On Friday night, the Transcript-Bulletin was named the best small newspaper in the state by the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The honor, combined with the equivalent award from the Utah Press Association earlier this year, marks the first time ever the newspaper has taken both of the state’s top prizes for journalism excellence in the same year.
Given that there are more than 50 small newspapers in Utah — and the Transcript is by no means the largest of those — the double win is a remarkable validation of the type of stories we do and the way we do them. In 2007, we took home 12 SPJ awards. In 2008, that total rose to 20. This year, we won 26 awards overall. To compare, the Salt Lake Tribune, which was named the best large newspaper in the state, took home 23 awards.
In bestowing the best small newspaper prize, the judges said, “Crisp writing lifts the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin over its competitors.”
I agree that we have an exceptional group of writers at the paper right now — a team that strives for accuracy, works hard, puts readers first and cares about the community. No one better epitomizes those values than Jamie Belnap, who was named the best reporter in the state in our circulation class. Jamie is the first Transcript reporter to win this coveted award. Not only does she cover one of the most fast-moving and demanding of beats — crime and courts — but she’s equally capable of handling feature stories with warmth, humor and vivid description. She’s also meticulously accurate. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve run a correction on one of her stories, which are consistently among our most high-profile pieces.
But a newspaper does not live on words alone. Fortunately, we have another talented teller of stories in Maegan Burr, who won Best Photographer in our circulation class in the SPJ contest. When Maegan took over as photo editor for the paper, she had some big shoes to fill — previous photo editor Troy Boman had racked up an array of state and national awards, and been named best photographer by the SPJ two years running. But Maegan has put her own stamp on the visual work we do. She’s versatile, determined and talented — great qualities in any photographer.
Those attributes also fit Community News Editor Sarah Miley and reporter Tim Gillie, who carried the bulk of the load for us at the awards ceremony, taking home five awards apiece.
Sarah’s two first-place awards were given for reporting on the dismantling of the Stockton Bar and for a profile of Rush Valley resident Clinton Sagers, who was awarded the Purple Heart 60 years after fighting in World War II. Tim took home honors in categories ranging from education reporting to continuing coverage, and received a first-place award for his piece “Diversity on the Downslide,” which examined why Tooele County is the only county in the state to become less ethnically diverse over the past seven years.
Other staffers who contributed to the win included Abby Palmer, who claimed two first-place awards for newspaper design, and Missy Thompson, who won a third-place award in the review/criticism category for her writing on the Sundance Film Festival. Sports writer Jake Gordon chipped in with an honorable mention for his coverage of Tooele High School golf phenom Sadie Palmer’s run to a state title.
One staff writer who “did the double” along with the newspaper itself was Natalie Tripp, who won the top prize for spot news reporting from both the SPJ and the UPA for her story about the discovery of a human skull in an old Tooele home. Though almost every other media outlet in the state did the story, Natalie was the first reporter on the scene, and in my opinion, provided by far the most comprehensive report. The double awards were a wonderful accomplishment for a talented young journalist who joined us as a high school intern only three years ago.
Awards, while flattering, are also humbling. They remind us not only that a newspaper is always a collaboration of talents, but that the work that comes out of that collaboration is vital to the community we live in. Looking back over last year’s stories, I’m proud of the great people I work with and the journalism we’ve done. And I’m looking forward to more important stories yet to come.