In the nearly dozen years that I've worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, I've never seen so many of my newsroom colleagues receive journalism awards for the work they do.
Simply put, this year the newsroom cleaned up.
In 2014 journalism contests, which honor work done in 2013, the Times Free Press was recognized on a state, regional and national level.
This month, we received the Tennessee Press Association's General Excellence award, which goes to the newspaper that accumulates the most points based on first-, second- and third-place awards from the TPA. We earned 14 first-place awards, far more than any other paper in the state.
We also received 10 awards in the Society of Professional Journalists' Green Eyeshade contest, which covers newspapers in 11 Southeastern states.
On the national level, "Speak No Evil," our project about the no-snitch culture of inner-city Chattanooga, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett received the Grambs Aronson Award for cartooning. Bennett also was a finalist for the Herblock Prize and the National Cartoonists Society's 2013 Reuben Award for Editorial Cartooning.
I'm so proud of the work our talented journalists do every day, and it's satisfying when that work is recognized by our peers in journalism. Every department in the newsroom and every discipline was honored this year. The work recognized ranged from feature photography and headline writing to sports, business and investigative reporting.
If I can brag on my colleagues, take a look at some of the comments from judges:
On the Sports section: "The depth and breadth of coverage is amazing. Tried to be picky and find something glaring to criticize. Couldn't do it. ... You bring sports pages, and all their variety, to life."
On Times page editorials: "While issues specific to Chattanooga, they are topics being discussed in communities across the nation. Well crafted and executed."
On a humor column by Mark Kennedy: "Thoroughly entertaining with perfect humorous metaphors throughout."
On reporting on Hays State Prison: "Many states have horrific challenges with their state prisons but few get the sort of insight into the myriad problems as revealed in this hard-hitting series. This is some of the best work I've seen in a long while."
On "Speak No Evil": "Seamless blend of narrative, watchdog and investigative journalism to address a serious public health threat."
On page design by Cindy Deifenderfer: "Creative, colorful and vivid design and layouts."
On sports writing by Stephen Hargis: "Writing and reporting outstanding. ... You drew me into these stories immediately."
Some work stands out. Hargis received seven awards this year, including Writer of the Year from the Tennessee Sports Writers Association.
Times page Editor Pam Sohn won two TPA first-place awards -- in one of those categories she also took home second-place honors -- and a first-place Green Eyeshade award for editorial writing. Pam was named the Times editor in April 2013, so she didn't even have a full year's worth of editorials to pick from when choosing contest entries.
Reporter Joy Lukachick won several awards for stories uncovering security breaches that led to inmate deaths at Hays State Prison in Trion, Ga. Her reporting exposed serious flaws in how the prison was run and how taxpayer money was spent.
Her stories brought to light that prison officials had known for at least two years that locks on the cells did not work -- some could be opened with toilet paper -- but did nothing to fix them; that prisoners were free to roam their cell units and assault fellow inmates or guards; that prison gangs called the shots and had enough power to even decide where inmates slept; and that officials bribed inmates with about 400 Little Caesars pizzas and buckets of fried chicken to hide their knives and cellphones during a state inspection. That inspection, by the way, resulted in state officials labeling Hays the "new flagship" of Georgia prisons -- but that was before Lukachick began publishing the truth about what was going on.
Lukachick's work on the Hays investigation received two first-place TPA awards and the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting from the Tennessee Associated Press Media Editors, among other honors.
Exposing problems, like Lukachick did, or delving into a community problem, like "Speak No Evil" did, or bringing our readers comprehensive sports and business coverage and vivid photographs and videos that help tell a story, are the paper's mission. That's what we strive for every day and what we hope to bring our readers in a quality newspaper.
Awards are affirmation that we're doing that.
Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Contact her at email@example.com.