Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Stories on construction deaths on the Strip led the Las Vegas Sun’s sweep Tuesday of the top newswriting prizes in the Associated Press California/Nevada Newswriting and Photo Contest, which recognizes the best print journalism of 2008 in the two states.
The Sun won the top two awards in a competition among all newspapers in the region. Against newspapers in its circulation class — 75,000 to 200,000 — the Sun also won first place in six of the seven newswriting categories as well as a first place for portrait photography.
Reporter Alexandra Berzon’s series on construction deaths and worker safety won the Mark Twain Sweepstakes Award for newswriting, considered the best-in-show award, and the Sunlight Freedom of Information award against all papers in California and Nevada.
The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service last month for the same series of stories.
“My hat is off to the winners and to the entire Sun staff for this amazing showing in the California/Nevada AP contest,” Michael J. Kelley, managing editor, said. “Our Pulitzer Prize-winning work on construction deaths on the Strip continues to be recognized, which is very gratifying. It is also gratifying to have so many other winners — a recognition of the Sun’s excellence in multiple areas of coverage. We strive for high-quality work throughout the paper every day, and having our peers rate us so highly in such a variety of contest categories helps us know that we are doing our job.”
The Reno Gazette-Journal was the only other Nevada newspaper to be recognized in any category in the contest. It took first place for spot news coverage in its circulation class of 25,000 to 75,000.
The competition drew entries from such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, San Diego Union-Tribune, the Fresno Bee and the Long Beach Press Telegram.
In specific writing categories, the Sun competed against newspapers with circulations between 75,000 and 199,999 and won six first places and one second place. The Sun winners:
• Fairbanks Public Service: First place to Berzon and the Sun staff for her series of stories that exposed a high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip and how lax safety rules and the rush to build quickly contributed to the injury and death rate. The newspaper reported that 12 workers had died within 18 months in the middle of a $32 billion building boom. After the Sun had been reporting on this story for two months, the deaths stopped.
• Spot News Coverage: First place to Marshall Allen and David McGrath Schwartz for a series of breaking news stories on a hepatitis C outbreak caused by reusing syringes and single-use medicine vials in a Las Vegas colonoscopy clinic. The Sun was the first media outlet to focus attention on the clinic’s owner, Dr. Dipak Desai, a former member of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners.
• Sports Writing: First place to Ron Kantowski for “Old Ball Pro’s Story Ends Humbly,” a touching story of a genial but washed out Major League ballplayer who died in relative anonymity.
• Feature Writing: First place to Emily Green for “Quenching Las Vegas’ Thirst,” a five-part series examining the history, science and politics of Las Vegas’ search for water, told through the roles of five people.
• Local Column: First place to Jon Ralston for “How Palin’s Speech Divides America,” which accused Republicans of hypocrisy for criticizing President Barack Obama for his lack of substance while rallying around GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
• Investigative Reporting: First place to Berzon for her series on construction deaths. Second place to Allen and Alex Richards for “The New Addiction,” a series that exposed Nevada’s skyrocketing use of prescription narcotics, the growing death toll from them and the complicity of physicians who over-prescribe narcotic painkillers.
Photographer Tiffany Brown won first place for her portrait “Youngest Clown.”