The Mississippi Press Association held its annual Better Newspaper Awards on Saturday at the Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, and the Sun Herald took home several awards.
▪ Veteran business and casino reporter Mary Perez earned first place in best business news story for “What happened to the mega-million dollar jackpots at Coast casinos?”
The judges’ comments read, “Great explanation of why the jackpots seemed to disappear. Great writing that even a layperson could understand.”
After the story ran in May 2018, there were two jackpots over a million dollars in July and August.
▪ Veteran crime reporter Margaret Baker won second place in the Community Service Award category for “Assault of disabled girl on St. Martin school bus captured on shocking video.” She also recently won a McClatchy President’s Award for the same coverage.
She obtained exclusive video surveillance footage from a school bus in Jackson County that showed a bus driver and special education teacher mistreating a disabled 14-year-old girl. The girls’ parents recently settled a civil lawsuit with the school district. The teacher’s criminal case has been resolved but the bus driver is still awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges.
▪ The Sun Herald swept first, second and third place in the online video category thanks to former videographer Amanda McCoy, who is now at another McClatchy-owned newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
She won first for “The untold story of the alleged 1973 Pascagoula alien abduction” featuring former longtime Jackson County reporter Karen Nelson. On Saturday, Pascagoula unveiled a historic marker near the location of the alleged sighting.
“Fantastic use of current interviews, reporter input, archives of old photos and stories,” the judge’s comments read. “Emotional look at loss through series of compelling interviews.”
Second place went to “A question of justice in Greene County,” a longterm project with Baker investigating the tragic fatal DUI crash and it’s rippling effects through two families.
Third place went to “Carson Jones gives an inside look into the side-eye that made him internet famous” as part of the Sun Herald’s “Out Here in America” podcast by Justin Mitchell that explores the lives of LGBTQ people in the South and rural America.
▪ Former staffer John Fitzhugh won first place for a planned series for “A stranger comes home from war” video and story series that examined what it’s like combat veterans to come to the Coast.
The judges said, “well-written series about a topic few want to discuss — the aftermath of war. Great writing, great photos.”
Fitzhugh also took home first place for sports action photo for a dramatic shot from a baseball game between Gulfport and Pascagoula high schools.
▪ In the investigative coverage category, Perez took home second place for her stories on the rollout of legal sports betting on the Coast and in Mississippi after last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Baker took third place for uncovering details and the gang involved in the Super Bowl party shooting on Moss Point.
▪ Veteran news reporter Anita Lee got third place in general news story for “She killed herself months before the DMR scandal broke. Now her story has come to light.”
Lee was involved in the original Sun Herald investigation of the Department of Marine Resources that led to the arrest and prosecution of several top officials. She was finally able to reveal the story of Michaela Hill after a judge granted her husband $200,000 in worker’s compensation for DMR’s contribution to her suicide.
▪ Lee also won second place for best feature story for “’This girl didn’t have anybody to give her a chance.’ How help from Coast strangers saved her.” While thousands of addicts get caught up in South Mississippi’s criminal justice system, which is short on beds and mental health professionals, Lee told the story of one longtime drug user who was lucky enough to get help.
▪ Sports reporter Patrick Magee took home third place in sports news story for “Here’s why Bay High students want their ‘encouraging and loving’ football coach reinstated.”
After a large, yellow envelope with 64 letters from students arrived in the Sun Herald newsroom, Magee explored the controversy surrounding the sudden firing of Bay High’s popular coach. The news led to a shakeup in the school board, and the coach eventually resigned after another losing season.
▪ Former crime reporter Robin Fitzgerald won third place in breaking news story for her coverage of a dramatic shooting at a pawnshop on U.S. 49. She was able to quickly contact workers and others in the area who described how it started when a man walked in with a sledgehammer, demanding money, and ended in gunfire from both police and pawnshop employees.
▪ The Sun Herald earned both first and second place for use of social media for native video posts on Facebook illustrating the coming of Margaritaville’s amusement park and a clip of the Jackson County school bus assault. The newspaper also earned third place for general excellence, behind the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal and Clarion Ledger.