texas.”
▪ Best Multimedia Project: Staff for coverage of Wes Kerrick trial
▪ Editorials: Eric Frazier
▪ Sports Enterprise Writing: Joseph Person for “Instant impact.”
▪ Sports Columns: Tom Sorensen
▪ General Excellence for Web: CharlotteObserver.com
▪ News Section Design
▪ Special Section: Living Here
▪ Best Niche Publication: Lake Norman magazine, July 2015
▪ Profile Feature: Michael Gordon for “The law, race and Michael Greene.”
▪ Arts and Entertainment Reporting: Lawrence Toppman for “Mogul in training.”
▪ News Enterprise Reporting: Fred Clasen-Kelly for “The seconds before the shots.”
▪ Investigative Reporting: Ames Alexander, Fred Clasen-Kelly and Gavin Off for “Faulty death probes endanger N.C. babies.”
▪ Sports News Reporting: Michael Gordon, Joseph Person and Jonathan Jones for “Trial puts career on line.”
▪ Photography, Sports: David T. Foster III for “Benjamin completes touchdown reception.”
▪ Lighter Columns: Eric Frazier
▪ Headline Writing: Lamar Wilson
▪ Editorial Page
▪ Feature Section Design
▪ City/County Govt. Reporting: Tim Funk and David Perlmutt for “Tension rises over county board prayer.”
▪ Beat News Reporting: Bruce Henderson for “Old oak trees are tottering.”