Messenger captures TPA Sweepstakes award

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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The Wise County Messenger has been ranked among the best newspapers in Texas based on judges’ decisions in the 2013 Better Newspaper Contest, sponsored by the Texas Press Association.

Awards were presented last Saturday in Houston at the TPA’s 134th annual meeting at the Houston Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The Messenger earned 900 points – the most earned by any newspaper in any of the 10 contest categories. It finished 100 points ahead of Hood County News in Granbury, which won last year’s Sweepstakes award to break a 10-year streak of wins for the Messenger.

The newspaper brought home first-place plaques for its website, feature and sports photos, headline and news writing and sports coverage. It also took second in column writing, feature writing, general excellence and page design, and finished third in advertising and news photos. All the entries were published in 2012.

COSTLY WAR – The Messenger’s four-part series last fall on the “War on Drugs” earned top honors in the Community Service category. The stories by four different writers focused on four different aspects of the four-decade effort to reduce drug use in the U.S.

The WCM also won the semi-weekly Community Service category for “America’s Costliest War” – the war on drugs – a four-part series which ran in November and examined several different aspects of the issue through the eyes of local people.

Writers Brian Knox, Brandon Evans, Erika Pedroza and Bob Buckel contributed stories to the series, with photographs by Joe Duty and graphics by Todd Griffith and Jimmy Alford.

“Outstanding coverage on an important/controversial issue,” the judges from the Arkansas Press Association wrote. “Top notch writing/reporting. Great input from readers. Photos and layout couldn’t be better. A real service to the community.”

The Messenger’s website,, outshone the competition according to the judges.

“Great content! Lots of entry points!” the judge wrote. “Great layout and use of color. Love the way the headlines and story intros are in small boxes instead of lines of text. Really helps break up the page and draw the viewer in.”

The site is designed and maintained by Griffith.

LITTLE DOLL – Joe Duty’s photo of Little Skyler Rhodes dressed up as Raggedy Ann for trick-or-treat melted the judges’ hearts and helped win the Messenger top honors in the Feature Photo category in the 2013 Texas Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.

Winners in the feature photography competition, shot by Joe Duty, included a giant bubble at Sonflower Camp and little Skyler Rhodes dressed up as Raggedy Ann for trick-or-treat.

“Shining at Sonflower: Loved the portrait and the nice moment at the event,” the judge wrote. “Little Doll: Usually I would not give a first place to a portrait in a features category, but the photographer really gave the reader a great photo illustration.”

Sports photo winners, also by Duty, were a photo from a Bridgeport-Kennedale baseball game and the beginning of the Reunion Run in October – which was used for the cover of TPA’s “Winner’s Circle” publication detailing the contest results.

“Solid photos,” the judge wrote. “Both entries captured the essence of the events and the emotion. Very nice work.”

The headline-writing award cited the Messenger’s three entries as tops in the category. They were:

  • “Now Serving: Chico veterans need to fill big shoes” on an Aug. 11 volleyball preview;
  • “Garbage out, taxes in: Council renews contracts” which ran on a Nov. 28 Decatur city council story; and
  • “Burglary-shooting story full of holes” on an Oct. 3 story about a reported break-in and shooting in New Fairview that turned out to be a hoax.

In the news writing category, judges cited a July 11 story by Brandon Evans about the tragic death of Alvord teenager Marcus Silletti and the Nov. 24 story by Brian Knox on the suicide of murder suspect David Malone in the Wise County Jail.

“The train death package was exceptional – a textbook example of what a good local paper can do better than any other news source,” the judge wrote. “Superb reporting and writing. The top story in the category, hands-down.”

Sports coverage also drew raves from the judge. The issues submitted were May 16 – the Messenger’s coverage of the state track meet – and Nov. 14, with volleyball, football and the state cross-country meet getting extensive coverage.

“You do exactly what a community newspaper should do – cover the community in faces and events,” the judge wrote. “Very reader-friendly. The hurdles photo was big time. I like that you were not afraid to use just photos and a headline on your lead page. You could feel the passion with the expression in your photos.”

Advertising entries drew the comment, “Nice work in a very strong category.”

Column writing entries by Brandon Evans and Bob Buckel were cited as “a balance of the serious and the humorous. Well done for Wise County.”

The feature writing entries, “Rose in bloom” by Erika Pedroza and “Life minus one” by Brandon Evans, were praised as “Great stories, could tell a lot of work went into them,” by the Arkansas judge.

The Hood County News edged the Messenger for the General Excellence award. Judges saw complete issues from March 31 and Nov. 7 and commended their “superb election coverage and engaging layout. Lots of local faces and reaction.”

News photos, both by Joe Duty, were cited as “good work that catches the aftermath of a fire and a train-truck collision.”

The Messenger’s design entries – a front page, society page, sports page and opinion page – also drew positive comments. “Great front page put this one in the winner’s bracket. Great sports cover page, too.”

That front page, from the March 21 issue featuring a firefighter in full gear and showing the cost of each item as a lead into an advance on a Fire Benefit Dinner and Auction, is reproduced on the Sweepstakes plaque, which will join a dozen others on the walls of the Messenger office at 115 South Trinity.

For this year’s contest, 148 newspapers submitted 1,505 entries, broken into 10 divisions in which newspapers compete against papers of similar circulation size. The Messenger competes in the largest semi-weekly category for papers with circulation over 4,000.

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