Carmage Walls Commentary Prizes awarded

Top honors go to writers from Jacksonville and Lakeland


Editorial staff members from The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville and the former editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., were awarded top honors in 2014 by SNPA in the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize competition. 

First-place in the "over 50,000" circulation category went to Mike Clark, Roger Brown, Wayne Ezell and Ron Littlepage of The Florida Times-Union.  First-place in the "under 50,000" circulation category was awarded to Glenn Marston, former editorial page editor of The Ledger.

Second-place honors went to John Railey, editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, and Anita Shelburne, opinion page editor of The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va.

The awards were presented by Lissa Walls Vahldiek, CEO of Southern Newspapers, Inc., Houston, Texas.  Vahldiek is the daughter of the late Benjamin Carmage Walls, for whom this award is named. 

Walls, whose newspaper career spanned seven decades, primarily owned community newspapers and advocated strong, courageous and positive editorial page leadership.

Mike Clark Roger Brown

Wayne Ezell
Ron Littlepage
over 50,000 circulation:

The editorial writers in Jacksonville hit everything that judges look for in a Carmage Walls winner. Their commentary about a blighted neighborhood in Jacksonville had strong writing, an important local issue and tangible results. Judges were particularly impressed with the depth of reporting that drove the editorials (and a blog entry).

"It was a very effective campaign, a model I will mention to journalism students this semester," one judge said. The writers set an achievable, clearly defined goal and remained focused on it until real change had taken place.

Read their editorials:

Glenn Marston

First-place, under 50,000 circulation:
Glenn Marston's editorials about police abuses and the aftermath of their discovery presented a complete story that impressed judges for its readability and insights. His writing was superb, and he demonstrated perseverance in the face of government obstruction.

"The six pieces dovetailed nicely together. He took the whole situation from square one to achieving positive change," one judge said.

Read his editorials:

John Railey
Second-place, over 50,000 circulation:
John Railey started writing about compensation for victims of forced sterilization in North Carolina more than a decade ago. He never relented in his work to force state residents and a stubborn legislature to confront an unpopular and uncomfortable issue. His perseverance and persuasiveness finally convinced lawmakers to act.

What made this year's entry on the topic special was not just overdue success but also his ability to explain legislative wrangling in a way that readers could understand. "The editorials kept the focus on the victims and steered you through the complex political events," one judge remarked. SNPA members will look forward to reading about his next crusade.

Read his entry:

Anita Shelburne
Second-place, under 50,000 circulation:
Anita Shelburne's work impressed judges with its cohesion, strong writing and focus. The abuse of a college student by liquor control officers could have been a brief in the paper and a single throwaway editorial, but Shelburne recognized that there was more to the story. Work by the newsroom clearly helped drive the coverage, but Shelburne's beautifully written editorials provided the moral compass.

Read her editorials, which include:

  • ABC went too far in response
  • Use of force unsettling to nation
  • ABC patterns point to problems
  • ABC takes first step to broad fixes
  • Fix record, hold ABC accountable
  • Study could open ABC to reforms

Honorable Mentions:
Three honorable mentions also were awarded by contest judges:

In the over 50,000 circulation bracket:

Pam Sohn, editorial page editor, Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times
Judges said gun violence is an issue many communities face, but most communities do not have a writer as skilled as Pam Sohn to elevate the conversation. She deployed strong writing and helpful statistics to lay out the problem. The result was an editorial campaign that readers and elected officials could not ignore. Judges particularly appreciated the variety of ways she approached the issue to keep it fresh without losing sight of the core message.

Read her editorials, which include:

  • Shootings must stop, and patterns offer clues
  • Waiting on the cavalry
  • As MLK said: "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability"
  • Let's replace guns with caring
  • Serial killer stalks city; apathy is its own witness
  • A Chattanooga intervention: a violence vaccine long overdue

In the under 50,000 bracket:

Joe Kirby, Marietta Daily Journal, Marietta, Ga.
Joe Kirby's editorials about a stadium development deal shone as providing key insights that might not be apparent to the casual observer. With well-written prose, and framed in a manner that kept the topic interesting across several editorials, Kirby brought a dry topic to life.

Read his editorials:

Chris Wessel, The Sun, Jonesboro, Ark.
Chris Wessel took up an important topic that resonated with judges and, they believe, with readers. A community trusts its legal system to keep people safe, and when that fails, editorial pages must speak out. With a combination of powerful writing and a no-nonsense view that demanded justice and accountability, Wessel filled that role.

Read his editorials:

First-place winners received plaques and a cash prize of $1,000.  Second-place honorees received a plaque and a $500 cash prize.

Carmage Walls Commentary Prize, Jacksonville, Clark, Brown, Ezell, Littlepage, Lakeland, Marston, Winston-Salem, Railey, Charlottesville, Shelburne, Chattanooga, Sohn, Marietta, Kirby, Jonesboro, Wessel
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