CN+R takes home 31 awards at state press contest


RALEIGH — The Chatham News + Record was awarded 31 prizes for its news coverage — the most of any community newspaper in the state — at the N.C. Press Association’s annual editorial and advertising contest ceremony, held Thursday at the Hilton North Hills in Raleigh.

In addition to 30 individual and staff awards in a variety of news, photography and special publication categories, the newspaper was also awarded first place in the General Excellence category in its division — the contest’s “best newspaper” prize — following up its second place and third place finishes in the two prior years of the contest. 

“North Carolinians are served across the state by more than 40 small weekly newspapers like ours,” said Publisher and Editor Bill Horner III. “To be judged by our peers in the industry as the very best among those, and to win the more news awards than all but two of the state’s 150 news organizations, is a testament to our staff’s effort to bring Chatham County the very best newspaper and best news coverage available, whether in print or online.”

The ceremony, held as a part of the NCPA’s 149th annual convention, was the culmination in an 18-month-long competition (extended by the normal 12-month period because of COVID) that drew more than 4,000 contest entries. The News + Record won 30 of the 108 prizes awarded in its division. In its division, 29 newspapers won either news or advertising awards. Of the 23 which won news prizes, only one other newspaper — The State Port Pilot in Southport, with 20 — won more than 10 awards. Excluding the News + Record’s 30 awards, that meant the 22 other winning newspapers took home a total of 78 awards.

“Factoring out our 30 wins, those newspapers averaged about 3.5 news awards each,” Horner said. “For us to have won 30 — plus that first place in General Excellence — demonstrates how strong of a newspaper the judges said we have. We won about 28% of all the prizes given out in our division.”

Aside from the News + Record, only five newspapers in the division won more than four awards. The CN+R’s list includes 11 first place prizes, 11 second place prizes and nine third place prizes.

Among them was a first place for “Chatham 411,” the newspaper’s “community almanac” magazine. Chip Pate, who produces the News + Record’s two magazines, and part-time photographer Kim Hawks teamed up for the top prize in the Magazine/Niche Publication category.

Pate, who lives in Pittsboro, compiled, wrote and designed the publication.

The newspaper’s individual winners:

Lars Dolder

Dolder, who now works as editor of the Raleigh News & Observer’s “N.C. Insider,” won a total of seven awards, including three first place prizes. In addition to sharing the first place prize for Investigative Reporting with Bill Horner III and Hannah McClellan for the newspaper’s coverage of Chatham County’s cyberattack, he won first place for Profile Feature and News Enterprise Reporting. Dolder’s other prizes included second place awards for Profile Feature, Lighter Columns and Beat News Reporting, and a third place for Business Reporting. Dolder also won awards for his work at the Durham Herald-Sun and the News & Observer.

Victoria Johnson

Johnson, the newspaper’s former La Voz de Chatham lead reporter, won six awards, including first place for Election/Political Reporting. She won second place prizes for Religion & Faith Reporting, News Feature Writing, and Education Reporting, and third place prizes for Profile Feature Writing and — teaming with former reporter Hannah McClellan — in News Enterprise Reporting. Johnson now works as a paralegal in Raleigh.

Bill Horner III

Horner, the newspaper’s publisher and editor, won five awards — two firsts, a second, and two thirds. For the second straight year, he won first place in the “Serious Columns” category, and shared first place award — with McClellan and Dolder — for Investigative Reporting. He won second place for Editorials and third place awards for Sports Feature Writing and for Email Newsletter, for his Wednesday “Chatham Brew,” which is delivered to more than 5,400 readers weekly.

Hannah McClellan

McClellan, the newspaper’s former education reporter and web editor, won four awards. In addition to sharing the first place prize for Investigative Reporting and third place in News Enterprise Reporting, she won second place for Ledes and third place for Religion and Faith Reporting. 

She served as the newspaper’s web editor until leaving earlier this year to take a position with Education NC, an online news organization that covers the state’s community colleges and other education issues. McClellan’s work largely contributed to the newspaper winning second place in General Excellence for Websites.

Victor Hensley

Hensley, the News + Record’s sports editor until a few weeks ago, won three first place awards, including Best Community Sports Coverage — meaning that the News + Record’s sports pages were judged best among all small community newspapers in the state. Hensley also won first place for Sports Columns and for “Ledes,” the newspaper term for opening lines of a story.  Hensley recently moved to Maryland to be closer to his fiancée. 

Taylor Heeden

The News + Record’s senior reporter and web editor, Heeden won two individual awards. She won first place in Business Writing and third place in Feature Writing. She’s been the newspaper’s web editor since McClellan’s departure and shared in the newspaper’s website award.

Peyton Sickles

Part-time photographer Peyton Sickles won two awards — first place for Spot Photography and second place for Sports Feature Photography.

Chapel Fowler

Fowler, the newspaper’s former sports editor, won second place for Sports Feature Writing. Fowler, who also won awards for work he did while a member of the Fayetteville Observer, now covers Clemson football and other sports for The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina.

John McCann

McCann, a former sportswriter for The Herald-Sun in Durham and former public relations coordinator for Chatham County Schools, won a second place prize for Sports News Reporting. 

James Kiefer

Kiefer, a part-time photographer for the CN+R, won a second place prize for Sports Photography for his work with Davidson Local News.

Only the Raleigh News & Observer, with 33 news awards, and The Fayetteville Observer — which won 36 awards after moving from division “E” to the smaller division “D” because of its circulation losses in the last two years — won more awards than the News + Record.

The top-winning newspapers in each division:

Division A: North State Journal, with 20 awards. General Excellence: The Watauga Democrat.

Division B: Chatham News + Record, with 31 awards. General Excellence: Chatham News + Record.

Division C: Wilson Times, with 23 awards. General Excellence: Southern Pines Pilot.

Division D: Fayetteville Observer, with 36 awards. General Excellence: Fayetteville Observer.

Division E: Raleigh News & Observer, with 33 awards. General Excellence: Charlotte Observer.

Division O (online only): North Carolina Health News, with 16 awards. General Excellence: Carolina Public Press.

Since Kirk Bradley, Chris Ehrenfeld and Horner acquired the Chatham News and the Chatham Record in 2018, the “new” News + Record has won more news awards — a combined 78 — than any weekly newspaper in the NCPA’s annual contests.