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And the winners are


Cover of the June 13, 2002 North Coast Journal  Cover of the July 18, 2002 North Coast Journal  Cover of the August 29, 2002 North Coast Journal

SATURDAY WAS A BIG DAY for the editorial staff of the North Coast Journal. We traveled to San Francisco to pick up three awards from the 2002 Better Newspapers Contest sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

The awards were all second places, but since there are only two awards given in each category for weeklies throughout the state with similar circulations and much larger budgets, we are very proud of them.

Journal staff writer Emily Gurnon, formerly of the Contra Costa Times and the San Francisco Examiner, won in the feature category for her cover story, "Worlds of Pain: Why so many Humboldt kids can't get dental care" (Aug. 29, 2002). Emily researched and reported on the reasons behind the crisis: a shortage of children's dentists, especially those who will accept low-income patients; poor hygiene, nutrition and other socioeconomic factors; and what steps are being taken toward better care.

Editor Keith Easthouse, who came to the Journal in April 2002 via the Santa Fe New Mexican and Forest Magazine, brought home two CNPAs. His July 18, 2002 cover, "Deep trouble: Alarm bells sounded 20 years ago about overharvesting rockfish. So why the crisis now?" won for environmental and agricultural resource reporting. The article was a remarkable piece of history focusing on the demise of a single group of fish. Who would have thought that a major culprit is the amazing longevity of the fish itself and the lengthy time (15 years) females take to reach sexual maturity? (In addition to overharvesting, of course.)

Keith's second award, for investigative and enterprise reporting, was certainly our most controversial cover of the year: "Poisoned slough: Shellfish near Sierra Pacific's Arcata mill tainted with dioxin" (June 13, 2002).

Next to "general excellence," the CNPA award for investigative journalism is the most prized -- and the most difficult to attain. Entries require extensive research and an above-average amount of interviewing, documentation and background research. We submitted a package of coverage that included the original in-depth story, subsequent editorials and stories, and even letters from readers. In his cover letter in which he was supposed to summarize obstacles the staff overcame in digging out facts and sifting through complexities to render the coverage meaningful, Keith wrote:

"The story created an uproar in portions of the Arcata business community -- not the least because the story hit the streets just days before the community's annual oyster festival. The paper was accused of deliberately trying to sabotage the festival and there were reports, later confirmed, that festival officials had papers pulled from the racks.

"In the next week's issue, the publisher defended the story's timing, arguing that to have run the story after the festival would have been cowardly. A story in the same issue revealed that the state had known since the early 1980s that a wood preservative often associated with dioxin was present in shellfish near the Sierra Pacific mill -- and yet had done nothing to warn the public.... Despite the fact that Humboldt Bay had then -- and still does today -- a thriving commercial oyster industry, the state took no action. No additional testing was conducted, no public health warnings were issued.

"The Journal's coverage prompted testing of the commercial oyster beds out in the bay that revealed low levels of dioxin in every oyster bed tested."

The problem with winning awards, of course, is that they are like chocolate: You want more. Already I am pawing through my stack of 2003 Journals, debating our chances. "Is the water bag proposal a trojan horse?" (Feb. 6) is one possibility. "The tourism myth" (May 1) and "The problem with plastics" (June 5) are also on my short list.

By the way, even though these awards are for editorial content and carry the byline of the writer, they are earned by the entire staff -- our talented and artsy production crew, our very hard-working sales staff, the administrative staff and, of course, Judy Campbell's band of merry delivery people.

To view these award-winning stories, along with all our back issues, explore our website.



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