A series of articles and editorials written by members of The Aegis staff about the alarming rise in traffic deaths in Harford County last year - and how law enforcement rushed to address the situation - has been named the best public service journalism in the region last year.
The Best in Show for Public Service was one of nearly three dozen honors earned by the editorial, photography and sports staffs of The Aegis and The Record at the annual Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association awards luncheon held near BWI Marshall Airport on Friday. The awards bestowed covered 49 categories of news and sports reporting, columns, editorials, photography, graphic design, plus videos and web content produced in 2012.
In addition to receiving individual honors, The Aegis was named Newspaper of the Year for in its circulation classification, an honor it shared this year with The Catholic Review of Baltimore. Those selections are based on the most first- and second-place category wins by newspapers in six circulation classifications. The Aegis competes among non-daily papers with circulation in excess of 20,000.
The Newspaper of the Year honor was the second consecutive one for The Aegis. In addition to winning last year, the paper previously received the award in 2008 and 2001. Judging for this year's MDDC Press Association editorial contest was done by members of the South Carolina Press Association.
Public Service Award
In the aftermath of a shocking triple-fatal accident near Bel Air in mid-February, news staff members Erika Butler and Bryna Zumer and Kayla Bawroski, who has since left the staff, reported and wrote dozens of articles over the next six months about safety issues, while telling the life stories of the people who died. The ongoing coverage was enhanced by editorials written by the paper's multiple award winning Editorial Page Editor Jim Kennedy and augmented with maps and other graphics produced by graphic designer Patti Irwin, as well as an opinion column written by Butler.
"The continuing coverage of highway deaths kept shining the light on a dangerous situation," wrote one of the contest judges. "Glad to see editorials on the top as part of the package too."
Although the coverage did not have an immediate impact on the spiraling death toll, there has been a noticeable decline in traffic deaths a year later. For all of 2012, 32 people died in traffic accidents in Harford County, including seven in a single month - February. As of Monday, there have been eight traffic deaths in the county in a little over four and a half months this year, a sharp reduction from the same period in 2012.
The coverage of the highway fatalities marked the second time The Aegis has been honored for best public service in the region. In 2007, Butler received the award for her coverage of the county's sex offender registration program.
Photo, video coverage
In addition to the award for public service coverage, The Aegis received two other Best in Show awards Friday, meaning the staff's work was judged the best last year among all newspapers and newspaper websites in the region, regardless of their size.
Photo Editor Matt Button received a Best in Show for a news photography for his stunning shots taken at the funeral of Harford County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Ian Loughran last September.
"This captures the somber feel of an important funeral and makes me feel like I was there," wrote a judge. "I immediately know what the story is."
Video coverage of Deputy Sgt. Loughran's funeral by former Aegis staff photographer Nicole Munchel and videographer/photographer Jon Sham was judged Best in Show for web video.
"Beautifully made, emotional video. Embodied the respect the community had for Deputy Sgt. Loughran," a judge wrote about the entry.
Another Best in Show award of note went to ex-Aegis staff photographer and Harford County resident Brian Krista, who works for sister Baltimore Sun Media Group community papers in Baltimore and Howard counties. Krista, still an occasional contributor to The Aegis, was honored for a photo series he produced for the Howard County Times.
Individual Aegis awards
In addition to the Best in Show awards, other individual first-place awards won by the staff include:
• Editorial: Jim Kennedy, "To be ignored," which talked about the consequences of not voting.
• Local Column, critical thinking: Jim Kennedy, "By the book isn't necessarily what's expected." Of the column a judge wrote: "Well written and thoughtful voice made for an interesting, compelling column."
• Spot News Coverage: Erika Butler, "Three siblings die in crash," coverage from the scene of head-on collision near Bel Air that killed a sister and two brothers. "This article is well-written with tact about a very tragic and delicate situation," wrote a judge.
• Continuing Coverage: "Bel Air firefighters suspended for (Facebook) posts," explored the impact of social media after some firefighters complained about not getting a discount at a local fast food restaurant. "Smart, well-written coverage that gave perspective to the issue," a judge wrote.
• Investigative Reporting: Bryna Zumer, "Council to increase staff, budget," detailed staff increases and exposed backroom manipulations leading to a salary increase for the council administrator.
• Sports Story: Dewey Fox and correspondent Hafiz Rashid: "Harford Terps react to Big Ten move," interviews with ex-players, alumni and current players about the University of Maryland's switch in athletic conferences. "Writer[s] used multiple sources and didn't just address the aspects everyone was surely talking about but also aspects some probably hadn't considered," a judge wrote.
• Sports Feature: Dewey Fox: "North Harford's hardwood kings," included interviews with players and the coach on the 50th anniversary of the high school basketball team's only state championship. "A gem among gems," wrote a judge. "This one grabbed my attention right away and held it. Multiple interviews, good quotes, good material and good writing. It has a nice nostalgic feel to it."
• Multimedia Storytelling - News: Former staff member Marissa Gallo, Bryna Zumer and Allan Vought compiled an interactive gallery of "10 Myths about the Bel Air Walmart." According to the judges, the entry was a "creative, reader-friendly use of alternative storytelling."
• Community Service and Citizen Involvement (Web): Marissa Gallo for coverage, posts on the Harford County Public Library "Fifty Shades of Grey" controversy. "Interesting read on a divisive topic," said a judge. "Newspaper raised awareness of the issue and readers sounded off using the online commenting forum."
• Best Photo Gallery (Web): Photography Staff (Matt Button, Nicole Munchel and other staff, outside contributors): Best Harford photos of 2012. "What a great summary of the year," wrote a judge. I fell like I got a sense of what life is like in Harford. Some photos were humorous, some emotional, a great range."
• Sports Column (Non-daily): Sports Editor Randy McRoberts, "Boys lacrosse playoff a debacle, but it works," talked about the convoluted seeding for the annual state lacrosse tournament. "This writer did a great job doing exactly what reporters need to do – questioning those in authority," wrote the judge. "Well done."
Ten second-place awards won by The Aegis include: Local Column, critical thinking: Bryna Zumer; Continuing Coverage, Marissa Gallo; Local Government Coverage, Bryna Zumer; Spot News Photography, Erika Butler; Photo Series, Matt Button; Business Reporting, Dewey Fox; Headline, Jim Kennedy; Multimedia Storytelling - Sports, Allan Vought; Community Service and Community Involvement, Bryna Zumer and Nicole Munchel; Sports Column (non-daily), Allan Vought.
Awards for The Record
The Record, whose staff is the same as that of The Aegis, received five first- and five second-place awards in the classification of non-daily papers with under 10,000 circulation. In addition, Allan Vought's sports column, "The Graw, what it was and could still be," which looked back at the 100th anniversary of the opening of the old Havre de Grace Race Track, received a Best in Show award for a non-daily sports column.
Other first-place awards by The Record include: Election and Ballot Initiatives coverage: Bryna Zumer for coverage of the 2012 Havre de Grace city election; Spot News Photo, Matt Button, from the Port Deposit tanker truck crash; Sports Story, Dewey Fox, for the coverage of the Aberdeen High girls basketball team's 2012 state championship; and Web Video, Jon Sham, from the 2012 Havre de Grace Pirate Fest.
The Record's second-place awards include: General News Story, Bryna Zumer; Investigative Reporting, Hafiz Rashid; Public Service: Bryna Zumer, Marissa Gallo and Robin Benjes; General News Photo: Bobby Parker; Multimedia Storytelling, Feature: Jon Sham and Marissa Gallo.
In addition to The Aegis, other Baltimore Sun Media group papers honored with Newspaper of the Year awards Friday were The Baltimore Sun, among daily papers with circulation over 75,000, and the Howard County Times, among non-daily papers with circulation between 10,000 and 20,000.