The Fayetteville Observer recently took home 45 journalism and advertising awards from the North Carolina Press Association, including top honors for coverage of Hurricane Florence, local government reporting, photography and sports.
Among the first-place awards was General Excellence, a category in which the Observer competes with other newspapers its size across the state.
Staff photographer Melissa Sue Gerrits, winner of eight awards, was named the Hugh Morton Photographer of the Year.
A separate award, from The Associated Press, recognized the Observer’s legal fight against courthouse secrecy. The newspaper challenged the sealing of a Cumberland County civil case involving Fayetteville automobile dealer Mike Lallier and allegations of sex abuse of minors. In December, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in the Observer’s favor, reaffirming the public’s right to access court records in a case that likely sets precedent in this state. For the work of former senior reporter Greg Barnes, who covered the Lallier case for nearly two years, the Observer earned the the first place Senator Sam Award for outstanding open government reporting, competing against the largest newspapers in the state.
In all, the Observer won 18 first-place honors from the N.C. Press Association, including general news reporting and online breaking news coverage of Florence in September, when the Observer’s entire newsroom under senior news editor Lorry Williams operated 24 hours a day to provide updates during the flooding disaster.
Gerrits, the photographer of the year, also won first and second-place for photo essays; first place for feature photography; first and second place for spot photography; and third place for sports feature photo and general news photography.
“I am incredibly proud of the work that every member of our newsroom has done in the past year,” said Matt Leclercq, the Observer’s executive editor. “This is the most number of awards the Observer has ever earned from the press association, as far as I know, and they reflect how dedicated all of our journalists are to telling our community’s stories.”
Other first-place awards given Tuesday night were:
- City/county government reporting: Monica Vendituoli and Greg Barnes, for coverage of Fayetteville City Council violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law.
- Sports enterprise writing: Sammy Batten, for his “Game Changers: The Rise of Football in North Carolina” series, for which Batten and Hrisanthi Kroi also won best multimedia project.
- Election/political reporting: Paul Woolverton
- Arts and entertainment reporting: Monica Holland, who also won third place for another arts and entertainment entry, feature writing and lighter columns.
- Business writing: Monica Vendituoli
- Lighter columns: Myron B. Pitts, who also won second place for Serious Columns and third place for editorials.
- General news photography and sports feature photography: Andrew Craft.
- Advertising, best newspaper promotion: Eddie Harris for the FayWhat? project. Harris also earned second place for special sections and third place for advertising use of color.
- Best illustration or graphic
Additional second-place awards were:
- Deadline news reporting: Nancy McCleary and Michael Futch for their coverage of the arrest of the alleged Ramsey Street rapist.
- News enterprise reporting: Barnes for his series “In the Dark: The Story Behind GenX.”
- Editorials and best editorial page: Tim White.
- General news reporting: Amanda Dolasinski.
- Best sports coverage
- Special section: “Hurricane Matthew: Stories from the Storm.”
- Advertising institutional ad
Other third-place awards were:
- Online breaking news coverage
- Sports enterprise writing: Jaclyn Shambaugh, for her report on Cumberland County taking steps to bar “hot” bats. She also placed third for sports news reporting
- Best multimedia project: The sports team’s 2018-19 high school football season preview
- Special section: “Fort Bragg: 100 Years”
- Sports columns: Rodd Baxley
- Illustration: Mariano Santillan
- Beat news reporting: Steve DeVane and Greg Barnes for coverage of the GenX contamination