Leader staff wins writing, photography awards in contest

The Salem Leader and Democrat staff won seven awards in the annual Hoosier State Press Association Foundation’s Better Newspaper Contest.

The awards luncheon, which followed a morning of education workshops, was held Saturday at the Indianapolis Marriott North.

The staff won first place for Best News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure for the Tornado “Extra” edition produced the day after the Pekin tornado.

The staff won both first and second place in Best Ongoing News Coverage. Editor Stephanie Taylor Ferriell and Staff Writer Kate Wehlann were awarded first place for their coverage of the Tammy Spengler double murder trial.
Judges commented: “This ongoing coverage did not come as part of the paper’s ongoing coverage of a board or council. It took a valiant effort and reporting time to sit through a double murder trial. The Salem Leader was the only media there.

“Its coverage included twice daily web updates as well as print stories. The story was difficult to tell, but readers are better for knowing how these drug-addicted people took the lives of two others.”

The staff (Staff Writer Marcia Walker, Ferriell and Wehlann) won second place in ongoing news coverage for its coverage of the Pekin tornado. “Ongoing takes on a special meaning when it includes printing a special ‘Extra’ Saturday issue. The deadly tornado coverage also took sending stories via text message when no other Internet service was available.” Ferriell texted updates throughout the weekend following the tornado to one of the The Leader’s tech support staff, who lives in Bloomington. He in turn posted stories to and updated Ferriell’s Facebook status.

Ferriell placed first in Best In-Depth Feature or Feature Package for “He’s My Hero,” the story of a Vietnam veterans group which meets every other year for a reunion at the home of Fredericksburg residents Stan and Sharon Boaz. Ferriell has been covering the story for a decade; ever since Stan Boaz came in contact with the daughter of one of his fellow Vietnam soldiers who was killed overseas. That meeting led him to organize a biannual reunion for the group, giving Tina Allen an opportunity to learn about the father she never knew. Ferriell’s story this year focused on Allen’s daughter, Samantha McKnill, who has joined her school’s ROTC program with hopes of following her late grandfather’s footsteps and joining the military after high school.

Ferriell also placed second in Best Spot News Photo for the photo which ran across the front page of the “Extra” edition. It showed a group of three firefighters walking toward the scene as they began the search for victims and survivors. The judges said, “All parts of the frame add to the storytelling ability of this image. Conveys the scope of destruction well.”

Staff Writer Chad Fleetwood garnered three awards for sports coverage.

He won both first and third place in Best Sports News or Feature Coverage. He placed first for “A very special win,” which told the story of three senior Eastern Musketeer football players who had persevered through very difficult personal circumstances. Trey Albertson’s sister, Haley, who had been the team’s manager suffered serious head injuries in an ATV crash; Brandon Pask’s mother was fighting breast cancer, a battle she ultimately lost, and Tyler Duncan’s father was killed in a tragic work accident at the start of the season.

Fleetwood placed third in that category for “Softball comes full circle for the Ragains family,” which told the story of Mallory Ragains, a childhood cancer survivor, and her family’s love of softball.

The judges gave no comments in this category.

Fleetwood won second place in Best Sports Feature Photo for a photo of Tyler Duncan. The judges said, “Kudos for good observation in capturing this moment.” The photo showed Tyler Duncan hugging Haley Albertson.
“I had already put the lens cap on the camera and was trying to catch up with Tyler to interview him, but obviously, everyone there wanted to give the kid a hug and offer their condolences,” recalled Fleetwood. “His dad had just passed away that morning and his decision to play in the game that night gave Eastern’s football family something to rally around, and after they had won, a flood of emotions swept through both sides of the crowd. It was one of the more surreal moments I’ve witnessed during my time covering high school sports.”

The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat staff competes in Division 2, for nondaily newspapers with circulations greater than 3,000.

Saturday’s seminars and luncheon were planned by the Newsroom Seminar & Better Newspaper Contest Rules Committee. Ferriell has been a member of that committee for about 10 years.

To read The Leader’s complete winning entries and to view all other winning submissions, visit and click on “Contests.”

The Hoosier State Press Association is a member organization for newspapers produced in the state. The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat have been members for many decades.