DCN makes strong showing at state newspaper contest

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Awards propel paper to 11th straight 'General Excellence' designation

They didn't have to travel any snowy roads this year, and they didn't have to hurry back from Des Moines to finish their next edition, but the staff of the Dickinson County News still earned a healthy amount of acclaim at this year's Iowa Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest. The newspaper won 24 awards Thursday — eight of them first place.

The award ceremony and related convention were held virtually this year due to COVID-19, rather than their usual venue in the Des Moines Marriott.

The DCN secured its 11th consecutive "General Excellence" award, placing third in the state's largest category of weekly newspapers. The award takes writing, photography, advertising, page design and digital content into account, and is presented to the top three newspapers in five classifications separated by publication frequency and circulation size.

Sport Editor Matt Heinrichs won top honors for his photo of wrestler Isaac Dixon.
File photo by Matt Heinrichs

"When the DCN moved up a division ahead of last's year's call for entries, we all knew we'd be in for some stiff competition from our colleagues around the state," DCN News Editor Seth Boyes said. "It's really encouraging to see how well we've placed and how consistent the quality of the paper has stayed."

The DCN earned a first-place award for "Best Newspaper Website" to go with runner-up finishes in "Best of Class Advertising" and "Best Front Page." The paper placed third in "Coverage of Government and Politics," "Best Headline Writing" and "Best Use of Social Media."

Boyes and DCN Sports Editor Matt Heinrichs combined to win 19 awards on Thursday.

The duo earned the top two spots in the INA's new "Best Photographer" category. Heinrichs placed first and Boyes placed second.

Sports Editor Matt Heinrichs took place in the Iowa Newspaper Association's new "Best Photographer" category this year. Heinrichs' portfolio included not only sports photos but other event like the March for Justice which took place June 4 in Spencer.
File photo by Matt Heinrichs

Each entrant in the new category could submit between six and 10 of their published photos which were then judged on technical ability and the breadth of work. Heinrichs' portfolio ranged from area sports coverage to the University of Okoboji Winter Games and the March for Justice which took place June 4 in Spencer.

"Seth and I were both excited when the INA announced the addition of the 'Best Photographer' award this year," Heinrichs said. "We take a lot of pride in being able to tell a story through our images as well as our writing. To be named the two best photographers in the large weekly classification is a great honor."

Heinrichs also took first place in the "Best Sports Photo" category with a dramatically angled shot of wrestler Isaac Dixon's match on the stage of the Sami Bedell Performing Arts Center in Spirit Lake. The sports editor had been sure to prepare for the unusual venue and lighting well ahead of the whistle in order to properly capture the competitors.

"The clear standout among many good photos," the judge said. "The angle, color, texture and overall composition are truly expert-level."

Heinrichs took all three spots on the proverbial podium for "Best Slideshow," with his photos of the March for Justice earning the first-place plaque.

"Compelling images that convey a range of emotions regarding an important subject when words are often superfluous," the judge said of the photos.

News Editor Seth Boyes was able to snap a photo of a roadside situation as blizzard conditions moved into the Lakes Area on Feb. 12, 2020.
File photo by Seth Boyes

Judges also said Heinrichs' gallery of photos from the 40th annual U of O Winter Games captured a wide range of not only activities but emotions while telling the story of a "distinctly local frolic." The third slideshow, which documented competitors attempting to play basketball while mounted on donkeys in the Okoboji Middle School gymnasium, took the category's third slot. The judge said the slideshow showed "joy and silliness before the pandemic" and went on to say it and stories like it are always popular among readers.

Heinrichs and Boyes shared a first-place finish in "Best Photo Story" for their coverage of the U of O Winter Games, and placed third in the same category for their coverage of the march in Spencer — bookending the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune's runner-up finish for coverage of local campaign events. The category is judged on news value, impact of storytelling, composition and overall quality.

Boyes also walked away with the top two awards for "Best Breaking News Photo." The second-place photo showed emergency personnel responding to a vehicle in the ditch along Highway 71 during heavy blizzard conditions the afternoon of Feb. 12, 2020. Boyes' top-placing photo depicted Assistant Spirit Lake Fire Chief Chris Hoerichs shouting to his fellow firefighters during a structure fire northeast of Superior. The judge said the photo's heavy foreground focus accentuated the urgency of the situation.

News Editor Seth Boyes captured Assistant Spirit Lake Fire Chief Chris Hoerichs as he shouted instructions to his fellow fire fighters during a call northeast of Superior.
File photo by Seth Boyes

Boyes' coverage of another urgent situation also earned him a top prize in the "Breaking News Story" category. The article described local teen Calvin Grosvenor's rescuing Jesse Fletchall of Grant City, Missouri, from West Lake Okoboji in May 2020. The two had been scuba diving in Iowa's deepest natural lake when Fletchall experienced an embolism and seizure several dozen feet below the surface. Grosvenor not only brought his diving partner to the surface but swam him to shore and performed CPR on the man until emergency crews arrived — likely saving Fletchall's live, according to local authorities. A contest judge described the local coverage as "a good story all the way around, made great by virtue of a cool-headed hero, who admits in the story he had no idea he could do it."

The 2021 Iowa Better Newspaper Contest was judged by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. Approximately 3,000 entries in dozens of categories were judged by class, based on circulation. The Dickinson County News competes in Weekly Class III — the largest of the weekly categories — for papers with 1,501 circulation or above. This was the DCN's second consecutive year competing in the Weekly Class III category.

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