RALEIGH — The Richmond County Daily Journal has a few more awards to hang on the wall after being honored in a pair of statewide journalism contests Thursday night.
Daily Journal staffers collected two awards in the North Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Editorial Contest and two in the N.C. Associated Press’ News Excellence Contest. The accolades were announced during the NCPA’s Winter Institute and awards banquet at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley hotel.
“We put a lot of work into bringing news to the people of Richmond County and it’s always nice to have that work recognized by our peers,” said Daily Journal editor William R. Toler.
Reporter Gavin Stone was winner of the AP’s Walter Spearman Award for Outstanding Writing. For his entry, Stone told the story of a U.S. Navy veteran who flies an American flag upside down to signal that the nation is in distress.
This is the fourth year the Daily Journal has received at least an honorable mention for the Spearman Award, which is for reporters with less than two years’ experience at a daily newspaper. Toler received an honorable mention in 2015 and 2016 and finally won the award last year.
Toler was chosen as the second-place finalist for the AP’s Senator Sam Open Government Award. He wrote a pair of stories and an editorial on the public comment policy for the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.
After being in effect for nearly 20 years, the policy came into question last March — and was called “un-American” — by a group wanting to speak before the board to oppose the coming Enviva wood pellet plant. The policy prohibits agenda items being addressed during the public comment period.
In December, First Amendment expert David L. Hudson Jr. said that constituted content discrimination.
Commissioners defended the policy saying it was put in place to prevent grandstanding.
This marks the second time in three years the Daily Journal has made the cut for Senator Sam Award. Former editor Corey Friedman was a finalist in 2016 for a series of editorials on public records and government accountability issues.
Friedman, who is now editor of The Wilson Times, won the award this year and last year.
In the NCPA contest, Toler was awarded third place in education reporting for his coverage of the controversy surrounding the use of Donald Trump’s quote “Build that wall!” by a Richmond Early College High School senior which led to the confiscation of all yearbooks.
He also took home second-place honors for headline writing for the second time in three years. The first time was in the 2015 contest. Former reporter Matt Harrelson also placed second last year.
Columnist Joe Weaver, who was entered by the Wilson Times, also won third place for lighter columns. Weaver’s column first appeared in the Daily Journal in 2015 and now runs in both newspapers.
Toler also accepted awards on behalf of Champion Media newspapers The Robesonian and Bladen Journal.
The Daily Journal competes in the North Carolina Press Association’s Division D, which includes daily newspapers with circulation below 12,500.
Out-of-state journalists judge the annual contest through state newspaper trade groups in a reciprocal agreement with the NCPA.
In the previous three years, the Daily Journal racked up 28 press awards, including one each from the Society for Professional Journalists and the National Federation of Press Women.