Columbian staff, former staff win reporting awards

Stories on PTSD and first responders, Don Benton place first in newspaper contest

By Mark Bowder, Columbian Metro Team Editor

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Staff members and one former staff member at The Columbian won seven awards in the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association’s C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting. The results were announced Wednesday.

The awards included first-place honors for enterprise reporting and feature writing, as well as additional awards for enterprise reporting, feature writing and consumer reporting published from June 1, 2016, through May 31. The contest is open to daily newspapers in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Alberta and British Columbia.

The Columbian was the most-awarded in its division of similarly sized papers.

Reporter Emily Gillespie won a first-place award for enterprise reporting for her story, “First responders’ selfless service leaves them vulnerable to PTSD’s toll,” published on May 14.

“Gripping lede, interesting topic and well executed,” the judges wrote about Gillespie’s story. “The writer chose quotes that really elevated and advanced the story, and it flowed nicely to give readers a sense of action and understanding of why this story matters in their community.”

Former reporter Lauren Dake won a first-place award for feature writing for her story, “Benton in D.C.: It’s time to change the narrative — Selective Service chief under national media scrutiny,” published on May 28.

“The author weaves a sophisticated narrative that includes public records and obvious deep reporting. Context and history in this profile shine,” the judges wrote.

Dake also won a second-place award for enterprise reporting for her story, “Flipping the script: The new Indivisible progressive political movement takes its cues from the conservative Tea Party,” published on April 2.

“The piece answered a lot of questions about the movement without being cheerleading, and offered precise examples and detail that would help any voter sort out what’s happening and how significant it is so far ahead of the midterms,” the judges wrote.

Reporter Scott Hewitt won a second-place award in feature writing for his story, “Who is Annie Marggraf?” published on March 11.

“A great human interest story with a complex backstory of a woman who turned her life around,” the judges wrote.

Reporter Marissa Harshman won second place in the Debby Lowman Contest for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs for her coverage of healthy holiday practices in three stories: “Kindness key to calm politics talk over turkey,” published Nov. 22, 2016; “It’s Thanksgiving! Let’s eat,” published Nov. 21, 2016; and “Keep your head during the holidays,” published Nov. 14, 2016.

Reporter Dameon Pesanti won third place in the Debby Lowman Contest for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs for his story, “Wet wipes wipe out sewer systems,” published on May 12.

Reporter Jake Thomas won third place for enterprise reporting for his story, “Mystery of Jane,” published Feb. 19.

“Vivid storytelling puts you in the scene and also helps put a personal face and sentiment on an issue anyone can identify with,” the judges wrote. “Was a breezy read despite its length and felt fair to all sides.”

Other top winners

Other top award winners in the annual contest were The Seattle Times, with eight winning entries, and The Oregonian, with seven, among papers with circulation over 50,000. The Columbian won the most awards among papers with a circulation under 50,000, followed by The Daily Herald in Everett with five, and the Yakima Herald-Republic with three.

The Blethen awards were established in 1977 in honor of C.B. Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times from 1915 to 1941. The Debby Lowman Award for Distinguished Reporting of Consumer Affairs honors Debby Lowman, a Seattle Times consumer reporter who died of cancer in 1978.

Editor’s note: Headlines in the print and online versions differ for some of these stories.