News team nabs 11 awards at annual contest

Eric Johnson won first place in the News Photo category of the Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest for this photo of AHS choir director and 2011 Austin Teacher of the Year Brian Johnson. Herald file photo

BLOOMINGTON — The Austin Daily Herald cleaned up in the Minnesota Newspaper Association contest in 2012, claiming 11 awards including five first place finishes and second place in general excellence.

The awards, which were announced at the annual MNA banquet in Minneapolis Thursday night, included four for photographer Eric Johnson, five among Herald reporters and one for advertising in its Southern Minnesota Magazine publication. The Herald, competing against all daily newspapers in the state with a circulation less than 10,000, finished second in general excellence behind the Faribault Daily News. The contests had more than 3,500 total entries.

Johnson took three first-place awards: one for overall best news photo, one for best sports photo and one for use of photography as a whole. He also got second in the photo story category.

“Really solid work,” the judges wrote of Johnson for his use of photography as a whole. “Good, strong photo hierarchy, helping the reader visually understand the weight of stories.”

Among the reporting awards, Trey Mewes took first in the social issues category for his three-part series on reverse immigration in Austin.

“This was a clear winner in a big category of quality contenders,” the judges said. “Mewes told his story through the people he interviewed, people whose trust he had to earn at the very time their lives were being upended. Immigration as a topic has been tackled by many newspapers, but few have invested the time and resources necessary to produce this quality.”

Jason Schoonover won two awards; a first place in the arts and entertainment category for his story on the Riley family, many of whom are musicians, and second place in social issues for his “Cost of justice” report on the price of the Mower County Jail and Justice Center.

“Schoonover gave voice to the leading proponents and opponents of the jail, and then let readers digest the numbers and arrive at their own conclusions,” the judges wrote. “It was a pleasure to read this one.”

Former reporter Amanda Lillie took second in investigative reporting for her report “Waiting for closure” about sexual abuse victims coping with trauma years after being abused.

“The story reflects the serious nature of abuse and its long-term effects,” said the judges. “Great job finding sources from 20 years ago and discussing their lives since the incidents.”

The Herald also took home third place in the general reporting category.

The contest this year was judged by newspaper professionals in Indiana.

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