Paper brings home 18 awards from annual contest
BILOXI — The Leader-Call won a total of 18 honors, including the coveted Community Service Award, in the Mississippi Press Association’s 2018 Better Newspaper Contest on Saturday.
Owner/publisher Jim Cegielski, along with editors Sean Murphy and Mark Thornton, took the prize for their efforts to bring awareness and donations to the Animal Rescue League, which was in danger of shutting down because of budget shortages.
The Community Service Award is one of the only MPA honors that isn’t divided by circulation divisions. Only two are awarded each year — one to a daily paper and one to a non-daily.
When Cegielski was made aware of the dire financial struggles of the ARL, he and the Leader-Call got involved to help “rescue the rescuers” with a series of columns, editorials and stories, and the community responded to help keep the doors open.
“This award means more to us than just about any we could win, not only because just one non-daily in the entire state wins it, but also because service to the community is what we are here for,” Cegielski said. “Whether it’s holding public officials accountable, fighting corruption, shining a light on some of the darker corners of our community or helping an organization that has done much good here, it’s all done in the spirit of making our community better, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.”
The Leader-Call finished third in General Excellence, which is the award for the best overall paper in its division.
The Leader-Call swept the Best Headline category, with Thornton winning first for “Tased and Confused” in the story about a man who was attempting to help volunteer firefighters at a raging house fire getting tasered by a conservation officer. Murphy was second with “Brewer in a jam” about a man who was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend with peanut butter and Cegielski was third for “‘Pit Bull’ will defend Sennes” about former prosecutor J. Ronald Parrish defending an elderly couple on animal abuse charges. Each Best Headline entry consists of three headlines.
Cady Davis, who is an advertising representative and photographer for the Leader-Call, won first place for Sports Feature Photo in her first sports assignment for the paper. She captured the image of West Jones ball boy John Landon Pool crying and hugging Alabama signee Byron Young after he helped lead the Mustangs to the South State football championship at Picayune.
Thornton won first and second for Best Lede, which is newspaper vernacular for the opening sentence(s) of a story. The top one was about a man who went to prison for stealing a jug of coin’s from a pastor’s office and the second one was about a domestic abuse charge from an incident that occurred on Valentine’s Day.
Leader-Call columnists took two of the three awards for Best Commentary Column, with Cegielski finishing second and Murphy finishing third. The Leader-Call also took two of the three awards for Best Editorials, with Murphy taking second and Thornton finishing third. Each entry consists of three columns or editorials.
Thornton took second place for In-Depth/Investigative Coverage for his work at the Greg Burroughs manslaughter trial, and Cegielski and Thornton took third place in the same category for their work on the Sheriff Alex Hodge’s Lyon Ranch Road raid.
Thornton also took second in Sports Features for his story on gymnast Emma DeSantis signing with Alabama and he was third in the Game Story category for his coverage of the West Jones baseball team’s South State championship loss to Hattiesburg.
Murphy was third in the Best Feature Story category with his story about the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit and speech in Laurel, which occurred about two weeks before King’s death.
Thornton won third place in the Breaking News Category for his story about a Laurel man who died while trying to save his girlfriend’s toddler from a house fire on First Avenue.
"The work of these reporters, photographers and their organizations shows the continued vital significance of community journalism," said MPA Executive Director Layne Bruce.
Volunteers from the Kansas Press Association judged the MPA entries. Forty-three newspapers submitted a total of 1,937 entries in this year’s contest.