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Wilson Times earns 23 state awards, top overall honor

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RALEIGH — For the second straight year, The Wilson Times has been recognized as North Carolina’s best small daily newspaper.

The Times won first place in general excellence for its division along with 22 other awards in the North Carolina Press Association’s 2019 News, Editorial and Photojournalism Contest. Awards were presented Thursday during the association’s winter convention at the Marriott Crabtree Valley.

“We’re honored that our work has been judged as some of the best journalism in the state,” said Keven Zepezauer, publisher of The Wilson Times and president and CEO of Restoration NewsMedia. “Our staff works hard day-in and day-out to report the news that matters to Wilson County. This underscores our commitment to each and every one of our subscribers and readers.”

The Wilson Times competes in Division D, which includes daily newspapers with print circulation of fewer than 12,500 copies. The Times-News of Hendersonville took second place in general excellence for the division and the Goldsboro News-Argus posted a third-place finish.

Reporter Drew C. Wilson, who covers education and agriculture, led the Times’ staff with nine individual awards. He claimed first-place honors in education reporting for “Reading, Writing and Enrollment,” a six-part series that explored the reasons behind Wilson County Schools’ decrease in student enrollment and the district’s plans for growth.

“Great job of looking at enrollment trends in a comprehensive way,” the contest judge wrote. “Well researched, well sourced. Nice infographics to accompany. Excellent to dedicate each piece to one facet of the issue, including the final piece on solutions and moving forward.”

Wilson snagged a first-place multimedia project award for “Field trip to Farmers School,” a story, video and photo gallery showcasing the two-room African American school north of Silver Lake that students attended in the early 20th century before integration.

“This video would have easily won the video category: Camera moves are minimized; editing trims it down to size and the people in the story are identified and tell the story,” the judge wrote. “The package lets readers move through whichever way they prefer: print, stills or video, and each element amplifies the others.”

First place in profile feature writing went to Wilson’s “68 years in chicken and pork,” which described Parker’s Barbecue mainstay Johnny “June” Brunson’s long career as a cook.

Wilson took second-place honors in business writing for “Banner year for hemp harvests;” in education reporting for “How We Teach,” a four-part series on teaching and learning methods; in multimedia project for “Family farm auction lures buyers;” and best video for “Dusty sweet potato harvest underway.”

He also received a third-place feature writing award for “Down at the dam” and shared a third-place photo page award with Associate Editor Lisa Boykin Batts for “Miniature marvels,” which showcased the Wilson Botanical Gardens’ colorful cast of critters.

Editor Corey Friedman earned first place for editorials, serious columns and religion and faith reporting and second place for election and political reporting.

The first of three selected editorials in Friedman’s entry called on Wilson County commissioners to build a new animal shelter following 10 years of annual pet fee collections. After the current shelter failed a state inspection, commissioners agreed to fully fund the building’s replacement.

“An excellent blend of background, fact, observation and opinion,” the judge wrote. “Clear thinking and persuasive writing. Hard to believe a solution for the county’s wretched animal shelter wouldn’t be found after citizens read this powerful account of official neglect.”

Reporter Olivia Neeley, who covers public safety and county government, won first place in beat news reporting for “Rape convict faces murder charge.” The story examined Kenneth Wayne Lamm’s December 2018 arrest after missing 71-year-old Johnston County resident Kathy Thomas’ body was discovered in a shallow grave behind a Wilson home.

“Solid reporting and interviewing on breaking news and background information,” the judge wrote. “Multiple sources add depth.”

Neeley also earned a first-place award in news feature writing for “Finch enjoying simple pleasures,” a look at how Charles Ray Finch was adapting to life as a free man after his wrongful conviction in a 1971 killing was vacated and a judge ordered his release after 43 years behind bars.

“I like that you gave us examples of what he’s done since his release before revealing that he was in prison for something he didn’t do,” the judge wrote.

Neeley received second place in general news reporting for a series of stories on Finch’s exoneration.

Reporter Brie Handgraaf, who covers Wilson city government and local business, won first-place honors in city and county government reporting for a story on Wilson’s nuisance abatement efforts.

“I was hooked from the very beginning,” the judge wrote. “This lede helped pull me in so quickly and really painted an amazing picture of this story. Fascinating.”

Speaking of ledes — the opening paragraph of a news story — Assistant Sports Editor Jimmy Lewis took first place in the best ledes competition for a selection of three creative story starters.

“These ledes were snappy and had me wanting to continue reading more,” wrote the contest judge.

Valerie Register, a graphic artist and page designer for the Times, won second place in the illustration, photo illustration and print or interactive graphics category for her timeline, “Pertinent dates in Wilson County Schools’ history.”

The Times received an additional three awards credited to the newspaper’s staff — first place for editorial page, second place for use of photographs and third place for appearance and design.

Out-of-state journalists judge the annual contest in reciprocal agreements with the NCPA. Judges’ identities are not revealed to entrants before or after results are announced.

Restoration NewsMedia, the joint-venture company the Times formed with The Daily Record of Dunn last spring, received a total of 40 awards in the press association’s 2019 journalism contest and a dozen in its advertising contest.

Other Restoration newspapers honored on Thursday were The Daily Record, The Courier-Times of Roxboro, The Wake Weekly, Johnstonian News, The Butner-Creedmoor News and The Enterprise of Spring Hope.