Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pulitzer winner gets weekly editors' top award; top editorial, on closed meetings, is by a county official

By Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

DURANGO, Colo. – One of the few weekly newspaper editors or publishers to win a Pulitzer Prize was honored again Saturday night with the top award of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. ISWNE also presented other awards, including its "Golden Dozen" for editorial writing, long the organization's primary focus.

Dave Mitchell (2007)
Dave Mitchell was the toast of American journalism 35 years ago, when his Point Reyes Light won the Pulitzer for public service for its investigation of the Synanon cult in Northern California, He sold the paper in 2005 and told the awards-dinner crowd that he thought he was fading away like the old soldiers cited by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his farewell speech to Congress. But then he learned that he had won ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, given for an outstanding career of public service through community journalism while adhering to the highest standards of the craft as demonstrated by Cervi, who published the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver until his death in 1970.

"To me this is like winning a second Pulitzer," Mitchell said. "It had been so many years that I had put on a tie, I couldn't remember how to tie it." Mitchell said he had been a member of many newspaper and journalism organizations, but "This is the only one I've stayed with. . . . It's like discovering a family I never really had. You are my family."

ISWNE conferences can seem a little like family reunions because the group is small (265 members) and some children attend, but it is deadly serious about promoting strong editorial voices in weekly newspapers, many of which lack them. The heart of each annual conference are roundtables at which editors critique each other's editorial pages.

Brian Hunhoff
The winner of the Golden Quill Award for best editorial published in 2013 was Brian Hunhoff of the Yankton County Observer in South Dakota, who drew on his experience as an elected county commissioner to write an editorial saying that "All too often, elected officials look for loopholes or excuses to take a discussion behind closed doors. . . . Executive sessions are generally over-used." Hunhoff, a Republican who is now the county's elected register of deeds, wrote that some elected boards in South Dakota "have three or four executive sessions in a single meeting, and "Some boards have developed a dismal habit of hiding in executive session if an issue becomes controversial."

Hunhoff, who also won a Golden Quill in 1995, was the owner of the Observer during the first half of his decade as a county commissioner (from 1998 through 2006), then sold the paper. He resumed writing editorials for it every other week under new owners two years ago. He wrote in the latest edition of ISWNE's quarterly Grassroots Editor that his political experience taught him "how easily a conversation in executive session could stray to other topics . . . and how far commissioners will bend and stretch allowable reasons for executive sessions to fit the issue they wish to take behind closed doors. Over 10 years as a county commissioner, I refused to participate in several executive sessions when I thought we had moved off topic."

Hunhoff also wrote that when he was a commissioner, his feature-oriented weekly did not usually cover commission meetings. "I realize many journalists frown on one person wearing both hats. I understand and respect objections to crossing those lines. I would simply respond that every situation is different and it worked for me (most of the time)."

The Golden Quill is the top editorial among the Golden Dozen. Other winners were Andy Schotz of The Gazette in Silver Spring, Md.; Missy Layfield of The Island Sand Paper in Fort Myers Beach, Fla.; outgoing ISWNE President Kelly Clemmer of The Wainwright Star in Alberta; Mike Buffington of The Jackson Herald in Georgia; Marcia Martinek of the Herald Democrat in Leadville, Colo.; Faith Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader in Oologah, Okla.; Steve Bonspiel of The Eastern Door in Kahnawake, Quebec; William Schanen III of the Ozaukee Press in Port Washington, Wis. (a two-time Golden Quill winner); Cary Hines of the West Valley View in Avondale, Ariz.; 2012 Golden Quill winner Vernon Oickle of the Lunenberg County Progress Bulletin in Bridgewater, N.S.; and Katelyn Stanek of The Woodstock Independent near Chicago.

ISWNE also has members in England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia. Its next conferences will be in Columbia, Mo., in 2015 and in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, Australia in 2016. For more information see

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