Editor’s column: Congrats to the PI staff for recognition from peers | PostIndependent.com

Editor’s column: Congrats to the PI staff for recognition from peers

Randy Essex

Randy Essex

Today I get to brag about my staff and the quality of work that other journalists say the Post Independent is producing.

Last weekend marked the end of awards season for work state news organizations did in 2015, with the Colorado Associated Press Editors & Reporters awards presented Friday and the Colorado Press Association honors handed out Saturday at the annual CPA convention in Lakewood.

I am very proud to report that in the AP contest, the PI swept the Public Service category for newspapers with circulation of 15,000 or less. I ardently believe that serving our communities, sometimes by publishing stories and opinions that aren't entirely comfortable but also to celebrate and simply inform, is the beating heart of our mission.

It's what stokes my enthusiasm for my profession and all the communities where I've worked through the years, from Detroit and Cincinnati to Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Rifle. I believe the core of my job is to identify the most important issues here, produce good journalism to help people understand them and then to work with the communities on making things better.

So in AP's Public Service category, the PI won first place for our legal fight to open the arrest affidavit in the Carbondale homicide in February 2015. Public defenders had sought to seal the document. We fought that and won because as a society, it is critical that we not allow police to be able to arrest our neighbor, our child, our friend — or us — and keep the reasons secret.

The judges agreed, saying our coverage was "a perfect illustration of why the decline of our industry represents a grave threat to our democracy and the public interest." In other words, if news organizations aren't here to fight for openness, the cloak of secrecy puts us all at risk.

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John Stroud won second place in the category for his excellent series in February 2015 on bringing mental health issues out of the shadows. Angelyn Frankenberg won third for stories about Alice Brouhard's battle to get Apple to allow a change in an app used by her daughter Kara, who suffered a brain injury as a child and uses the app to remind her of tasks. Alice had tried for years to get Apple's attention about how a change threatened to make the app less useful, but didn't get results until after the PI wrote about the problem. Within months, Apple allowed the change.

I also was pleased that the PI won the online excellence award for our size from the press association. I try not to refer to our business as a "newspaper," because in the 21st century, it is much more, with an average of 98,000 people visiting our website for information each month. Since I arrived here two years ago, I have pressed to make us much more aggressive and interesting online.

The online sweepstakes win reflected first-place awards for best use of social media in breaking news (we won second in that category, too) for coverage of Garfield County deputies shooting of Brian Fritze after a chase on I-70, and best multimedia project for our documentary with September's series on "The Price of Paradise."

"Price of Paradise" also won first place for multimedia story in the Society of Professional Journalists' Top of the Rockies contest, in which news organizations from Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah compete. We also won second place in editorial writing in that contest for our calls for decency toward immigrants — editorials that won first place from the American Society of News Editors.

Those editorials also won second place in the North American Local Media Association competition, as did "The Price of Paradise" in the series category. In that contest, a Philadelphia paper won editorial writing and a Toronto paper topped us for best series.

These honors show that our professional peers believe that the PI, with a news staff of nine, is producing strong journalism. I couldn't be prouder of our little crew.

Other Colorado AP winners: Will Grandbois was second in beat reporting for his coverage of Carbondale, from the homicide to the cat ordinance that ultimately was declawed. I was third in news column writing.

The Citizen Telegram won three first-place awards in its category: Ryan Hoffman's feature on Rifle High grad Veronica Toscano-Santoyo, whose mother was shot to death when Veronica was just 4; Hoffman's look at the county's cattle industry for best ag story; and best environmental story for an inventory of government solar power generation in the county. Hoffman also won a second place for a charming mutton-busting picture from the county fair. (If the CPA awards proved anything, it's that out-of-state judges love mutton-busting photos; at least four won in various categories.)

Other CPA first-place winners for the PI: Best sports story for a behind-the-scenes look at the Rifle-Fort Morgan flap that led to Rifle High's football program being placed on restriction; best business news feature for Stroud's interviews with Glenwood merchants in advance of Grand Avenue bridge construction; best advertising special section for our 2015 bike guide (the 2016 version is on newsracks now); best automotive ad; and best classified ad page.

CPA second place: Online deadline reporting, Grandbois on the Fritze tragedy; best sustained coverage for housing stories; online breaking news on June's Glenwood Canyon rockslide; best automotive ad; and best ad campaign, to Julie Carruth for Kracl Automotive ads.

We are naturally proud to be recognized, but particularly pleased that the work honored was aimed intentionally at helping build our communities to be good places to live.

Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.