Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2018

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Sun journalists honored in regional competition

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A profile of boxer Willie Chapman, an aging sparring partner clinging to hope of a title fight despite years of punishment to his body, has brought Sun reporter J. Patrick Coolican the first-place award for sports writing in “Best of the West,” a prestigious journalism contest spanning the 13 Western states.

Coolican also shared an award with other Sun staff members for their examination of gambling addiction. Their report, which was printed in the Sun newspaper and more fully presented online with videos and interactive displays, won second place for multimedia storytelling.

Two other journalists won “Best of the West” honors for their work. Entertainment writer Joe Brown won third place in arts and entertainment writing for his review of country music superstar Garth Brooks, and photographer Tiffany Brown won third place in photo slide shows for her gallery of images called “Life Details.”

Best of the West was founded in 1987 to reward journalistic excellence and promote freedom of information. It operates a journalism contest for newspapers and newspaper-run Web sites in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The contest quickly became the region’s most prestigious awards competition, with about 2,000 entries each year.

Proceeds from the contests are used to provide grants to media hotlines in the West that provide free or low-cost legal advice to journalists seeking access to public records and government meetings.

In his sports story, Coolican introduced readers to Wreckless Willie, whose showmanship and haymakers have made him a favorite among fans and hecklers alike.

Here was a boxer who would suffer a day of pummeling for $100 because, as Coolican wrote, “without the money, he can’t go see his 10 children in three states or pay child support to the five women who are raising them. He can’t hire a private detective to find one of the mothers, who has custody of one of his daughters but whose whereabouts are unknown. He can’t afford a doctor who might clear him to fight a sanctioned bout again in Nevada. And if he can’t fight again, he’ll never win that championship belt he’s been chasing for 54 professional fights, more than half of them losses.”

The judge, a sports editor at The Boston Globe, said Coolican “captured the struggles of an aging boxer still chasing his championship dreams. The tale captures the denial, the struggles and determination of a man who still believes in reaching the summit of his chosen profession.”

Producing the gambling addiction project along with Coolican were reporter Liz Benston, videographer Scott Den Herder and website developers and designers Tyson Anderson, Levi Chronister and Danny DeBelius who, among other elements, developed an interactive slot machine to demonstrate gambling odds and the rate of losing money.

The project’s focus on a gambling addict was “very straightforward, personal and revealing,” judges said.

In the entertainment category, judges said they were stumped, unsure whether to award Brown for his story on Brooks or his piece on Lady Gaga. “The Brooks review won out as Brown displayed a wonderful eye for telling detail, a deep background on the artist, smart writing skills and, perhaps most important, in-depth analysis of what the show means in a greater context.”

Brown is managing editor of Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Sun.

Tiffany Brown’s photos were applauded for their colors and patterns “that lead the viewer visually from photo to photo, cleverly using color, shape and mood to tie the images together ... It’s a fun look at the little details in life that would otherwise go unnoticed.”