SANTA FE — The New Mexico Press Association honored the best New Mexico newspaper writers, photographers and advertisers at Saturday’s Better Newspaper Contest banquet.
That Las Cruces Sun News won three first place awards and four second place awards, and took home seven plaques. Additionally, Sun News Reporter Justin Garcia won awards for supporting the Ruidoso News cover the McBride Fire.
The NMPA organization gave awards to newspapers in four categories. That Sun News competes in the major leagues, along with the state’s largest newspapers. Garcia’s Recognition Report for the Ruidoso News came in the small, weekly section.
Sun News Reporter Michael McDevitt received first place in the Best News Writing category for a profile on Desert Hope Apartments, an affordable housing development for previously homeless residents. The story is titled, “Desert Hope promised a model for the homeless transition. Now tenants and employees say it is a neglected property.”
One judge wrote: “Well written, goes well beyond – tracking what could have been and what is.”
McDevitt also won second place in Business Writing for his story of once-vacant lots finding new life as cannabis shops.
Sun News News director Lucas Peerman and reporters Algernon D’Ammassa, Miranda Cyr and Leah Romero have teamed up to win first place in a new category in 2022: COVID-19 in Your Community. In this category, newspapers were asked to submit up to five print editions with coverage of the pandemic.
Submissions included Peerman’s year-end story, which explored how a Doña Ana County family coped after the death of a loved one from COVID-19. The story was accompanied by a list of all of the county’s COVID-19-related deaths in 2021. Additionally, D’Ammassa wrote about steps local residents should take if they were exposed to COVID over the Christmas holidays.
That Sun News also submitted several stories published the week New Mexico lifted its mask mandate in mid-February, including Romero’s look at how local businesses were responding, Cyr’s exploration of what it was like in schools the day after students went maskless and D’Ammassa’s story, which details how the heads of state came to their decision.
“Excellent diversity of coverage for a subject that touches almost every aspect of life,” one judge wrote of the Sun News‘ COVID Coverage. “This package of stories struck the perfect balance between statistical and government-based reporting while still incorporating the human element that made the reporting sing. The inclusion of the 2021 county deaths list was particularly poignant and impactful.”
Sun News Lead reporter Damien Willis won two awards.
Willis’ 2021 Distinguished Resident profile on Garrey Carruthers was awarded first place in the Best Use of Multimedia category. The online package included an hour-long podcast with Carruthers and an extensive photo gallery of archival images from Carruthers’ time as governor of New Mexico and while he was chancellor of New Mexico State University.
One judge wrote: “You can tell they are embedded in the community. I really like that. Overall it is very clean.”
The Reporter’s Notebook is both a newsletter and a podcast that Willis produces weekly to take readers behind the curtain of the reporting process. Willis took second place in “Explanation of News Operations” or “Newspaper” for “The Reporter’s Notebook”.
Garcia, a reporter for the Sun News, traveled to Ruidoso in April to help cover the McBride fire. His stories have been picked up by several Gannett owners, including the Sun News and Ruidoso News. His story, which tells the harrowing first 24 hours of the fire, won Best News Writing in Weekly Division II.
“Your first paragraph caught my attention and I wanted to read on,” wrote one judge. “Your next two paragraphs intrigued me. I desperately needed to learn more about the people of Ruidoso and the fire. Well written overall but what really cemented my decision was the way you grabbed my attention at the beginning and wouldn’t let go. This is exactly how great news should be written. Very well done! Congratulations, you are a talented writer.”
Garcia, along with Karlsbader Strom-Argus Reporter Adrian Hedden and Alamogordo Daily News / Ruidoso News Reporter Nicole Maxwell, won first place in the Best Ongoing/Continuing Coverage category in Weekly Division II for her work on the McBride fire.
One judge wrote: “You were there when the community needed you! Great ongoing updates in coverage and strong image and video support.”
One newspaper from each division is recognized for general excellence, the highest award. This year’s winners are: Santa Fe, New Mexicon, daily i; Farmington Daily Timesdaily 2; Taos News, Weekly i; and El Defensor chief in Socorro, weekly 2.
The competition was judged by the Wyoming Press Association.
The awards were presented at the 113th NMPA Annual Meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Lucas Peerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @LittleGuyInATie on twitter.