The Machias Valley News Observer last weekend took home 13 press awards — the most the paper has ever won — at the Maine Press Association’s annual conference, held virtually this year on Saturday, Oct. 24. Its sister paper, The Calais Advertiser, won 17 awards including General Excellence in advertising, for a combined total of 30 awards between the two Washington County publications.
Publisher Pierre Little said he was thrilled with the papers’ showing. “I thought we won a lot last year, but this year really is incredible,” said Little. “I could not be more proud of our efforts and our editorial team. We have won so many awards this year, we are running out of wall space to hang them all.”
The online event included a morning association board meeting, a hall of fame induction ceremony, and an online auction to support the MPA’s scholarship fund. Participants were invited to share a “Masthead”, the official commemorative drink of the 2020 awards event.
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah gave a keynote address, thanking his “colleagues in the media” for their dedication in covering the pandemic.
The MVNO’s writing dominated its wins, with 10 of its 13 awards for journalism, and three for special sections.
Journalist Ruth Leubecker took first place in the Political Story category, [Wild blueberry growers struggle for representation], and the top spot as an opinion columnist for her weekly feature, The View Downeast, of which one judge said, “Head and shoulders above the other entries. Cogent, fact-based news and opinion in a readable package. Leubecker is a credit to her community and her vocation. It was a pleasure to read her work.”
Leubecker also took third place in the Health Story category for her coverage of an issue at Calais Regional Hospital [CRH nurses fight to keep hospital alive].
Book reviewer and columnist RJ Heller took first place in the Critic’s Award category for his book reviews at the MVNO. Heller liked the book, and the judges liked his review, saying, “Wow! Now, that's a book review! I not only want to read the book, I want to come to Maine so I can do it on the beach and experience all those sights and smells. Extremely well done.”
The paper earned a third-place win for its sports section, honoring the work of writer Phil Stuart and photographer John Rogers. For the third consecutive year, the MVNO won second place for its active editorial pages, and in the Special Sections / Advertising category, the MVNO took first prize for its 2019 Machias Wild Blueberry Festival insert, owing largely to the work of graphic designer Dylan Lingley.
Both papers swept the Environmental Reporting category, with Sarah Craighead Dedmon taking first place [Fishermen contest right whale regulations], of which one judge commented, “Hard-hitting, informative, factual, emotional and includes both sides of the issue presented from a local and national perspective. This story has it all,” and second place [Seeding salmon on Downeast rivers] and Jayna Smith taking third for her story on Downeast bald eagles dying from lead poisoning.
Craighead Dedmon also took two out of three awards in the Investigative Report category, winning first place for coverage of a thorny local tax issue, [Property tax spike spurs taxpayer confusion, outrage] and third place for her exposure of a scam business purporting to be located directly across from the newspaper’s Broadway office, as it happens. [Fraudulent horse trailer website alleges Machias address].
She took first place in the Feature Story category for her 2019 examination of Washington County’s lack of resources to help the homeless [How do we handle homelessness Downeast?], of which one judge commented, “Easily picked as a top contender. Fantastic storytelling of an ever-present issue in communities.” and second place in the Game Story category for her coverage of the Machias Bulldogs’ bid for the 2019 basketball state championship [The Machias Bulldogs could go all the way!]
For Craighead Dedmon, seven blue ribbons and 13 overall awards are welcome validation not only of this newspaper’s good work but also of this region’s incredibly important stories.
“It’s an honor to showcase this amazing community to a wider statewide audience,” she said. “This work is endlessly fascinating. Many of the nation’s biggest challenges — rural broadband, rural revitalization, and climate change, to name a few — are playing out here in real-time. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of stories I want to tell.”
Little commented on the important reciprocal relationship that exists between the MVNO and the region’s business community. “The Machias Valley News Observer and its editorial newsroom is so vital to our community’s health and economic growth,” said Little. “And without advertising, we could not have covered so many important stories and won so many awards this year. Reporters being paid to focus on our part of the world beats social media hands down, and it shows we are serious about our community’s vibrancy and its flourishing.”
Little also praised the continued efforts of his staff. “These awards are not won without teamwork and dedication to the stories of our wonderful community in eastern Maine. I congratulate all the reporters of the MVNO for a job well done, along with our designer Dylan Lingley, and last and most importantly, my wife Wendy, who kept us focused on our financial realities.”
First Place, Investigative Report,, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Decreased revenues, bad winters lead to East Machias tax increase”, Sept. 10, 2019
Third Place, Investigative Report, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Horse trailer website alleges Machias business location,” Nov. 1, 2019.
First Place, Political Story, Ruth Leubecker, “Blueberry power struggles to take center stage at field day,” June 5, 2019.
Second Place, Editorial Page, Staff of the Machias Valley News Observer
First Place, Critic’s Award, RJ Heller, “The story of finding E.B. White’s Maine” book review, Jan. 15, 2019.
Third Place, Sports Section, writer Phil Stuart and photographer John Rogers.
First Place, Supplemental /Special Section, staff of the Machias Valley News Observer, Machias Wild Blueberry Festival Insert, Aug. 2019.
First Place, Feature Story, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Without any shelters, how do we handle homelessness Downeast?” March 31, 2019.
First Place, Opinion Columnist, Ruth Leubecker, “The View Downeast.”
First Place, Environmental Story, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Downeast fishermen, governor speak out against right whale regulations,” July 16, 2019.
Second Place, Environmental Story, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Seeding salmon on Downeast rivers” March 31, 2019.
Third Place, Health Story, Ruth Leubecker, “CRH nurses: ‘We’re fighting to keep this hospital alive’”, May 22, 2019.
Second Place, Game Story, Sarah Craighead Dedmon, “Hometown rolls out heroes welcome for Machias Bulldog basketball champions,” Feb. 26, 2020.