Your local newspaper picked up a few awards at this year’s annual meeting of the Vermont Press Association last week.
Held at Montpelier’s Capitol Plaza Hotel, the meeting presented two years’ worth of awards, and the Milton Independent, Colchester Sun and Essex Reporter took home prizes in both contests.
In the 2016-17 round, the Colchester Sun was recognized in the top category for weeklies, General Excellence, coming in third place, following second-place Stowe Reporter and first-place Seven Days.
We submitted an issue of our choice – the special issue devoted to coverage of the Malletts Bay cottages – and the one printed January 12, a random date chosen by VPA board members. That issue featured stories on Colchester Police Department’s 50 years of service, a goat farm bolstered by old Christmas trees and a goodbye to Zak, the late steer that welcomed visitors to Mazza’s for years.
“Nice look,” the judges wrote about our full-page Malletts Bay cover story and photo, “particularly the in-depth special issue with its fabulous photos. Good story-telling. This world needs more odes to beloved Scottish Highland steers.”
Reporter Michaela Halnon’s reporting on that story, “Paradise, lost” also won the Sun second place in the local story category for weeklies.
“[The] story is a well-executed close-up on a case through the people impacted,” judges wrote.
Second-place honors also went to former associate editor Abby Ledoux for a state-centered story on Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid. The piece, “Homecoming,” was published in the Milton Independent, after Sanders’ Super Tuesday rally last March.
“In a year where probably Bernie Sanders was in every Vermont newspaper every day, this story captured the state’s biggest story of one of Vermont’s own running for president in a well-written, delightful and descriptive way,” judges said, noting Ledoux’s inclusion of numerous voices. “It was as much a story about Vermont as it was Sanders.”
Ledoux also took home third place for “Dying in Vermont,” a look into why few Vermonters choose hospice for end-of-life care.
“A topic that most do not want to talk about offers ways for people to finally talk about it,” the judge wrote. “Shows what good journalism can do at its most basic level.”
Both of Ledoux’s stories were judged in the earlier contest year, covering stories written in 2015-16.
In that year, Essex Reporter staff writer Colin Flanders took home third place in the Rookie of the Year category, given to one journalist for both daily and weekly publications.
“Colin’s solid, succinct reporting style is vital to the community and true journalism,” the judges said.
Fellow Lynn Publications papers the St. Albans Messenger and The Addison Independent in Middlebury also took home plaques.
The remainder of the meeting was for VPA business, including a controversial change to the non-profit’s constitution, first adopted in 1948, to rewrite the definition of “newspapers” to include online-only publications.
Online outlet VTDigger has asked to join the VPA for several years, and over the last 18 months, the VPA’s Constitution Committee reviewed the impact of such a proposed change. In the end, members recommended keeping online orgs out, saying the VPA is a trade organization comprised of members contending with “related costs, financial responsibilities and risks,” VPA president Adam Silverman of the Burlington Free Press wrote.
Silverman’s memo noted Digger’s recent efforts lobbying Vermont lawmakers to end the requirement to warn legal notices in print – a major revenue source for newspapers – a compounding factor in the board’s decision.
Seven Days political editor Paul Heintz saw it differently, advocating the definition of “newspaper” is outdated and arguing the VPA should add to its ranks.
After considerable debate, Heintz’ motion failed, 31-1.
Only Vermont publishers vote on constitutional changes. They subsequently approved allowing Digger and other online-only outfits to join the annual contests as associate members.
The VPA also hosted guest speaker Gov. Phil Scott, who summarized his support of the shield law bill, which protects journalists from turning over confidential sources in court proceedings.
He also spoke to the Vermont State Police’s newly adopted media policy, saying it needs improvement but stopped short of saying he’d support a requirement for police to issue the results of roadside breath tests – a topic the VPA has debated with state police for more than a decade.
In the end, Scott vowed to back the VPA’s lobbying for greater transparency, including reducing the number of exemptions in the Vermont public records law.
And in elections, Indy/Sun/Reporter executive editor Courtney Lamdin was returned to her post as the board’s northwest representative, covering four Vermont counties.