Updated to add information on another winner.
I first started going to the annual Winter Institute held by the North Carolina Press Association in around 1987. I recall it only because the contest rules for entering stories, photos, illustrations and other print newspaper goodies are basically the same now as they were then – just about the only thing about the journalism business that hasn’t radically changed. Newspapers can enter work published during a period from Oct. 1 of one year to Sept. 30 of the next. So, for example, the first NCPA award I won was for a game story about a state 3A championship football game played between Williams High and Forest Hills High in December of 1985. That means the story was actually entered in September of 1986, judged from October to December and the awards handed out during a ceremony in January of 1987 in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
I remember it was cold that night. Bits of snow were on the ground but not on the road. A handful of us from Burlington attended loosely representing the Times-News. After the ceremony we moved over to a reception at the School of Journalism. There was free beer and finger foods. We could stay and consume until we got kicked out.
For the record, we got kicked out.
Back then I was a young reporter and writer. Going to the Winter Institute wasn’t a given. Only winners got to go – usually with an editor or two. They were often the adults in the crowd. They usually left before reaching the cutoff point on free beer. That’s why we drove in separate cars. As an aside, the ended the free beer thing several years ago. Those in attendance get a couple of free ones then pay as they go. Probably for the best.
Anyway, I attended one other NCPA ceremony during my first Burlington stint, for winning in the category for movie, book or play reviews.
When I moved to the Jacksonville Daily News I attended the awards ceremony and accompanying seminars, luncheons and other events annually. As the news editor and then managing editor my boss Elliott Potter thought it important that I go. The Winter Institute moved its time over the years – largely to avoid snow. It’s now held in late February or early March. It’s tonight for work published from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016. In August and September I compiled the Times-News entries for the last time before ending my newspaper career in November. This will be the third time since 1993 that I’ve missed the ceremony. Sometime in my Jacksonville years I was swamped with work and and couldn’t go. A couple of years ago a surprise snowfall kept the Times-News staff at home. This year I was invited by publisher Paul Mauney and thanks to him for doing so. Still, I decided not to go.
When something ends you should let it. And besides, it’s time for others to take center stage. I held forth long enough.
But I wanted to take this opportunity to salute the award-winners on the Times-News staff for the work they completed during what was a tumultuous and difficult year. Fact, is the last three years in the business were the hardest and most challenging of my 34-year career. There were lots of changes – many of them unwelcome and unnecessary. Some only made a tough job more difficult. I don’t regret my decision to leave and am happy that Elon provided me with a landing place where I may continue to write, be productive and make a difference in a special environment.
I’m very proud of each and every staff member on the list of award winners below. The writers are all outstanding. Not only that, they are all exceptional reporters. That isn’t always the case. They are thorough, detail-oriented, unafraid, accurate and fair. Four of them have won before – Anna Johnson (now with the Durham Herald-Sun), Michael Abernethy, Charity Apple and Jay Ashley (now an old retired fart like me). I was especially pleased to see Natalie Allison Janicello win for the first time. Natalie and Anna produced so much quality work last year and Natalie is especially noteworthy because she covered an incredible number of violent acts in our community. She worked almost non-stop from April to mid-July. “Shootings and Mayhem in Burlington” was a comprehensive look at them all. The other individual awards for photography are for Steve Mantilla, a shooter with a sharp eye.
Let me also note that three of the Times-News winners are Elon College / University grads — Charity, Anna and Natalie. As I looked at photos this evening from the ceremony I saw a few more Elon alums in the crowd including Stephanie Butzer and Adam Lawson. Stephanie was an intern for the Times-News and if we had an opening when she graduated I would’ve hired her on the spot. Instead I recommended her to my longtime friend Megan Ward, editor of the High Point Enterprise and Megan snapped her up. Adam worked for the Times-News as a sports stringer when he was a student at Elon. He’s now covering breaking news in Gastonia-Shelby. And later in the night I discovered that Andrew Krech, an Elon grad and former Times-News photo intern, won the big photojournalism prize of the night — The Hugh Morton Award for photographer of the year. Andrew now works for the Greensboro News & Record. Andrew is the second Elon alum in the past few years to win the Morton award. Scott Muthersbaugh, formerly of the Times-News, took the prize three or so years ago. The Elon School of Communications has a lot to be proud of.
I also received a piece of outstanding news from my friend, one-time colleague and current Times-News city editor Tom Jones. Tom reports that Times-News education reporter Jessica Williams took home an honor from the Associated Press contest, winning the Walter Spearman Award for journalists with less than two years of experience and working at mid-sized state newspapers. A big congrats to Jessica for the first-place honor for her story on student mental health. And Tom said Anna also a runnerup for the O’Henry Award from the AP — another high honor. Both are awards that focus on writing.
I know this group is enjoying the awards ceremony tonight in Raleigh. I’ll toast them from home this evening. And I want them to know I am honored to say I worked with them and they still make me proud every day. Collectively they are as fine a group of writers and reporters as any I’ve worked with over the years. And some of those are very accomplished.
Here’s the list of Times-News NCPA winners.
Editorial page: first place. Each entry is three page submissions from a month chosen by the contest organizers.
Natalie Allison Janicello: first place for “Jurors see discovery site” (Deadline News Reporting) and “Shootings and mayhem in Burlington” (Beat News Reporting).
Michael D. Abernethy: first place for “Resting place” (Feature Writing).
Anna Johnson: first place for “How safe is our water?” (Investigative Reporting), second place for “The fight continues” (News Enterprise Reporting), and third place for “EMS billing service a pain for patients” (City/County Government Reporting).
Jay Ashley: first place for “Swearing by or at collards,” “Primed for kickoff” and “Inside the men’s room” (Lighter Columns).
Steve Mantilla: third place for “Interception attempt in traffic” (Sports Photography) and “Fresh from farm to table” (Photo Essay).
Charity Apple: third place for “Gaffigan’s comedy relatable to all ages” (Arts and Entertainment Reporting).
And congratulations to all the NCPA winners tonight. Many are people I know well who are former colleagues — like Brie Handgraaf, a former Times-News reporter who now works for the Wilson Daily Times. You are all doing very important work that can be frustrating but ultimately rewarding. It’s important and thanks to you all from someone who’s been there.