DCN finishes third in 'Newspaper of the Year' standings

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Newspaper earns seventh straight 'General Excellence' designation

The Dickinson County News received 40 awards and secured the top spot among the state’s weekly newspapers Friday at the Iowa Newspaper Association 2017 Convention and Trade Show.

The event was held Feb. 2-3 at the Des Moines Marriott Hotel.

The newspaper’s first-place “General Excellence” designation takes writing, photography, advertising, page design, website elements and community involvement into account. The newspaper earned 92 points based on scoring of first, second and third place awards.

The total placed the Dickinson County News third in the INA’s “Newspaper of the Year” standings. Daily newspapers took the top two spots: The Des Moines Register was named “Newspaper of the Year” with 127 points. The Carroll Daily Times Herald finished second, with 120 points.


Design Editor Christina Sorenson was selected as one of three recipients of the Genevieve Mauck Stoufer Outstanding Young Iowa Journalists award. The award is presented jointly by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and the journalism schools at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Drake University. Sorenson has a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design and illustration from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She joined the DCN in October 2010.

“Nina has a gift for making average story packages look good and making good story packages look great,” Managing Editor Russ Mitchell said in his letter of nomination. “She finds new ways to surprise and impress us each and every week. It’s hard to describe how meaningful that is to the writers in our small office.”

Other recipients of the Outstanding Young Journalist award in 2017 were Rebecca McKinsey of The Carroll Daily Times Herald and Joel Aschbrenner of The Des Moines Register.

Sorenson also received top honors for Best Ad Featuring Furniture, Furnishings, Appliances or Hardware, Best Ad Idea for a Community Promotion or Event and Best Web Advertisement.


Sports Editor Matt Heinrichs’ 12 Iowa Better Newspaper Contest awards were the most won by any journalist in the state.

He brought home four first-place awards, including: Best Sports Story, Best Sports Feature Story, Best Personality Feature Story and Best News Feature Photo.

His two-part series titled “The Power to Stand,” about former Luther College football player Chris Norton’s journey back from paralysis, won for Best Sports Feature Story and Best Personality Feature Story, and finished third for Best Series.

Judges were impressed with Heinrichs’ storytelling.

“Great writer recounting a powerful story,” one judge said. “Gripping lead followed by well-researched detail, further enhanced by excellent storytelling. Having a young man’s personality, shaped by conviction, come through so strongly is a beautiful thing to read.”

Heinrichs’ coverage of the 2015-16 Okoboji girls basketball team’s state semifinal loss to Western Christian this past March earned him the Best Sports Story award.

Judges said the story was the “Best of the bunch. Hands down. The lede was terrific. The writer painted a picture with his words and descriptions.”

Heinrichs’ photo of a little girl being pulled on a dogsled taken at the 2016 University of Okoboji Winter Games was the cover photo of the Better Newspaper Contest’s winners tab and earned a Best News Feature Photo award.

Judges loved that both the girl and her furry companion were smiling while racing across the snow and ice.

“This is every single thing a feature photo should be,” a judge said. “I don’t know whether the dog or the kid has a bigger smile, and that’s what makes this photo so much fun.”

The former Iowa Lakes and Estherville Lincoln Central student also won second place awards for Best News Feature Photo, Best Blog, Best Slideshow, Best Sports Feature Photo and Best Video. He brought home additional third place awards for Best Sports Feature Story and Best Sports Story.


For the fourth time in his career, Russ Mitchell earned the Harrison “Skip” Weber Investigative Reporting Award, which recognizes journalists who went above-and-beyond in covering an issue important to their communities.

The Dickinson County News managing editor began covering the Lee Christensen murder case as word of the murder surfaced in Estherville in 2015. His 2016 coverage of events leading up to Christensen’s trial and July 1 conviction were submitted for Weber Investigative Reporting Award consideration.

“Mitchell was often the first to update readers on developments in the case even though his newsroom is a county away,” the DCN’s letter of nomination said. “He made numerous trips from Spirit Lake to Estherville to check court files. Readers received updates whenever the Christensen trial was delayed. Jury selection began Tuesday, June 21 and Mitchell was on hand as a 34-member jury pool was narrowed down to 12 jurors and a pair of alternates. He was among 90 people who looked on as attorneys submitted their opening arguments. He also posted an extensive timeline of the murder as part of a mid-trial update on June 23.”

Other winners of the Harrison “Skip” Weber award in 2017 were Scott Levine of the Clinton Herald; Lee Rood, Rekha Basu and Jason Clayworth of The Des Moines Register and The Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune staff.

Mitchell’s coverage of the July 1 second-degree murder verdict was also recognized with a first-place award in the Best News Story category and third place in the Best Breaking News category. He received a second-place award in the Best News Feature category for “A look into the future,” a profile about psychic services found in the Iowa Great Lakes.

“An interesting spin on a topic likely not common in small town America,” judges wrote. “Solid writing in the best sense of 'feature' journalism."

He won a first-place award in the Best Blog by a Newspaper category for the second-consecutive year.

Mitchell also picked up a third-place Best Breaking News award for special assignment work in the Daily Class I circulation category. His story about the sudden resignation of a local pastor appeared in the Spencer Daily Reporter’s May 19, 2016, edition.


Photographer Dave Petrick earned first-place honors in the Best Slideshow category for UV splash coverage and Best Sports Feature Photo category for a photo of Blake Lineweaver being congratulated after a race.

Publisher Paula Buenger and General Manager Jason Lindsay were on hand in Des Moines to collect awards in the following categories:

First place – Coverage of Government and Politics, Coverage of Court and Crime and Best Use of Social Media.

Second place – Best Editorial Page, Best Feature Page and Best Special Section - Editorial for the newspaper’s annual Progress edition.

The DCN received third-place awards for Coverage of Education, Coverage of Business, Best Use of Graphics, Best Video, Best Newspaper Marketing, and Doris Welle’s blog at dickinsoncountynews.com. The paper also received third-place honors for Best Ad Series or Campaign Featuring Any Service or Merchandise Category and Best of Class Advertising.

The Iowa 2017 Better Newspaper Contests, which were judged by the Colorado Press Association. Approximately 4,650 entries in dozens of categories were judged by class, based on circulation. The annual contests are sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation.


All three papers, operating under Northwest Iowa Publishing and Publisher Paula Buenger, combined to win 62 awards in different categories, including advertising, design, websites, writing and photography.

The Daily Reporter in Spencer received awards for eight entries in the Daily Class I category.

The Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune took home 14 awards and received a "General Excellence" designation in the largest weekly newspaper division. The staff also earned a Harrison "Skip" Weber award for investigative reporting.

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