Sunday, October 2, 2022

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Graham, NC 27253
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Alamance News wins seven N.C. Press awards

The Alamance News’ publisher and its reporters were honored last week as among the top weekly newspaper winners in the state press association’s annual writing and reporting contest.

The North Carolina Press Association recognized these winners at its convention in Raleigh last Thursday, the first time in two years that the group has convened in person after the onset of the Covid pandemic.

The time period for the contest period was also longer than usual, stretching from October 1, 2020 through February 28, 2022 (rather than a typical one-year time frame).

Taking first place in education reporting for weekly newspapers was staff writer Kristy Bailey, for her story “School board meeting ends early in shouting match.” The story reported on the chaos that broke out between school board member Patsy Simpson and some members of the audience during one contentious school board meeting in May 2021.


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HERE are the stories comprising this prize-winning entry by staff writer Kristy Bailey.


“Wow!” wrote the contest judge, “This is fun-to-read reporting on a dustup at a school board meeting over content in a yearbook, and critical race theory, and the rights of students and. . . Anyone who spent time with these stories knows the players and their complaints with the officiating! Great job.”

Bailey was also recognized for second place in election/political reporting for her October 15, 2020 story, “Democrats pour money into state house in hopes of flipping balance of power in the N.C. General Assembly.”


Staff writer Kristy Bailey’s report on campaign finance reports and contributions to respective candidates for state house in one swing district, is reprinted HERE


The staff of the newspaper was awarded second place for news enterprise reporting for a series of articles in the October 1, 2020 edition which recapped the 2020 marches, demonstrations, and protests in downtown Graham since the death of George Floyd that May.


To read all of the newspaper’s stories that won various press awards (in one document), click HERE

To read just the October 1, 2020 stories on the background of the 2020 protests (prior to an even larger one later that month) click HERE


The newspaper’s coverage included a list of all those arrested during the protests, as well as interviews with law enforcement about whether treatment was even-handed. Also included were stories on the strategies of the Black Lives Matter protesters, who had as one of their objectives the removal of a Confederate monument on the north side of the Historic Court House in downtown Graham, and the counter-protesters who defended the presence of the statute as an historical tribute.

N.C. Press Association president Sandra Hurley presents Boney with the Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award for his stand in December 2020 for open courtrooms.

The news enterprise category consists of one or more stories on the same subject that go beyond routine reporting and demonstrate initiative and thoroughness in examining and explaining a trend, issue, or social problem.

The judges complimented the staff’s effort, “There’s a lot of important info in this piece. It’s definitely more than routine reporting, and it undeniably examines a trend.”

Staff writer Tomas Murawski was also recognized for several articles and his creative story ledes.

His December 17, 2020 story, “Ethnicity statistics from traffic stops don’t substantiate bias claims against sheriff’s deputies,” examined state figures on the proportion of blacks, whites, and Hispanics stopped by the Alamance County sheriff’s office, Burlington, Graham, and Mebane police, and compared those with statewide figures maintained by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).


To read the staff writer Tomas Murawski’s prize-winning investigative reporting story, and the statistics on which it was based, click HERE


While some demonstrators had criticized the sheriff’s office for discriminatory traffic stops, the state figures demonstrated that blacks and Hispanics were stopped proportionately less frequently by sheriff’s deputies than by their counterparts from other jurisdictions.

Murawski also won a third-place award for best ledes, a category intended to highlight a reporter’s best work based on accuracy, cleverness, creativity, impact, originality, and the ability to grab the attention of the reader at the beginning of a story.

One contest judge commented of a lede to a story about backyard chickens, “Creative ways to get the points across with the topic of each story. Granted, I am not a big fan of a question in a lede, but it still worked with the chicken one.”


HERE are the stories with clever ledes that netted staff writer Tomas Murawski an award for best ledes.


Murawski and publisher Tom Boney, Jr. shared a second-place award for business writing for their coverage of the differential treatment a request for economic incentives from Lotus Bakeries got from county commissioners (which Murawski reported on April 22, 2021) and Mebane’s city council (which Boney wrote a few weeks later, on May 6, 2022).


The different reactions by two separate boards are explained in these stories by staff writer Tomas Murawski, who covered the county commissioners, and publisher Tom Boney, Jr., who covered Mebane’s city council.  Read them HERE


The commissioners deadlocked, 2-2, thus denying Lotus another round of incentives, while Mebane’s city council was unanimous in giving the economic carrot.

Said the contest judges, “This story was different than any other in the category in that it was a business news story and not a business feature. That it explained the entire history of the business in the community and its unique relationship with the county commissioners, made it stand out in a very competitive category.”

Publisher Boney and the staff were recognized for the Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award among all non-daily newspapers in the state for Boney’s action in December 2020 in trying to keep Alamance County courtrooms open.


This package of stories and editorials provided information on the court case publisher Tom Boney, Jr. was trying to cover when a visiting district court judge ordered him out of a county courtroom, held in contempt, handcuffed, and to be jailed, as well as the newspaper’s editorial comments on the judge’s actions.  Read them HERE


Originally created through a generous donation by the family of Henry Lee Weathers, the former owner/publisher of The Star (Shelby), and NCPA president 1981-82, this award honors journalists or newspapers for exceptional work in advancing or upholding the cause of open government and freedom of information.

Boney made national headlines when he was told he was being held in contempt, forcibly removed from a courtroom, handcuffed, and ordered to be jailed in Graham while attempting to cover a court hearing on a case being heard in Alamance County district court on December 8, 2020.

The judge subsequently relented on the jailing, telling deputies to remove him from the Historic Court House instead.

The newspaper’s same actions – and stories and editorials surrounding the events – previously won the newspaper a special National Newspaper Association honor, the First Amendment Award, which is awarded periodically “in recognition of valiant actions by community newspaper journalists.”

 

Background on publisher’s ejection from district court
Fred Wilkins, a visiting retired district court judge from Rockingham County who was presiding December 8, 2020, initially said he was holding the publisher in contempt of court and ordered him to jail for refusing to leave when Boney insisted that the court proceedings should be open to the press.

Pending was the case of a white woman who was accused of attempting to run over two little black girls with her vehicle.

Boney had already protested to judge Wilkins by letter the previous week when Wilkins also excluded the press from a hearing regarding the conditions of bail for Rev. Gregory Drumwright. The Greensboro pastor had led many of the demonstrations in Graham, culminating in one that ended in law enforcement pepper-spraying to force the crowd to disperse on Halloween day in 2020.

Boney insisted that the state Constitution’s requirement that “all courts shall be open” took precedence over COVID-related precautions, but the judge refused to hear any of Boney’s statements.

The publisher subsequently estimated that approximately two to three dozen people were seated in the courtroom during the December 8 court session. There was no notice posted at the Historic Court House to warn visitors that they would be blocked from entering the courtroom.

“The courtroom is not closed,” the judge said, gesturing to those in the courtroom. “It’s closed to you,” judge Wilkins said to the publisher.

Boney also cited a then-recent U.S. Supreme Court case which had concluded, on another First Amendment challenge, “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

Alamance County’s two top judges – resident superior court judge Tom Lambeth and chief district court judge Bradley Reid Allen, Sr. – subsequently issued an order establishing a procedure to ensure that reporters were allowed into county courtrooms during the pandemic.


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