For the second year in a row, Bob Davis of The Anniston (Ala.) Star was named Opinion Journalist of the Year for newspapers with circulations less than 100,000 by the Association of Opinion Journalists (formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers).
Davis is editor of the 20,000-circulation Anniston Star in rural northeastern Alabama, a paper that serves several small towns and rural counties along Interstate 20 between Birmingham and Atlanta, at the southern end of Appalachia near the Talladega National Forest.
Davis was praised for both the quality of his writing and for the breadth of issues he tackled in his columns and editorials (links to some examples are below). The judges wrote: "Bob Davis' columns have the best anchor any local newspaper could have -- a sense of place. Whether he's doing a devastating takedown of one state Sen. Scott Beason or advocating literacy programs (as opposed to absurd immigrant laws), the voice is always that of a thoughtful Alabama Southern gentleman who's considered all arguments."
When Davis won the award last year, the judges particularly praised his editorial campaign calling for reform of the Alabama constitution, which dates to 1901 and has a number of obsolete items in it, such as language making interracial marriage illegal and calling for the segregation of schools, both rendered moot by federal laws.
"His focus on issues that matter to all Alabamians (even if they don't know it yet) is clear, determined and precise," the 2011 judges wrote. "He even breathes a diverting life into the issue of Alabama's execrable 1901 constitution, the gift that keeps on giving to Alabama editorial writers and the problem that refuses to go away."
The Star is a storied community newspaper, made famous for its anti-segregation stances during the Civil Rights movement and its persistent watch-dogging of local and regional government agencies under publisher H. Brandt "Brandy" Ayers.
The AOJ's Opinion Journalist of the Year award for publications above 100,000 circulation went to Thomas Frank of Harper's magazine, who has written much about low-income rural people who vote against their economic interests by supporting candidates who stress religious and social issues (What's the Matter with Kansas?)
Here are some links to Davis' winning entries, which he provided to The Rural Blog:
"Reading into a real problem," Sept. 30, 2011; "Beason's gamble: State lawmaker walks thin 'wire'," June 16, 2011; "A 'band of brothers' for Bentley," Jan. 23, 2011; "Memories to warm us during the rebuilding," May 1, 2011.