Carmage Walls Commentary Awards are presented at Summit

(left to right) Lissa Walls, CEO of Southern Newspapers, Inc.; Charles Rowe, editorial page editor of The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.; and Andy Anderson, retired publisher of The Post and Courier and 2015 recipient of the Frank W. Mayborn Leadership Award.
(left to right) Lissa Walls, CEO of Southern Newspapers, Inc.; Charles Rowe, editorial page editor of The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.; and Andy Anderson, retired publisher of The Post and Courier and 2015 recipient of the Frank W. Mayborn Leadership Award.

David Bloom of The Baytown (Texas) Sun and Charles Rowe and Elsa McDowell of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., have been awarded first-place honors in this year's Carmage Walls Commentary Prize.  Awards were presented in two circulation categories at SNPA's News Industry Summit.

Under 50,000 circulation:

First-Place: David Bloom, managing editor, The Baytown Sun, Baytown, Texas. Faced with a school board and superintendent closing ranks over controversial personnel moves and overspending coupled with staff morale at rock bottom, The Baytown Sun used its role as community voice to play a major part in the removal of the superintendent of its 23,000-student district.

Judges said Bloom's entry "embodied all of the principles that the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize seeks. It dealt with a local issue that is important to readers; it achieved results; it was well written; and it took a courageous stand in the face of entrenched local power." Bloom's editorials served as the conscience of the community when the local school superintendent was engaged in cronyism facilitated by members of the school board. Thanks to his work, the superintendent was fired and four board members did not seek reelection. Judges also were impressed with Bloom's consistent framing of the problem not only as something that affected readers but as something the paper could have a hand in rectifying.

Read his editorials:

Second-Place: Randy Essex, editor, Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colo. Immigrants are critical to the economy in Garfield County and, in 2014, a Colorado law took effect that enabled undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses.  When one Republican lawmaker in the state sought to block the release of money raised by the extra fees on licenses, the newspaper called him on it.  Essex says – that with new leadership at the paper – these editorials held accountable a rural lawmaker who was unaccustomed to such scrutiny, and helped keep pressure on lawmakers for a solution.

Judges said: "Writing contests like this often reward volume – editorial packages that build up an important case over weeks or months. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the single editorial that packs so much punch no more is necessary." They said Essex submitted such an editorial. Powerfully written, it held partisan elected officials accountable with strong arguments, and successfully persuaded a local lawmaker to change course.

Read this editorial: 

Over 50,000 circulation:

First-Place: Charles Rowe, editorial page editor, and Elsa McDowell, editorial writer, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. It started with one small news item: South Carolina has the second highest rate of men killing women.  The Post and Courier probed the issue through a months-long, in-depth investigation and compelling interviews with dozens of victims of domestic violence across the state.  The paper's editorial stance drove home the fact that a state where more than 300 women in the last decade have been killed by their husbands and boyfriends, demands immediate and comprehensive action.  The newspaper's work was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize committee that awarded it the prestigious Public Service Award.

Judges said: "One of the primary characteristics of Carmage Walls Commentary Prize winners is that the writers focus on an issue that is important to local readers. It doesn't get much more local than criminal domestic violence, the topic of Rowe and McDowell's editorials." Judges especially noted the courageousness of calling for restrictions on firearms in a region that often hews strongly toward gun rights. They said this entry also shined for its excellent writing that approached the topic from multiple directions, marshalled the facts, proposed specific solutions and resulted in concrete legislative results.

Read some of editorials that the paper published:

Second-Place: Sharon Grigsby, editorial writer, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Independent School District has been in turmoil for decades.  The Dallas Morning News editorial board's intent has been to cut through the politics and back-biting to explain what is really going on in a district that needs some hard reforms.  Grigsby's success has come from calling out disruptive behavior when necessary, but also championing success stories.

Judges said: "The opinion writers at The Dallas Morning News again in this year's contest set a high bar for what a modern editorial page can accomplish. Grigsby's investigation into Dallas schools was presented a wonderful balance of original reporting and opinion." They said her well-written editorials were approachable by a diverse audience, ensuring that even complex issues were comprehensible. Judges were particularly impressed with the use of graphics and online components to convey opinion. They described her work as "a creative presentation that went beyond just words," and said it also stood out for accomplishing change in the community as school loaders adopted recommendations from the editorials.

Read some of her editorials:

Three Honorable Mentions also were announced:

Bob Davis, associate publisher and editor of The Anniston Star, Anniston, Ala.  If imitation – or theft – is the sincerest form of flattery, judges heaped plenty of flattery on Bob Davis. One judge noted, and others agreed, "This is the idea that I'm going to steal from this year's entries." Davis deployed an innovative approach to writing about a gubernatorial campaign. His proactive, nonpartisan tone encourage readers to assess not just the incumbent governor but also what they wanted out of any governor. Davis' clear writing sealed the deal.

Read his editorials:

  • Building a Better Governor: Alabama needs a leader who values good government over ideology
  • Building a Better Governor: Alabama needs a leader to begin an honest conversation about money
  • Building a Better Governor: State needs a leader who will lead charge to reform budget process
  • Building a Better Governor: State needs a cheerleader who won't stop working for our schools

Jim Earnhardt, Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Ala.  Earnhardt's editorials about failures at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System painted a devastatingly bleak picture. Judges said his compelling writing drove home just how damaging the situation was to so many people in the community. The coverage also led to real reforms and changes.

Read his editorials:

Brian Colligan, opinion editor of the Daily Press, Newport News, Va. Judges wished to recognize Colligan's work to elevate the discussion about government transparency. They said he used strong examples that together built a tremendous case that there was abuse of the existing system and that readers should hold officials accountable. They said, "Freedom of information can often be opaque and wonkish, but Colligan cut through the complexity to make it accessible. This is the sort of work that only an editorial page can do well."

Read his editorials:

  • Expand Public Access: Curbing exemptions and adding penalties to FOIA requires citizens' voices
  • Enabling Bad Behavior: Virginia's open government laws lets officials keep personnel records secret -- to the public's detriment
  • The Court's Contempt: We object to the Virginia judiciary hiding behind a FOIA exemption to conceal public records
  • Obstacles to Access: Newport News preaches a commitment to openness, but its actions last week tell a different tale
  • Riddled with Loopholes: The Virginia Freedom of Information Act has been weakened by amendments, detracting from its intent
  • Your Laws, Your Voice: Virginia's Freedom of Information Act belongs to citizens and deserves vigorous advocacy

Judges in the "under 50,000" category thanked all of the entrants for the high quality of their submissions. They said it was extremely difficult to choose only four as winners (first- and second- place, plus two Honorable Mentions). In particular, the judges wished to recognize three other entries that rose to the top but did not receive awards. They were: Dawn Miller and Rob Byers (The Charleston Gazette, Charleston W.Va.), Bob Miller (Southeast Missourian, Cape Girardeau, Mo.) and Lee Wolverton (The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.).

Judges in the "over 50,000" circulation bracket also thanked all of the entrants for submitting excellent material. "The communities they serve are fortunate to have them," they said, adding: "The quality made this year's judging particularly difficult."

The prize is named for the late Benjamin Carmage Walls whose newspaper career spanned seven decades.  Walls primarily owned community newspapers and advocated strong, courageous and positive editorial page leadership.

Awards were presented by Walls' daughter, Lissa Walls, CEO of Southern Newspapers Inc., Houston, Texas.

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