YAKIMA — Chinook Observer staff and contributors won more than 20 awards at the annual Washington Newspaper Publisher Association (WNPA) 2018 Better Newspaper Contest.

WNPA representatives announced winners during the annual convention awards dinner in Yakima on Friday, Oct. 12.

The annual contest is a chance for nondaily papers across Washington state to compete in a variety of writing, photography, editorial content, advertising and design categories. The contest covered work published between April 2017 and March 2018.

The Newspaper Community Service Award was presented to the Chinook Observer staff and contributors for coverage of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the impact on residents in Pacific County.

“Not only did this stir community engagement and conversations, it attracted the attention of regional, national and international media — including The Seattle Times, The New York Times and BBC — all of which did stories sparked in part by the paper’s coverage,” judges said upon presenting the award, which included all circulation groups.

The Observer took second place in the General Excellence category, in which newspapers of similar circulation size compete to win honors for the overall quality of the publication.

The Observer competed against more than 60 newspapers that submitted 1,100 submissions to the news division alone. The photography, advertising and special sections had 305, 266 and 156 submissions respectively.

In all, the Observer’s honors included 10 first-place awards, eight second-place awards and five third-place awards.

Staff reporter Natalie St. John won four first-place prizes. She also took third for “News Writer of the Year.”

Judges recognized St. John’s determined reporting, which earned first place for her story “Rossetti may live outside district,” in the Investigative Reporting category.

“[It was a] Great example of using shoe-leather reporting and tough questioning to hold a lying official accountable even when colleagues refused to act,” the judges said, regarding the winning work.

St. John took first in Comprehensive Coverage category for a series on the 1918 flu epidemic in Pacific County. The series was praised for giving relevance and identity to a historical story.

In the Topical Columns category, St. John won first overall for her series Hearthfire & Brimstone, which judges considered an “interesting and novel take on ordinary things.”

She also won for Best Crime and Court story: “Murderer gets 50 years.”

St. John also took second for News of the Weird with her story: “Outhouse phone dropper rescued

Coast River Business Journal reporter and Chinook Observer contributor Luke Whittaker won first place for Business News Story for “Green Gamble,” a story about the growing marijuana industry in Pacific County. Whittaker received second-place honors in the same category for “Terrible Tuna,” which detailed the dismal 2017 commercial albacore tuna season. In the Business Feature category, Whittaker took second and third, respectively, for “Chef puts lid on delicious career,” a story about the retirement of a renowned chef Nanci Main, and “Legends of the Lure,” a feature about a local fishing lure maker. Whittaker also received a second-place award in the Breaking News Photos category for pictures of a dramatic rescue at sea.

Sports writer Aaron Mead took second place in Sports News Story with “Girls notch first big win,” a story about a dramatic season-opening win for the Ilwaco High School girls basketball team.

Editor Matt Winters earned first- and second-place honors in the Editorial category for “ICE strikes at Civil Rights” and “Standing up to Hatred.” Judges praised Winters’ award-winning work as “the best of what an editorial should stand for.”

Regular contributor Damian Mulinix took second and third place in the photography division in the Color Pictorial category for a Waikiki Beach concert photo and a portrait of local chef Katie Witherbee-Allsup.

In the Special Sections-Tourism category, John Buijn and Matt Winters received first-place honors for “Discovery Coast 2017-2018,” which judges called “comprehensive and well designed.” In the Special Sections-Community Guide category, Erick Bengel and John Bruijn received first place for “Our Coast Magazine,” which judges praised as “a perfect publication for visitors.”

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