Recognizing quality work by good people

Thinking Out Loud

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

I'd say I'm flushed with pride, but somebody already used that phrase as the title of a book I once owned. My pride swells in consideration of what happened in Anchorage a couple of weekends ago when the Empire received five first-place awards in statewide competition sponsored by the Alaska Press Club. Here's the rundown:

Nita Nettleton was named best daily newspaper columnist. Her columns usually appear on Sundays, having worked their way up from when-space-permits status. The relationship started last fall when Nettleton, a full-time fed, wrote a hilarious letter, which prompted me to call and pop the question: "Ever think about working cheap and for no benefits?"

For the first couple of months we published about half of her submissions on an irregular basis. I think it was around Thanksgiving when she hit her stride. By Dec. 31 we had the requisite three examples of really good work. Newspaper columnist being one of the Press Club's favored categories, Nita got a regular winner's certificate plus the Suzan Nightingale McKay Award.

Many journalists would agree the most substantive awards a paper can win are based on investigative work and articles that make a difference in society. Empire reporters Riley Woodford and Kristan Hutchison won first and second place, respectively, in the investigative category this year.

Last summer, competition among retail shops for tens of millions in tourist dollars caught Woodford's eye. Some shopkeepers and Native artists told Woodford they were suffering because mass-produced, imported items were being misrepresented and sold at low prices. In some cases the "Made in Indonesia" stickers had been removed. Some were replaced with "Made in Alaska" stickers.

His report will help ensure the authenticity of art works. The Native Arts program director of the Alaska State Council on the Arts said the story should help bring about a higher standard of business honesty. Woodford's article also won first place in the daily arts coverage category.

Woodford came to the Empire in 1997, after stints as a science teacher, social worker, radio news director, musician, field biologist and freelance journalist from Alaska to Arizona. He was voted Employee of the Year by the staff of the Empire (not just the newsroom staff) for 2000.

His award maintained an Empire tradition that saw Hutchison win first place from the Alaska Press Club and from the Pacific Northwest Society of Professional Journalists for her investigative reports in 1996 and 1999.

Last year, she discovered two Juneau-based pulltab cooperatives had shorted the charities they are supposed to work for by almost $600,000. She reported that the co-ops were not paying the required 30 percent to their charities, were not paying city sales taxes, claimed expenses in excess of the maximum allowed by law, and had not cleaned up their acts despite repeated warnings from the state.

I suspect her investigative efforts are a natural component of the curiosity that took her to Antarctica on a leave of absence last winter and which she hopes will return her to that continent on a regular, seasonal basis.

Eric Fry won first place for reporting on education. His work is locally based and always written to national standards. I worry that the New York Times will notice his excellent reportage and match it up with the fact that he graduated from NYC's Fordham University with the highest honors and make him an offer he can't refuse.

This year, in addition to his beat work, Fry is turning out monthly packages of in-depth articles that help explain the factors influencing education in Juneau and our state.

Our other first-pace award went to "TOE," nom de plume of the artist currently known as Tony Newman, a genuine talent as an editorial cartoonist. "Toe" is the nickname given to Tony by his brothers and sisters as they were growing up. Right now, he's trying to syndicate "The Swamp," the comic strip that runs in Channels every Sunday.

Charles Bingham, our indefatigable sports editor, won a second-place certificate for one of his feature stories. And, the Empire took second in competition for the best Web site.

In addition, all our awards should be viewed as recognition for the entire newsroom, including the editors who help develop ideas and other reporters who fill in for those concentrating on investigative articles.

In future columns, I hope to introduce more of the Empire staff and to explain some of the changes being made to improve the paper. I hope you've noticed the color photos in Neighbors plus the Food, Books, Travel and Religion pages. More later.

Steve Reed can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.



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