Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The Las Vegas Sun has won 17 first-place awards in the Nevada Press Association’s 2008 Better Newspaper Contest, including for community service and freedom of the press.
The Sun won the community service award for Marshall Allen and Alex Richards’ reporting on the abuse of prescription painkillers in Nevada. The freedom of the press award was for Alexandra Berzon’s stories on the state’s poor oversight of construction safety.
The Sun also took first place for story of the year, editorial cartooning, headline writing, business coverage and investigative or in-depth reporting.
The Sun, which competed against the state’s other daily newspapers, took home 47 awards overall.
The results were announced Saturday night at an awards banquet at the Winnemucca Convention Center. The contest was judged by members of the Wyoming Press Association.
“We are delighted to have been given this recognition,” Michael J. Kelley, managing editor of the Sun, said, “and especially happy to have won the community service award, the most important in any journalism contest.
“Our goal at the Sun is to put out a paper every single day that is meaningful to our readers, and we work very hard to reach that goal. When that work wins contests, it’s an unanticipated bonus.
“We’ve had the best year ever at the Sun for winning journalism awards, including winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, three other major public service awards and two freedom of the press awards. All of this is both humbling and motivating, and keeps us mindful that if we do our jobs right we can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of the people of the Las Vegas community.”
Other publications owned by the Greenspun family, which owns the Sun, also competed in the contest.
The Henderson Home News won 14 writing, editing, photo and design awards and three advertising awards. The Home News won awards for overall general excellence and advertising general excellence among the state’s large weeklies.
The Boulder City News won nine journalism awards and four advertising awards, including advertising general excellence. Craig Peterson won for best headline writing among all weekly newspapers.
In Business Las Vegas, a weekly business paper, won 11 journalism awards and four advertising awards.
The Las Vegas Weekly won 12 journalism awards.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal won the top prize for general excellence among large daily newspapers in the state. The award recognizes the whole newspaper, including advertising. The Sun does not have advertising.
The Review-Journal won 14 first-place journalism awards and five advertising awards. The Reno Gazette-Journal won 10 first-place journalism awards and one advertising award. The Nevada Appeal in Carson City won two first-place journalism awards and one advertising award.
This is the third time in five years the Sun has won the community service award and the third year in a row the Sun has won the freedom of the press award.
Contest judges called the Sun’s stories on prescription painkiller abuse “exceptional” and “remarkable work,” noting the articles were “in-depth and engaging with a dogged effort to get at the facts.”
Allen and Richards examined thousands of pages of federal reports and found that Nevada leads the nation in the use of prescription painkillers. The reporters also found that the number of prescription drug overdoses has quadrupled in Clark County in the past decade.
Analyzing the Nevada Board of Pharmacy’s database, they found that just 5 percent of the physicians in the state prescribed 88 percent of the controlled substances.
One doctor, who was the subject of several Sun stories, had his license to prescribe controlled substances suspended by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. He sold his practice and apparently stopped practicing medicine in Nevada.
The Legislature this year passed a bill that will improve the state’s database that tracks prescription medication. The bill also mandates a legislative study of prescription painkiller abuse in Nevada.
Berzon’s construction safety stories, detailing the rash of deaths on Las Vegas Strip construction sites, which won the Pulitzer Prize, also won story of the year and best investigative or in-depth story or series. The work also won a second-place award for community service.
Judges praised the “tenacity and doggedness” of the reporting, which included a protracted fight to get state records documenting safety problems at construction sites.
“The Sun did the best job of explaining why readers should care about open records,” one judge wrote.
The stories found that penalties for hazardous work sites were routinely reduced, even in cases in which workers were seriously injured or killed. The Sun’s reporting led the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration to take a more aggressive stance toward enforcing workplace safety regulations.
Allen won two other awards: best feature story for an article about a doctor who was accused of over-prescribing painkillers, and best business news feature for an article about businessman Larry Ruvo’s work to open the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute in memory of his father.
Ron Kantowski won first-place awards for best sports column writing and best sports feature. The feature story was about Todd Cruz, a former baseball player who died a day before Kantowski was scheduled to interview him. Judges praised Kantowski’s writing: “(It’s) easy to read because you know there’s a writing gem somewhere to find.”
The Sun’s other first-place awards:
• Mike Smith won the editorial cartooning contest. The judges “laughed out loud” and found his work “so true.”
• Copy editor Dave Mondt won for best headline writing.
• Emily Green’s article on water use in Nevada, which judges said was a “remarkably thorough look at an issue that will affect nearly all Westerners,” won for best news feature story.
• The Sun’s online presentation of Green’s water story was awarded best multimedia story.
• Joe Brown won for critical writing.
• Art Director Chris Morris won for best information graphic.
• Photographer Leila Navidi won for best illustrated photo.
• The Sun staff won for best page one design and best business coverage.
The Sun’s writers, editors, photographers and designers have been honored in numerous national and regional contests this year, and the Sun’s Web site won its second straight EPpy Award, sponsored by Editor & Publisher and Mediaweek magazines, for best newspaper-affiliated site with fewer than 1 million unique monthly visitors. The Sun print edition was also honored this year by Editor & Publisher as one of 10 U.S. newspapers “that do it right.”