DCN named state's top mid-sized weekly newspaper

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Dickinson County News received 30 awards and secured the top spot among the state's mid-sized weekly newspapers Friday at the Iowa Newspaper Association 2016 Convention and Trade Show.

The event was held Feb. 5-6 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 76 points based on scoring of first, second and third place awards.

The total placed the Dickinson County News fourth in the INA's "Newspaper of the Year" standings.

"The staff holds itself to some very high standards," General Manager Jason Lindsay said. "From reporters, to advertising representatives, to management, everyone looks for ways to constantly improve. Week in, week out the team works feverishly to put out a quality product that our readers will appreciate. I could not be more proud of the staff's dedication."

The newspaper won a first-place award in the "Best Special Section" category for its inaugural "Progress" report. The special section appeared in the March 25 issue.

"This section was stocked with content throughout," judges said. "A nice, clean layout made it a breeze to look through. Good photos mixed in throughout. A lot of work went into putting this together and it's evident the staff took a lot of pride in it."

Design Editor Christina Sorenson put the special section together. She also won a first-place award for "best use of graphics." Many of her selections are featured as part of the "Life" section cover story each week.

"The Spirit Lake Dickinson Co. News had excellent use of graphics, with images/photos/charts thoughtfully placed to accompany text," judges said.

Sports Editor Matt Heinrichs took home five awards, including first-place honors for "Best Sports Columnist." Judges said Heinrichs' columns had "crisp writing."

"The writer can tell a story in an engaging way that keeps the reader interested," the judge said. "Enjoyed all three columns. I can relate to this line: 'It got to the point that losing felt like my soul was being ripped from my body and the rare win provided no more than a slight sense of relief.'"

His first-place "Best Photo Story" entry "shows a range of emotions in various sports with great action shots," judges said of May 27 coverage at the 2015 Iowa High School State Track & Field Championships. "All around great page."

A collection of photos from the same event earned Heinrichs a third-place award in the "Best Slideshow" category. Footage of Spirit Lake's appearance at the Girls State Basketball Tournament earned second-place honors in the "Best Video" category.

The newspaper had a 1-2 finish in the "Best Sports Feature" category. DCN Managing Editor Russ Mitchell received a first place award for "Everything was too loud," a Sept. 30 feature about Joan Becker. Her son, Mark, suffered from mental illness and was convicted in the shooting death of Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.

"This is an extraordinarily terrible story told extraordinarily well," judges said. "From the start it grabs you and just keeps on grabbing, with the first 11 paragraphs in particular brilliantly structured. They and what follows are also full of depth. The repeated shifts from short, staccato sentences to longer ones and then back again are great. You don't want to put this piece down until you've read it all."

Heinrichs won a second-place award in the category for a Sept. 9 story called "Nightmare ends in dream for Poock." The story chronicled Spirit Lake graduate Cody Poock's recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and the football player's bid for playing time at the University of Minnesota.

Mitchell won the Harrison "Skip" Weber Investigative Reporting award for the third time in his career. Judges recognized his ongoing coverage of an out-of-state company's plans to construct a 380-foot-by-101-foot hog confinement building near the area's chain of glacier-carved lakes. Coverage included details from a series of meetings in the winter and spring of 2015.

Mitchell won a first-place award in the "Best Breaking News" category for an Oct. 8, 2014, story called "Family plans to rebuild." It featured the Keith and Sharma Brockmeyer family, who lost their Spirit Lake home to a fire.

"Great effort posting this breaking-news piece online," judges said.

The editor's "Mitchell Report" at dickinsoncountynews.com placed first in the "Best Blog by a Newspaper" category.

"A prolific online blog made all the more impressive by the varies ways this authors shares his views with his community," judges said. "Thank you for your fresh ledes. This blog avoids the pitfalls of most community columns by staying poignant, funny, and above all, informative."

Mitchell won a second-place "Best News Story" award for "Harris-Lake Park's worst hour." The April 22 story focused on community efforts to encourage safe driving through a mock accident staged at the start of the school day. The editor also won a third-place "Best Series" award for local installments of "Gone Cold," a statewide effort to shed light on unsolved crimes.

Volunteer work and coverage of mock accidents in both Milford and Lake Park earned the Dickinson County News a first-place award in the "Community Leadership" category.

"Hands down the winner," judges said. "This newspaper went the extra mile to produce an impactful event on an important issue. Awesome to see the entire newsroom get involved and go the extra mile."

Sorenson designed an award-winning "congratulations" ad from the Harris-Lake Park booster club for athlete Darin Hesebeck. It took home first place honors in the "Best Ad Featuring Miscellaneous" and third place in the "Best of Class" category.

"Simple and effective," Judges said. "Gorgeous art element. Made the judges want to reach out and extend congratulations as well."

Sorenson also took home a first-place award in the "Best Advertising Featuring Agriculture" category for the State Bank's "Congratulations" ad in the Dickinson County Fair results special section.

A collection of Milford Holiday Fantasy ads earned Sorenson a second-place award for "Best Ad Series or Campaign Featuring Any Service or Merchandise."

A website ad called "a year to remember" promoted the online purchase of sports photos at dickinsoncountynews.com It won second place in the "Best Web Advertisement" category.

The Dickinson County News won a pair of awards in the "Best Newspaper Marketing" category. Second place went to a campaign promoting the DCN's sports Twitter account. Third place went to the "We Offer More," ad campaign in the Dickinson County News.

The newspaper placed first in "Best Use of Social Media" as well.

"This publication understands the importance of using all forms of social media -- not just Facebook -- to engage readers," judges said. "It's Facebook account has a good variety of content with photos and links back to its homepage (as opposed to using the platform to mainly post scores and news updates). When a story is breaking, this publication uses social media to post photos from the scene and tells its readers to check back for more information. As for Twitter, its sport editor's Twitter page is fun and engaging and I like how the publication's own Twitter page retweets his content about big games. This publication is also growing its Instagram and YouTube accounts. Bravo!"

The newspaper placed first in the "Best Headline Writing" and "Coverage of Court and Crime" categories as well.

"Headlines were witty and informative (for instance on page 1 of the April 15, 2015 edition, 'The Catch Before the Hatch' with a photo of two men with a large fish, as well as a more detailed subhead)," judges said. "In several instances, the paper uses brief, punchy headlines that grab the reader's attention, and add a subhead to give more information on what the story is about."

The DCN finished third in the "Best Coverage of Business" category.

Brandon Hurley's photo coverage of a fatal Spirit Lake apartment fire in December 2014 took home top honors in the "Best Slideshow" category.

"Great series of photos that tells a complete story," judges said.

The staff writer's coverage of the fire won a second-place award for "Best Breaking News Photo" and a third-place award for "Best Breaking News Story" as well.

An Aug. 5 feature about Ashley Allard and Miracle Burn Camp earned Hurley a first-place award in the "Best Personality Feature Story" category.

"This is a moving piece that not only highlights the subject's inspiring story, but also the good work of the camp that helped her, and the larger lessons the reader can take away," judges said.

The Des Moines Register was named Friday as the Iowa Newspaper Association 2016 "Newspaper of the Year." Approximately 4,000 entries in dozens of categories were judged by class, based on circulation.


All three papers, operating under Northwest Iowa Publishing and Publisher Paula Buenger, combined to win 52 awards in different categories, including advertising, design, websites, writing and photography.

* The Daily Reporter in Spencer received high honors in the small dailies category, with four first-place awards and 14 awards overall.

* The Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune took home eight awards in the Iowa Newspaper Association 2016 Better Newspaper Contests, including first-place honors in a pair of categories.

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