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"A panel of outside judges made the determination based on the Staunton newsroom's community journalism and special projects in 2017, compared to more than 50 sites across the United States," the 10,000-circulation daily told its readers. "Transformation of the News Leader's sports coverage and an outreach project and series on suicide led the way, according to judges for the annual contest. Narrative writing about Mackenzie Gray of Staunton and about a trio of transgender residents was also honored."
News Leader President Roger Watson said Executive Editor Dave Fritz and News Director William Ramsey "maximize the potential of our reporting staff, using new tools and innovative methods to deliver information to our audience while not compromising on our ethical standards and values as an organization. I hope the people of Staunton recognize what we have been able to do during these turbulent times for media as a whole as our company has recognized us as a great small newspaper for the past five years."
The story also noted individual Gannett awards to staff members, including Laura Peters for community engagement with a story about suicide, and Ramsey for narrative writing: his story about Gray, a young mother killed as she tried to prevent the murder of her friend. The announcement said The News Leader was the best small paper in the "USA Today Network," using the brand Gannett has adopted. (The company puts "Today" in all caps, which we consider to be typographic tyranny.)