OLYMPIA — Chinook Observer staff and freelancers won 16 awards in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2016 - 2017 “Better Newspapers” contest. These awards included a first-ever top prize in the “General Excellence” category, in which newspapers of similar circulation size compete to win honors for the overall quality of the publication.

“We’re often in the top three, but were starting to wonder if there was a jinx on the top spot,” editor and publisher Matt Winters said. “I’m proud the Chinook Observer is recognized as the best publication of its size in Washington state this year. It’s a serious tribute to a talented staff, but also to our unique communities that have supported us for 117 years by buying the paper and advertising.”

The annual WNPA contest is a chance for non-daily 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 2016 and March 2017.

WNPA representatives announced winners during the annual WNPA convention awards dinner in Olympia on Oct. 13. In all, local honors included six first-place awards, five second-place awards and five third-place awards. Because entries were due during a busy news week, the Observer submitted about half the usual number of entries.

Reporter Amy Nile took first place in “Best Story on the Arts” for “Ban Beat,” a story about an Iranian novelist who nearly missed her chance to participate in a local artists’ retreat when President Trump imposed a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Staff writer and photojournalist Natalie St. John took first place in “Best breaking News Story” for “Push comes to shove,” about revelers whose vehicles got stuck in the rising tide as they tried to leave the beach on Fourth of July. She took first and second place awards in “News of the Weird” for a story about a man who tried and failed to appeal a conviction for hunting magic mushrooms on public land, and “Phone fail flummoxes a felon,” about an inmate whose long-distance court appearance went awry when other inmates wouldn’t let him use the pay phone.

St. John won first in “Best Crime and Court Story” for “Car destroys mobile home,” about a local drunk-driver who plowed into a young Ocean Park family’s home. She took second and third-place investigative reporting awards for two stories on former local legislative candidates: “Litigious candidate is an anti-government activist,” and “Leaders slow to respond to domestic violence allegations.”

In best Government Reporting,” she won second place for a story about the Wahkiakum County Clerk’s popular mail-order divorce service. She won a second-place “Best Long News Story” award for “Locals fear deportation after arrests.” She won a third-place environmental reporting award for a piece about the ongoing effort to save endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.

In photography, she took third for a color portrait of Aida Moradi Ahani, the Iranian novelist.

Business reporter and photographer Luke Whittaker produces Coast River Business Journal, a monthly magazine about business in the Lower Columbia region. He is also a regular contributor to the Observer. He won a first-place “Best Business Feature” award for “Blessing & Curse: Rain sustains, threatens Rose Ranch.” He took second place in “Best Business News Story” for an article about the economic impact of the local Dungeness crab fishery. He also won third place for “Yellowjacket Hunter,” an Observer personality profile about a man who makes his living by collecting yellowjackets for scientific research.

EO Media Group staffers Rebecca Sedlak and John Bruijn won third place in “Best tourism or community guide” for the 2017 edition of Our Coast, a color magazine that highlights tourism and recreation opportunities on the Long Beach Peninsula. EO Media Group is the Salem, Oregon publishing company that owns the Observer, Coast River Business Journal and Daily Astorian, as well as several other newspapers and special publications in Oregon and Washington.

“The high quality of the Chinook Observer has long been acknowledged well beyond the boundaries of Pacific County,” EO Media Group President Steve Forrester said. “This General Excellence award ratifies the newspaper’s standing among media professionals.”

Earlier this year, the Observer’s sister publication The Daily Astorian took home four first-place honors including a second place for the top prize — General Excellence — at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association conference in Bend. Another sister publication, the East Oregonian in Pendleton, won first place in Oregon General Excellence judging.

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