CHAPEL HILL – Coastal Review Online won almost two-dozen state press awards Thursday for its coverage of environmental and conservation news and issues along the N.C. coast.
The N.C. Press Association announced the 2015 awards during the 91st annual Winter Institute meeting, which included an awards ceremony for the state editorial and photojournalism contest, at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The nonprofit news service’s writers and photographers, competing in the association’s online-only division, won 22 awards in all, including 10 first-place honors. Included in those awards were top honors for general excellence, appearance and design and general news reporting for a summer 2015 series on proposed drilling off the N.C. coast. Writer Catherine Kozak won five awards and Tess Malijenovsky, the news service’s former assistant editor, won four.
The contest period was Oct. 1, 2014-Sept. 30, 2015.
The association is a member-owned and operated nonprofit group established to protect First Amendment freedoms, promote the business interests of North Carolina newspapers and maintain high standards in the industry. Members include daily and community newspapers and special interest publications; online news publications; those who provide equipment, supplies, growth opportunities and materials to the industry; and those who generally support newspaper interests. It is the only industry trade group in the state.
Laura Nakoneczny, the association’s member services director, said this was the first time the group has had a competition for its online-only publications.
“What really drives it is the growing quality of online journalism and the need to recognize the good work being done not only in print but also by print practitioners online,” Nakoneczny said.
Only a handful of online publications competed this year, but that doesn’t diminish CRO‘s accomplishment, Nakoneczny said.
“The judges were totally amazed and one said he was ‘awestruck’ by the work Coastal Review was doing,” she said. “Online-only publications don’t compete in every (state’s) press contest so finding judges this year was an interesting task, but that said, those who judged this year have asked to judge again because of the quality of the work.”
Frank Tursi, CRO‘s founding editor, said the press awards are major benchmarks in the history of the young news service. The N.C. Coastal Federation, he noted, started CRO in February 2012 as an attempt to fill the gap in the coverage of coastal environmental issues left by the decline of traditional media. “It was an experiment. Could a nonprofit environmental group produce credible journalism?” he said. “I think tonight answered that question.”
Many of the writers who won awards last night have been with CRO from the beginning, Tursi said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of these journalists. They believed in what we were trying to do, accepted meager pay but turned out first-class stories almost every day,” he said. “I’m extremely gratified that they were recognized for that effort.”
CRO has been a member of the N.C. Press Association since 2013. There was some initial reluctance among the association’s board of directors to admit a publisher that was also an environmental advocacy group, Tursi explained. “I asked them to spend some time in our archives and not to judge us by who publishes us but by what we publish,” he said. “If our stories could appear in any one of their newspapers, then there was no reason not admit us.”
The board voted unanimously to accept CRO’s application.
CRO‘s writers, most of whom are former newspaper journalists, strive hard every day to meet the highest journalistic standards of fairness and balance, said Tursi, a 30-year newspaper veteran who was the senior environmental reporter in North Carolina before joining the federation in 2002. “I tell our writers that we’re not interested in one-sided stories, that we will hold them to the same standards of a newsroom,” he said. “In this age of Fox News, MSNBC, ideological screech radio and Internet sites that merely echo our beliefs, at CRO we still cling to the old-fashioned notion that if you give them all the facts, readers are smart enough to come to their own conclusions.”
Here are the winners and categories:
- General excellence, staff
- Appearance and design, staff
- Offshore oil series, general news reporting, staff
- Woodpeckers Thrive at Rugged Preserve, news feature writing, Catherine Kozak
- A Ringside Seat to an Ancient Ritual, feature writing, Pat Garber
- The Bear Lady: Her Life & Mysterious Death, profile feature, Catherine Kozak
- Saltwater Intrusion Is Changing the Coast, Part 1, news enterprise reporting, Tess Malijenovsky
- The Birds of Raccoon Island, feature photography, Sam Bland
- How Did Rocks End Up on the Beach?, beat reporting, Trista Talton
- Taking the Pulse of the Coast, beat feature reporting, Tess Malijenovsky
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Drilling, news feature writing, Frank Tursi
- Carolina Plague and Nags Head, feature writing, Jared Lloyd
- Grandmother Kayaks from Maine to Guatemala, profile feature, Tess Malijenovsky
- Saltwater Intrusion: The Parts You Can’t See, news enterprise reporting, Tess Malijenovsky
- Salt: The Great Equalizer, feature photography, Jared Lloyd
- Sandbags as Seawalls, Wetlands as Dry Lands, beat news reporting, Kirk Ross
- Necessary Risk or Needless Threat, beat feature reporting, Catherine Kozak
- Sea-Level Rise Redux, news feature writing, Frank Tursi
- Coastal Sketch: Paul Sykes, profile feature, Catherine Kozak
- Moonrise at the Cape, feature photography, Sam Bland
- Panel: Seismic Effects Still Unclear, beat news reporting, Mark Hibbs
- Banks Communities Staking a Position, beat feature reporting, Catherine Kozak