The Anniston Star won five awards announced by the Alabama Press Association on Saturday night during the group’s annual summer convention.
The Star’s focus on Alabama’s obesity epidemic in the “Our Big Problem” series earned first-place honors in the association’s public service category.
In the ongoing series, which began last April, Tim Lockette, Cameron Steele and Bob Davis penned more than two dozen stories and editorials about many sides of the issue, from school nutrition and a children’s weight-loss boot camp to the role soda and regional cuisine play in problem and how local officials hope to tackle the issue.
“The trend is terrible,” said Davis, the paper’s editor and associate publisher.“We’re all going the wrong way and Alabama is leading the pack.”
So, Davis said, The Star decided to focus its efforts on the state and local community because that’s where they believe change can best come.
“The solutions can’t be top-down; they can’t be enforced from on high,” he said. That’s why The Star worked to engage the community, bombarding the readers with stories on obesity.
“We decided to be relentless,” he said.
Last summer, The Star hosted screenings of the HBO documentary “Weight of the Nation” and subsequent community conversations to get residents talking about ways to solve the problem of growing obesity.
“I’m very happy that we were honored in this way,” Davis said, “but I will be happier if we can see what I think we’ve started here in terms of a conversation, if we see the fruits of that.”
Work by The Star’s summer interns from the University of Alabama Community Journalism master’s program netted third place in the contest’s freedom of information category. The six-person team collected and analyzed more than 1,000 pages of documents detailing spending on 2012 political ads from five television stations in the Birmingham market and published a special report on their findings.
“It was clearly a whole lot of work,” said Tim Lockette, who coordinates the community journalism program for The Star. He said the group spent days at the stations collecting the records, and then had to come back to the newsroom to put the numbers together.
“They just put their noses to the grindstone and got it done,” he said.
Lockette said that as the 2014 campaign season ramps up, he expects to employ these types of records requests more and more.
“The funny thing is they’re here to learn, and I think they taught us all how to do these records requests,” he said.
The Star also won first place in the best use of photos and editorial content category and second place in the best editorial page or section catgory.
Based on the number of awards the paper won overall, the The Star came in third place in the general excellence category.
The Star won 11 other Better Newspaper Contest Awards announced last month by the association, including:
1st place in the Best Editorial category for Bob Davis’ “Montgomery Meltdown”
1st place in Best Humorous Column for Lisa Davis’ “Where there’s a smoke alarm”
1st place in Best Feature Photo for Stephen Gross’ “Meet the co-grand marshals of this year’s Veterans Day parade”
1st place in Best Sports Photo for Stephen Gross’ “Sammie Coates”
1st place in Best Use of Graphics or Illustrations for AnnaMaria Jacob’s “Ghost Writers”
2nd place in Best Spot News Story for “Depot to lay of 500” by Laura Camper, Tim Lockette and Patrick McCreless
2nd place in Best Sports In-depth Coverage for “Cream of the Crop” by Al Muskewitz
2nd place in Best Niche Publication for the Calhoun County Business magazine
2nd place in Best Feature Story Coverage for Eddie Burkhalter’s “Southern Flight 242”
3rd place in Best In-depth News Coverage for Cameron Steele’s “Courts & Rehab” coverage
3rd place in Best News Photo for Stephen Gross’ “Freedom Riders bus, 1961, Anniston”
Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.