Reporters at The Columbian won seven awards, including three first-place honors, and shared in an eighth with The Seattle Times in the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association’s C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting.
The awards included firsts for distinguished coverage of diversity, enterprise reporting and feature writing, as well as additional awards for enterprise reporting, deadline reporting and distinguished coverage of consumer affairs.
The contest covered articles published between June 1, 2018, through May 31. It was open to daily newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Alberta and British Columbia.
The Columbian was the most awarded in its division for smaller-sized papers and the second-most awarded of all newspapers taking part in the contest.
Patty Hastings and Jessica Prokop won first place for enterprise reporting for a six-part series titled “Fall From Grace” that chronicled the rise and fall of John Bishop, who went from leading Living Hope Church in Vancouver to federal prison for attempting to smuggle marijuana into the United States from Mexico.
The judge called the series “absolutely riveting.”
“Deep, incisive reporting and artful writing. Design, photos and graphics are all exceptional. Stories were supremely balanced,” the judge wrote. “Could this be a miniseries on HBO? Bravo.”
Prokop, Wyatt Stayner and Jake Thomas won first place for distinguished coverage of diversity for a series of stories about the struggle of mothers to secure mental health care for their children: “Mothers fight for mentally ill children,” “Finding Austin Timpe: Inadequate treatment, incarceration leave ill young man reeling,” “Vicious cycle: Mom’s efforts to help hampered at every turn” and “Vancouver mom concerned about the state of mental health care.”
“Powerful!” a judge wrote. “Emotional, great coverage!”
Calley Hair won first place for feature writing for her Clark Asks story, “We don’t know. Do you?” that chronicled her quixotic quest to answer a question from a reader about a mysterious yacht abandoned at the former Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver.
“If the headline doesn’t catch you, nothing will. A feature story with a lot, I mean a lot of investigative work — that’s catchy, too,” wrote the judge, who couldn’t help but ask if the mystery had ever been solved. (Mostly. You can read Hair’s follow-up story online at our Clark Asks page.)
Katie Gillespie won a second-place award for deadline reporting for her story,”B.G. teachers ratify contract,” during the 2018 teacher strikes.
“Teacher strikes have a huge impact on communities and demand thorough coverage,” the judge wrote. “This article delivers it. Solid work.”
Jerzy Shedlock won a third-place award for deadline reporting for his story, “Friends mourn man shot by police.”
“Extensive reporting details a mentally ill man’s tragic death and illustrates broader questions about medical care,” the judge wrote. “Kudos.”
“A deep, deep dive into a current issue of high importance to an increasing number of communities in the U.S.” the judge wrote. “The pros and cons of police cameras are examined carefully and critically. Writing is excellent. A true community service.”
Six of the awards won by Columbian staffers were for papers with a circulation under 50,000. An exception to that was “Motel 6 deal may aid deported man,” a story by Prokop that won the third-place Debby Lowman Award for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs, a category for newspapers of all circulation sizes.
“This story takes a court ruling and brings it to life from the perspective of the featured family,” the judge wrote. “A very sad and emotionally-compelling piece. Well done.”
Another exception was a third-place award Gillespie received for distinguished coverage of diversity as part of “The color of education,” a series written in collaboration with Seattle Times staffers Dahlia Bazazz and Mohammed Kloub examining teacher diversity in Washington. The story was co-published by The Columbian and The Seattle Times, and entered in the large circulation category.
The series also included the stories “Six years’ worth of school data anchors report,” “Clark County faces steep climb to diversity teaching force,” and “Puget Sound schools trying to recruit — and keep — more teachers of color.”
Overall, The Seattle Times won 10 awards, including first-place finishes in deadline reporting, distinguished coverage of diversity and feature writing.
The Oregonian won six awards, with first-place awards for enterprise reporting, investigative reporting and the Debby Lowman Award for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs.
Other smaller dailies taking home first-place awards were The Chronicle in Centralia, for investigative reporting, and The Daily Herald in Everett, for deadline reporting.
This year’s contest received 199 entries from 15 newspapers, an increase of 46 entries from last year. Last year, 16 papers competed in the contest.
The Blethen awards were established in 1977 in honor of C.B. Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times from 1915 to 1941. The Debby Lowman Award for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs honors Debby Lowman, a Seattle Times consumer reporter who died of cancer in 1978.