For the second consecutive year, the Albuquerque Journal won the top public service award for its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic – one of two dozen awards earned by the newspaper’s staff in the 2021 NMPA Better Newspaper Contest.
“IMPRESSIVE … This coverage both reported the statistics while personalizing those statistics with stories of those who died and those who were impacted,” the judge wrote. “It included clear graphics with numbers and lots of faces and quotations. This certainly sets the standard for how to cover a story. This prize is incredibly well deserved.”
Journal staffers also won top honors in the breaking news, investigative reporting and series categories.
In all, the Journal won first-place honors in 13 categories in the contest, which was sponsored by the New Mexico Press Association. The awards were handed out Saturday during the NMPA’s annual convention in Santa Fe.
Journal staff writers Elise Kaplan, Matthew Reisen, Dan Boyd and Ryan Boetel won first in the best series category for “Devastating Toll,” stories on New Mexico reaching 1,000 COVID-19 deaths seven months after the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in the state.
“The pandemic is one of the most important stories of the last year, and possibly of a generation, but it’s easy to become desensitized to its magnitude with daily updates on infections, hospitalizations and deaths,” the judge wrote. “This series showed the humanity behind the numbers and the toll the coronavirus has taken on communities. Graphics were compelling and the ‘how we got here’ timeline was a great addition. A thoughtful and well-done series.”
Kaplan and Reisen also took first in investigative reporting for their stories on the nine deaths at the Metropolitan Detention Center in one year. “This was an extremely competitive category,” the judge wrote. “The investigation’s success in influencing changes in jail operations pushed this entry to the top.”
Reisen, city editor Martin Salazar, photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis and director of photography Robert Browman won first in breaking news-digital for their coverage of the hot air balloon crash on the West Side that left five people dead.
Reisen won first in breaking news for “Incredible tragedy,” the print version of the balloon crash. “Great, comprehensive coverage, powerfully told through the stories of various characters involved,” the judge wrote. “Well-structured story that lets the personal stories breathe – it’s packed with expository details and added context but not at the expense of the storytelling.”
Journal staff writer and Report for America Corps member Theresa Davis won first in environmental and agricultural writing for her story about the fifth anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill that sent 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage into the Animas and San Juan rivers. “This story beautifully returns the spotlight to a critical issue affecting the Navajo,” the judge wrote. “Refusing to let suffering fade into the background is a foundational role of journalism.”
Pierre-Louis won first place in the feature photo category for “Centenarian shares simple secret to life: LOVE.” “This photo rose to the top with a lot of heart and really captures the human experience of 2020,” the judge wrote.
The Albuquerque Journal won second place in the sunshine award category for a series of stories on Albuquerque Public Schools, which has been ordered to pay $400,000 for violating state records law.
Reisen and Kaplan took second in the best ongoing/continuing coverage for their stories on the death of State Police officer Darian Jarrott. “Technically perfect and well-written to boot,” the judge wrote. “Each story advanced the overall narrative and followed logically from the previous one, answering questions that were created as details trickled out. A reader would learn everything they wanted to know by following this coverage and would be moved by the scene-setting and skill used to deliver it.”
Staff writer Ollie Reed Jr. took second in best series category for “Countdown to a new world” about the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test. “Lots of interesting facts sprinkled in this series that both reflects back on an event that changed the nation, while also looking forward as its consequences continue to shape New Mexico,” the judge wrote. “I enjoyed the engaging writing style as well.”
Sports writer Geoff Grammer won second in obituary news for his story on former Lobo hoops star Kelvin Scarborough.
Editorial writer Jeff Tucker won second in editorials for “NM guard’s affair with convicted killer is beyond troubling.” “Appropriately told with the hardened edge of a crime novel, this piece details the damage when no one is guarding the guards,” the judge wrote.
Columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger took second in columns for “Lawmakers consider end-of-life options bill.”
Assistant managing editor Donn Friedman, Browman, Salazar and assistant city editor Katy Barnitz won second place in the best website category.
Journal staff took second place in the special sections category for “The Pandemic, a year later: The lives lost and how it’s changed us.” Journal staff also won second in the news coverage category.
Journal sports staff took second in the sports coverage category.
“Terrific mix of local coverage, with a real emphasis on people and community,” the judge wrote. “Commentary was great, especially bringing in voices from area coaches, and the variety was great – loved that MMA got some attention and that the covid-related lawsuit proposal got some followup.”
In the advertising categories:
Wanda Moeller, Wayne Barnard and Steve Gall took first in the best rate card or marketing kit category.
Douglas Brown won first in print advertising campaign for his graduation spadea. “Creative, very community focused,” the judge wrote. “Provides a great reason for people to pick up and read the paper. Graphics are well organized. Easy to read.”
Nancy Chavez took first in black and white retail advertisement and another first place in color retail advertisement.
“Great design, use of color, choice of photo and text placement,” the judge wrote. “Contact info for the business was easy to find and customer benefits were used well. Great job!”
Sarai Cajiao won second for black and white retail advertisement for the Manny Garcia campaign. Cajiao also won second for color retail advertisement for Western Trails.
Barnard, Lois Trujillo and the classified team took second for classified advertising section.
Entries were judged by the Utah Press Association.