Sun Advocate staff members display the First Place Awards won at the Utah Press Better Newspaper competition. Front row, C.J. McManus, Richard Shaw. Back Row, Sheri Davies, Kevin Scannell, John Serfustini, Tammy Woosley, Darla Dunn.
The Sun Advocate's blanket coverage of last year's drought and wild fires won a spate of awards in the Utah Better Newspapers Competition on Saturday. More first-place prizes for photography and feature writing gave the paper enough points to garner the top honor - the General Excellence Award for 2012 among the state's Group II newspapers.
It was a certain kind of March Madness that comes each year at this time. Attendees at the Utah Press Association awards presentation tried to keep a running tally as each first, second and third place award was given in each category. In the end, the tally had the Sun Advocate ahead of its sister newspaper, The Vernal Express.
For many years the Carbon County paper had taken in many awards, but not since 2007 has it been proclaimed the best among newspapers with circulations between 3,000-7,000 paid subscribers in the state.
"This is a milestone for us," said publisher Richard Shaw. "We have almost a completely different editorial team now than we did in 2007, and they now have come into their own. The last time we won, the advertising categories are what gave us the chance to power to the top.
"For 2012 it was the news content that appeared in our paper that helped us finish first."
In-depth articles about the impact of the drought won first place for Feature Series. Then continued coverage of the Seeley Fire garnered top awards for Best Breaking News, Best News Series, and Best Front Page.
A two-page spread on the collaboration between archaeologists and road builders in Nine Mile Canyon won First Place in Best Feature Story, Best Photo Page and Best Feature or Community Page.
Split-second timing on a picture of an arrest in Price Canyon after a high-speed chase and foot race won Best News Photo.
The paper also had numerous second and third place awards to back up the first place plaques.
Second place awards included kudos for the best special section, best front page, best feature or community lifestyle page, best news coverage, best circulation promotion, best advertising idea and best staff produced run-of-press advertising campaign.
Third place finishes were for best editorial, best editor's feature column and best sports page.
The Emery County Progress also won numerous awards, four first places, one second place and six third places.
"Since we last won the newspaper business has changed immensely," said Shaw. "We are no longer just a newspaper, but an entire media outlet, with the largest web numbers in southeastern Utah of any entity or business. The web site's (sunad.com and ecprogress.com) bring in as many as 32,000 unique visitors per month (Source: compete.com, a neutral monitoring site) and we have gone over a half million hits on our site some months. We do podcasts and have done some video on the site as well. Our plans are that soon we will be expanding to do a daily audio newscast that people will be able to play anytime they come to our webpage. Our breaking news feature also gives those who live in the area fast and accurate reports about any major events that happen in Castle Country."
Shaw says that he sometimes he hears from people that upstate media get information on their websites quicker than the Sun Advocate does when local breaking news happens. But he has an answer for that criticism.
"We strive for accuracy," he said. "It would be easy to report what we hear from witnesses or people that are hearing rumors about something, but we know that usually first news reports and eye witness accounts are often filled with things other than what really happened. So yes, sometimes we are a little slower, but we want people to have the correct news, not just that what is expedient so we can be first."
The two paid papers serve all of Carbon and Emery counties, and along with the Smart Shopper, a free newspaper published by the papers, serve 14,000 homes.