DETROIT, Saturday June 25, 2011 — Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times for the second straight year was named best online columnist/blogger, large website, by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
The 2011 winners of the annual contest, for work originally published during 2010, were announced at Saturday’s concluding dinner banquet of the NSNC’s 35th annual conference, held this year at the West Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit.
The society’s traditional top prize (its Best Motion Picture or Album of the Year, if you please) is for general-interest columns in large newspapers. First prize this year went to Mike Kelly of The Record of Bergen County, N.J. The judge’s comments included this: “These are what metro columns should be: elegantly written, with a clear point of view, but — above all — well-reported.”
Below is the complete list of first- through third-place winners, plus any honorable mentions.
Category A: General interest, newspapers over 50,000 circulation
Judge: Tom Ferrick, Jr.
Tom Ferrick Jr. is an award-winning reporter and columnist who spent most of his careerat the Philadelphia Inquirer, including nine years as Metro columnist. Ferrick is currently involved in a new media venture as senior editor of Metropolis, an in-depth news andinformation website based in Philadelphia.
- First: Mike Kelly, The Record, Bergen County, N.J.
These are what Metro columns should be: elegantly written, with a clear point of view, but — above all — well reported. Kelly not an armchair columnist. In these examples, Kellyshows he knows how to work the phones and get the story on the street. Of particular note ia his piece on Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam famous for trying to build an Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center. Kelly reveals that while he may be a man of peace in Manhattan, in Union City Rauf is a slum landlord who neglects his tenants and his properties.
- Second: Joel Brinkley, Tribune Media Services
The best column writing — the best journalism — offers a window to the world and that isexactly what Brinkley does with his columns. He writes about foreign affairs, a topic that can be dry, but certainly not in his hands. Whether he is writing about the tiny Pacific Island nation of Nauru, which made and lost a fortune selling bird droppings; the restaveks of Haiti — children sold in slavery by their families, or Afghanistan’s ‘dirty little secret’ of man-boy love, Brinkley uses clear writing, good reporting and a strong point ofview to offer real insights into the world.
- Third: Mike Argento, York (Pa.) Daily Record
Argento is a man with a strong, passionate voice and you can hear it come throug loud and clear in his writing. He is also a storyteller. His piece about the woman who survived a childhood in Germany in World War II could have been a musty tale, but it was given immediacy by Argento’s storytelling. His piece on the folks from the Westboro Baptist Church, who show their love by spewing hate, is a laugh-out-loud dissection of the tactics — and the lunacy — of these so-called Christians.
- Honorable mention, Helen Ubinas, Hartford (Conn.) Courant
Nicely done pieces that capture the feel of her city, Hartford, Conn. Of particular note, her dissection of a fatal crash involving a bicyclist and a car driven by the son of a local police officer, revealing the special treatment the suspect got from police.
Category B: General interest, newspapers under 50,000 circulation
Judge: John Carlson
John Carlson retired in December 2009, after 31 years at the Des Moines Register, the last 11 as a columnist. He previously worked as a reporter at the Fort Dodge (Ia.) Messenger and Cedar Rapids Gazette. A graduate of Western Illinois University, he served four years in the U.S. Air Force and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard. He has won some journalism awards but is most proud of covering the war in Iraq in 2003 and 2005. He is 62 and lives in Indianola, Ia., with his wife, Jane.
- First: Trisha Blanchet, The Sun, Lowell, Mass.
Blanchet’s columns are funny and sassy with the personality you’d hope to find in your next door neighbor. She is a thoughtful, wonderful storyteller.
- Second: Jennifer Graham, Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal
Graham is a fine writer with a remarkable range. She made me love her dog and, after all these years, come to understand the true significance of Tupperware.
- Third: Ken Tingley, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.
This columnist is a common sense guy who undoubtedly brings nods of agreement from his readers on the most important issues in his community.
- Honorable mention, Mary Robbins Phelan, The Howard County (Md.) Times
Phelan’s column on the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial is magnificent. She no doubt is a “must read” in her newspaper.
- Honorable mention, Lynn Rebuck, Lititz (Pa.) Record Express
She gets Daylight Savings Time, McDonald’s, health care and Waffle House in a single column — and it works.
Category C: Humor, newspapers over 50,000 circulation
Judge: Clark DeLeon
Clark DeLeon was the best-read columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 23 years beforeleaving in 1995. He currently writes a column for the Philadelphia Metro. During his careerat the Inquirer, DeLeon was named Best Newspaper Columnist eight times by the readersand editors of Philadelphia magazine. DeLeon has also worked in television and radio andhas been published online. He has also published two books: America’s First Zoostory: 125Years at the Philadelphia Zoo (1999) and Pennsylvania Curiosities
- First: Bill Ervolino, The Record, Bergen County, N.J.
First place winner Bill Ervolino of The Record in North Jersey actually gave me an authentic and involuntary LOL moment in a column about gender testing female Olympic athletes even after they had given birth to children after “it was revealed the onetime homerun champ Mark McGwire has used performance enhancing steroids and was the mother of twins.” Ervolino also wrote about women who write to and marry men serving life in prison for murder. “He was a hit man,” one wife noted in an interview. “But he was a GOOD hitman.” In the immortal words of Dave Barry, “I am not making this up.”
- Second: Eric Heyl, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Second Place goes to Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review for a pair of columnsrevealing social media gone bad — Linday Lohan tweeting from prison thinking it was anew nightclub, and Barack Obama asking for “positive energy” from Facebook friends after losing midterm elections. He also carped about foreign (or undocumented) carp invading Pennsylvania waters.
- Third: Mark Woods, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
Third Place goes to Mark Woods of the Jacksonville Times Union for his hilarious stealth revelation of product placement in everything from soap operas to newspaper columns, as well as a political lawsuit over which candidate had copyrighted an exclamation mark after his/her nickname (Jeb! or Deb!), and finally a defense of getting to sit at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.
- Honorable mention, Anne Palumbo, Brighton-Pittsford (N.Y.) Post
Honorable mention goes to Anne Palumbo of the Messenger Post Newspapers for her Erma Bombeckian takes on outwaiting football games, remembering stuff she’ll soon forget again, and writing a memoir of an unremarkable life back when chasing mosquito trucks engulfed in a toxic fog was considered normal childhood fun.
Category D: Humor, newspapers under 50,000 circulation
Judge: Tom Walsh
During a journalism career that has spanned 45 years, Tom Walsh has worked as areporter for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington D.C.and, most recently, rural Maine. As an educator, he has taught journalism to both undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities in the United States and in Ireland, where he earned a master’s degree in science communications fromDublin City University in 2002. He now lives on the Maine seacoast.
- First: Steve Symanovich, San Francisco Business Times
Steve Symanovich has a wonderfully conversational style and is the epitome of the adage that “good journalistic writing is invisible.” His topics are whimsical but infused withclever insights and outtakes. Few columnists I know could spin a humorous yarn out of a cramp in a pinkie.
- Second: John Philipp, Sausalito (Calif.) Marinscope
John Philipp’s columns are a mix of whimsical vignettes (the inherent ordeals of pumpkincarving) and humorous insights into serious events (i.e., FBI anti-terrorist protocols). Myonly suggestion is that he lose the “thought-byte” finales, as they take the reader from whimsy to deep thoughts in a buzz kill sort of way.
- Third: Dawn Weber, Buckeye Lake (Ohio) Beacon
Dawn Weber uses a very readable, staccato style laced with great back-and-forthdialogue. She’s one of the few “mom” columnists in these entries who can get away with tales of her children and spouse, as they are written in a style that doesn’t come off as not half-baked Erma Bombeck.
- Honorable mention, Pat Detmer, Newcastle (Wash.) News
Pat Detmer has a simple style and an interesting take on enduring the slings and arrows, real and imagined, of Boomerhood. One of the submitted columns had me laughing at loud at lines like “People magazine needs to add footnotes, because I don’t know whothese people are.” Having also been born in 1950, I feel your pain.
Category E: Online, Blog and Multimedia over 100,000 unique monthly visitors
Judge: Chad Lorenz
Chad Lorenz is the home page editor at the online magazine Slate. He previously was a managing editor at The Washingtonian and a copy editor at The Washington Post. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lorenz began his career with internshipsat The Detroit News and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He lives in Washington, D.C.,
- First: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Ebert’s intensely personal subjects and warm, intimate tone make for wonderful reading.His columns invite you into his life, into his mind, where many scenes of fascination and delight play out. His vivid descriptions—particularly the Proust-like details of sensory experiences—sear deeply into the reader’s memory. And his insights into innately humanconcerns impart readers with a wise, worldly point of view.
- Second: John Avlon, The Daily Beast
Avlon’s dispatches from the front line of the Tea Party movement provide eye-openingobservations about a major, possibly historic movement in American politics. Impressively, Avlon has managed to find fresh stories and unique things to say in this crowded news topic. While he brings a reporter’s sensibility to his interviews andresearch, he infuses his accounts with witty judgments that contribute a strong, unapologetic perspective.
- Third: Mary Curtis, Politics Daily
Curtis’s columns deftly framed last year’s high-interest social news events withcompelling, resonant arguments. Her distinctive voice draws from her personal experience as well as a penchant for persuasive, level-headed analysis. Her smart insightsidentify important truths about our culture and, ultimately, how we interact with and understand each other in society.
Category F: Online, Blog and Multimedia under 100,000 unique monthly visitors
Judge: Mae Israel
Veteran journalist Mae Israel worked for nearly 20 years at The Washington Post, serving in various roles as an assistant Metropolitan editor. She also was a writer and editor for The Charlotte Observer. She has been affiliated with The National Association of Black Journalists, the Washington Area Black Journalists and helped organize the Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists. Israel, who also served on the diversity subcommittee of the Newspaper Association of America, has received awards from the North Carolina Press Association and the North Carolina Mental Health Association. She is currently an independent journalist in Charlotte, N.C. and blogs about the Sandwich Generation at http://myjugglingact.com.
- First: Jeff Brown, Master of None
Brown’s columns are original and inviting, teasing the reader to come back for more of his views on the ordinary tasks of life that he cleverly turns into unexpected adventures. He has a knack for storytelling and leads the reader through his tales with humor and imagination.
- Second: Russell Frank, StateCollege.com
Frank writes with an easy passion that makes his columns delightful. He captures the reader with a creative use of imagery and analogy. He skillfully transforms the reading experience into a choreographed dance.
- Third: Tracy Beckerman, Self-Syndicated
Beckerman is witty and imaginative. Her rapid-fire writing style takes the reader for a roller coaster ride. She writes with a distinctive voice and has plenty to say about things many of us overlook.