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Times earns 14 state journalism awards

MNA Awards, Steele County Times, excellence, owatonna
Accepting 14 awards at the Minnesota Newspaper Association on behalf of the Steele County Times are Rick Bussler, publisher; Joni Hubred, news editor; Chad Koenen, MNA president; Kay Fate, staff writer and Johnnie Phillips, sports editor. The Times received the honors Thursday night at the annual MNA awards banquet in Brooklyn Park. Staff photo by Michelle Leonard

Three of the state’s top journalism awards have been given out to the Steele County Times as the local paper racked up 14 awards.

The Times captured first place for the Herman Roe Editorial Writing Award and second places for Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and General Excellence at the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual Better Newspaper Contest in Brooklyn Park Thursday night.

It’s the first time the Times has ever earned the Herman Roe award as well as the New Journalist award.

In all, the Times achieved three first place awards, eight second places and four third place honors. It was the second best showing ever for the Times at the state contest.

Considered to be a highly coveted award, the Herman Roe Editorial Award recognizes impactful, meaningful, and excellent editorial writing. The award spotlights the single best editorial written during the contest period.

The Times was recognized for an editorial published on June 15 analyzing the jail dilemma facing Steele and Rice counties. News Editor Joni Hubred and Publisher Rick Bussler teamed up to write the editorial.

“This is a great example of solid local editorial writing,” judges commented in awarding first place to the Times.

Sports Editor Johnnie Phillips was recognized as the best new journalist in Minnesota. The award recognizes high achievement and dedication to the craft of journalism by a journalist who has worked at a professional newspaper for two years for less.

In naming Phillips second place, judges said: “Diverse skill set.”

General Excellence is considered one of the most prestigious categories in the state. Judges consider depth, breadth and quality of news coverage, quality of advertising, quality of editorial page, quality of photography and overall appearance of the newspaper.

In picking the Times second best, judges said: “Strong coverage of local issues, good editorial page. Excellent youth and sports coverage. A close second.” Judges went on to comment, “The three papers we selected were, in our judgement, the best of an impressively strong field. These were excellent papers, and many were worthy of a prize. Small newspapers are alive and well in Minnesota.”

The Times earned first place in General Excellence during last year’s contest and later in 2022 at the National Newspaper Contest.

Judges honored the Times with two other first place awards for Investigative Reporting and Use of Information Graphics.

Staff writer Kay Fate earned the top award for investigative reporting. She wrote multiple stories last February about an Owatonna church in turmoil over sexual abuse allegations against a former youth pastor.

“A complete package with a timeline and comments from a variety of perspectives in this sad tale,” judges said of Fate’s reporting.

The other first place was for the Times’ reporting on the Highway 14 opening in November 2021. Judges said, “Use of timeline was excellent.”

The Times received five other second place awards: Headline Writing, Use of Color in Advertising, Editorial Portfolio, Best Columnist and Portrait and Personality Photo.

In the Headline Writing category, judges remarked: “Nice clean look through the newspaper! Headlines are informational and to the point. Keep up the good work.”

Bussler won second place for a front-page photo he took of little JoJo Olson of Owatonna playing with bubbles at last year’s Steele County Free Fair.

“Great content. Excellent capture of light and color in bubbles and keeping frame in focus for all the moving parts and depths. Only thing better would have been to see her eyes either looking up or at a bubble,” judges said of Bussler’s photo.

Bussler earned another second in the Best Columnist category for a series of three columns he wrote over the year, including operating a flight simulator at Owatonna’s airport, mice in the house and the luminous Christmas tree along Interstate 35.

Judges said of Bussler’s columns, “Many times, we don’t have smooth landings, but we keep on going. In life, I hope we create moments that take our breath away. I, too, am terrified of mice. So I had to keep reading to see if you found the pesky rodent.”

The Times earned four third place awards: Classified Advertising Section, Best Advertisement, Best Use of Social Media and Explanation of News Operations or Newspaper Ethics.

“It’s humbling to be recognized with so many awards from our peers in the journalism field,” said Bussler. “It once again provides us with affirmation that we are producing a quality newspaper for our readers.”

The Times has been competing in the state contest since 2012. To date, the Times has earned 93 state awards and 35 national awards for journalistic excellence.

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