The Durango Herald captured eight awards this week from the Society of Professional Journalists.
The Top of the Rockies contest includes media organizations from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico – which make up Region 9 of SPJ. The media organizations include newspapers, radio, magazines and online-only publications of all sizes.
Among the top awards was first place for Public Service. The Herald won for its coverage of the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015. The judges wrote: “This was a tragedy that should have never happened. The Durango Herald stayed on top of the EPA and served the public in pursuing answers.”
“A public service award is one of the utmost honors we could receive because it recognizes how critical our work is in keeping our community informed,” said Amy Maestas, Herald editor. “As journalists, we always strive to provide readers the most important news they need that affects their lives. Having SPJ judges realize the purpose we served during that event makes this award that much more meaningful.”
The Herald staff also won two other awards related to the Gold King Mine spill. Herald photo editor Jerry McBride won first place in Spot News Photography for his iconic shot of three kayakers in the Animas River filled with contaminated mine waste. The composition “dramatically captures the spill,” judges said. The Herald staff also won first place in Breaking News Story for the spill coverage. “This was obviously a team effort for the newspaper, and photographers, page designers and editors should be applauded as well,” judges said.
“I could not agree more,” Maestas said. “I am enormously proud of everyone in the newsroom for hard work and long hours. We are a team of experienced, talented journalists who work well together. Nowhere is this more evident than in our important spill coverage. This award belongs equally to everyone.”
Other awards the Herald won:
General Website Excellence: First place to Herald staff.
News Photography: First place was awarded to multimedia journalist Shaun Stanley for his photo of a homeless man as part of the Herald's four-part series about homelessness. “The contrast between the ornate entryway and the nearly lifeless slumber of the homeless gentleman is powerful.”
General Reporting – Series or Package: Second place to reporters Ann Butler and Mary Shinn, and former reporter Chase Olivarius-McAllister for their four-part series about homelessness in Durango.
General Reporting – Series or Package: Third place went to Butler and Stanley for their coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. The two journalists talked to Vietnam veterans who were serving when Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975.
Multimedia Story: Stanley won second place for his videos of those serving when Saigon fell during the Vietnam War.
In other award news, Trout Unlimited, a national conservation nonprofit that works to protect coldwater fisheries and their watersheds, recognized the Herald with an award at the Colorado convention on Saturday. The Trout Unlimited Council gave the Herald the “Trout Communication Award” on behalf of the 24 chapters and 11,000 members in Colorado for keeping the community informed during the Gold King Mine spill. That coverage, TU said, helped contribute to broader public awareness of fishery conservation issues.
“Having Trout Unlimited, including the Five Rivers Chapter in Durango, see the value in our work underscores how great it is to have our journalism recognized in a community where conversation is valued,” Maestas said.