Dallas and Seguin writers awarded Carmage Walls Commentary Prize

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Writers for The Dallas Morning News and the Seguin Gazette took top honors in the competition this year for the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize, presented Monday, Sept. 11, at the SNPA-Inland Annual Meeting.

View a video of the awards presentation

In the over 50,000 circulation bracket, top honors went to Sharon Grigsby, editorial writer, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas.

Loose dogs wandering a metropolitan area might not seem to be an important issue. Sharon Grigsby's editorials showed otherwise. She persuasively wrote about why the issue was important and why new leadership was needed. After the leadership changed, Grigsby did not step away from the issue. She worked to help the new leader understand the problems and how to fix them. Concise, clear writing and a record of achievement alone are enough to warrant an award. Standing up for a marginalized community that doesn't otherwise have a voice pushed this entry to the top. She "took up the cause of people who don't have power in the system, the people of South Dallas, and painted a picture of how this neighborhood is an afterthought of civic leaders," one judge commented. View her entry

In the under 50,000 circulation group, first place went to Jeff Fowler, editor and publisher, and Travis Webb, managing editor, Seguin Gazette, Seguin, Texas.

When Jeff Fowler and Travis Webb took on their Texas school board, they faced issues that were both hyperlocal and universal, including watchdog concerns about government transparency. The judges chose this entry for its strong writing and record of clear success driving positive changes in the community. They especially noted Fowler and Webb's economical writing style that made very strong points with few words. Their pieces were short, but their position was always very clear. View their entry

Second-place honors went to:

Over 50,000 circulation bracket:
Brian Colligan, associate editorial page editor of The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Colligan also fought for people whose voices are not heard, the people with mental health issues. After a tragic death in a jail, it might have been easy to let the issues quietly go away, but Colligan would not let that happen. He pointed to the inhumanity of the system. Judges particularly commend Colligan for bringing fresh information or argument to each editorial. He did not fall into the trap of repetition. Judges also were impressed by the record of accomplishment that included one legislator citing the editorials in efforts to have an inspector general fired. View his entry

Under 50,000 circulation bracket:
Dink NeSmith, owner and chairman of The Press-Sentinel, Jesup, Ga.

"This is an example of what a locally-owned, small-town newspaper can accomplish if it pulls out all the stops," one judge noted. NeSmith's paper took on the Goliath of a coal ash project and didn't back down. The writing was strong, and the results equally strong as NeSmith drove home his arguments with well-researched evidence and ultimately got results.  A community could not ask for stronger editorial leadership. View his entry

Honorable Mentions went to:

Over 50,000 circulation bracket: 
Michael Lindenberger, Sharon Grigsby, Jacquielynn Floyd, J.R. Lott and Mike Hashimoto of The Dallas Morning News

Discussing guns in Texas always risks raising hackles and having people retreat to their ideological corners. The Dallas Morning News found a way to break through that with this package of editorials and columns. "This was the one entry that was pure editorial leadership," a judge said. While other entries responded to specific events or problems in the community, this one sought to break down barriers not of policy but in the minds of readers, to get them to take a fresh look at a complex issue. Judges liked that the paper also took on this project with a single section rather than spread it out over weeks or months. The project made excellent use of data presentation and online multimedia, and the team had foresight to engage readers in advance to provide their perspectives. View their entry

Under 50,000 circulation bracket:
Michael A. Smith, editor of The Galveston County Daily News

Smith's enterprising editorials never left any doubt what was going on and what the solutions were. He didn't just latch onto an issue in the news. He took the lead on it, exposing the problems and challenges associated with gambling rooms in the community that resulted from a loophole in the state law. View his entry

Under 50,000 circulation bracket:
Dwayne Yancey, editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times

Yancey impressively explained how decisions made in Washington and policies proposed by President Trump would impact the daily lives of people in the rural community he writes for. Strong writing that amassed evidence and context always maintained respect for all readers, no matter whom they supported in the election. View his entry

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 Monday by his daughter, Lissa Walls (CEO of Southern Newspapers).

Video by Charles Hill Morris, Jr., regional manager, Morris Multimedia

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