After the pandemic delayed the state press association’s annual meeting by six months, it’s finally official — the Index-Journal is again the most honored small daily in South Carolina for its journalism.
For the third consecutive year, Greenwood’s newspaper took home the coveted President’s Award for Excellence — that’s right, it’s a three-peat — among newspapers that circulate 10,000 or fewer daily copies. It and other daily newspaper awards were announced during a livestreamed ceremony Friday.
Also called the president’s cup, the prize goes to whichever newspaper in the division received the most points in the South Carolina Press Association’s news contest. With 28 other news awards, including second place in general excellence, and an honorable mention for assertive journalism, the Emerald City’s 101-year-old publication topped the field. The Index also took home two PALMY Advertising Awards earlier in the week from the press association.
“We are a small daily community newspaper — smaller even than when I started here 21 years ago — but our news teams have, over the years, consistently delivered good and solid journalism,” Executive Editor Richard Whiting said. “It’s the kind of journalism a community needs if it’s to remain informed.”
Mundy Price, president and CEO, called 2019 “another fantastic year” for the newsroom and said, “It’s always a good day when our team is recognized by their peers for excellent work.”
“A former IJ editor, Scott Bryan, coined the phrase ‘stacks of plaques’ one year after our team earned numerous awards at the press association’s annual meeting, and that seems to have stuck,” Price said. “Each year, our small but talented newsroom staff proves that community journalism is alive and well at our family-owned newspaper. I know that my grandparents and my mother are proudly applauding from above.”
Pete Barend, who served nearly four years as circulation director and was recently named general manager, also congratulated the newsroom on its awards.
“I value their acknowledged success in providing in-depth coverage of the Lakelands news each and every day,” he said. “They are truly driven to serve our community.”
Among the winning stories was staff writer Damian Dominguez’s “What happened at GCDC?”, which made public new details in Demetric Cowan’s in-custody death at the Greenwood County Detention Center.
“Harrowing account of a suspect’s death in the custody of jailers,” the judge wrote in explaining why the story took first place in enterprise reporting. “The news team’s persistence in its pursuit of public records is commendable and yielded a report important to public administration of justice.”
Judging of the story, which was published last October, happened months before concerns about the deaths of African Americans in police custody started a wave of protests across the nation.
Dominguez also took second place in photo series or photo story and shared second-place honors in reporting in depth with Assistant Editor Matthew Hensley. Hensley also took third place in reporting in depth.
The Index-Journal swept the short story category, with Hensley taking first, staff writer Skylar Rolstad finishing second and former staff writer Adam Benson coming in third. Benson, who now reports for the Post and Courier’s Columbia bureau, also took second place in three categories: enterprise reporting, business beat reporting and news feature writing.
St. Claire Donaghy, the newspaper’s vice president and secretary, took first-place honors for faith beat reporting, which was an open division, and third place for arts and entertainment writing.
The Index-Journal swept humor column writing among all dailies, with Hensley finishing first, columnist Chris Trainor taking second and Whiting rounding out the category with third place. In column writing, which looks at more serious matters, Trainor took first place while Hensley carried second. Whiting also had third-place finishes in editorial writing and editorial or column in support of Freedom of Information open government issues. Mike Beckom garnered second place in editorial cartoon.
Rolstad took first place in spot sports story for his coverage of Buffalo Bills cornerback and Greenwood native Josh Norman’s teen center while staff writer and designer Greg K. Deal received third place in spot sports. Rolstad also finished second in sports feature story, while Deal had a second-place finish in sports feature photo.
In design, Deal earned first place in single sports page design, while designer Bob Simmonds finished second in single page one design. Deal also had a third-place finish in sports headline writing.
Whiting, Hensley and Benson shared honorable mention for assertive journalism, the runner-up for the Jay Bender Award for Assertive Journalism among all daily newspapers. The entry pointed to the Index-Journal’s digging into Greenwood County’s projected $20 million shortfall on capital project sales tax collections, which is now estimated at just $10 million, and the reporting on investigations into the Lander Foundation and a related lawsuit, even while the Index was among those being sued. The newspaper was dropped from the lawsuit.
“We certainly continue to take pride in the fact that we serve the public and taxpayers by acting as their watchdogs in an effort to keep governing bodies transparent and accountable,” Whiting said. “These awards are a testament to this newspaper being a reliable and relevant source of news and information to the greater Greenwood area for 101 years. I am extremely proud of the work this newsroom continues to do in serving our readers.”
PALMY ad awards
The Index-Journal’s Bill Duncan, who has been selling newspaper ads since 2001, and The Carolina Ford carried first place in automotive with “God, Guns and America,” an attention-grabbing ad that captured national headlines.
“Everybody at this dealership is proud of our country and almost everybody likes to hunt, and so we tried to do something a little bit different,” The Carolina Ford General Manager Derrick Hughes told the Index-Journal last year.
The promotion, which ended nearly a year ago, promised customers a Bible, an American flag and a gun with the purchase of any vehicle. While the Bibles and flags were given out at the dealership, the business did not keep firearms on-site and instead gave vouchers to an Abbeville gun dealer, which required customers to go through a background check.
“Great theme and headline,” the category’s judge wrote. “This ad can be sold to almost any car dealer, (or ATV/UTV or boat dealer, etc.) in a rural community.”
Bob Roy, a senior advertising representative with more than 14 years of experience, took second place in the health services category for his Greenwood Family Dentistry ad, “Smile down the aisle.”
The PALMY Advertising Awards were announced Tuesday in a ceremony streamed online. To watch either awards ceremony, visit facebook.com/scpress.