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County weeklies amass 24 awards in Maine Press Association competition

The staff of the Aroostook Republican and News, The Star-Herald and Houlton Pioneer Times collected a total of 24 awards, including seven first-place honors, in writing, photography, design and advertising in the weekly division over the Oct. 20-21 weekend at the Maine Press Association’s annual awards banquet.

Senior Reporter Joseph Cyr of the Houlton Pioneer Times picked up 11 awards, either by himself or shared with another staffer, including three first places — one for a review of a high school musical, another for a spot news photo, and a third for a headline.

Reporter Christopher Bouchard of the Aroostook Republican won a first place award in the news story category for his piece about Limestone selectmen questioning changes made by the new town manager.

Former reporter Joshua Archer of The Star-Herald was awarded a first place in photography in the people category for a shot of a young runner being hit with yellow powder as he crosses the finish line at a color run in Presque Isle in August 2017.

A young runner gets hit with some yellow powder at the finish line of the 2017 Color Presque Isle 5K on Saturday, Aug. 26. (Josh Archer)

Editorial cartoonist Brent Dyer, who draws under the pen name E.A. Williams for all three publications and TheCounty.ME website, took home a first-place award for his work after submitting three samples of his sketches.

And the Aroostook Republican staff captured a first place in the advertising-circulation best young reader engagement category for its Newspapers in Education supplement. The judge said it contained “very fun sections — should be a hit with students, parents and advertisers. Liked the layout — very clean and consistent.”

In presenting Cyr with the top critic’s award, the judge in that category indicated that he liked Cyr’s explanation of what the play was about and what the audience liked about it.

Cyr took top honors for his headline about a baby yak visiting the Houlton Tractor Supply store — “Yakking it up in the Shiretown.”

His winning spot news photo was of a firefighter aiming a fire hose at a smoldering garage fire in Oakfield. The judge stated, “Love the water shooting onto the fire. Great picture with good cropping. Excellent photo.”

Of Bouchard’s first-place news story, the competition judge wrote, “This story exposed the ‘small town’ in small-town government. They supposedly have budget problems, but spent time discussing the layout of the council chambers? Way to expose their priorities. not everyone likes ‘he said, she said’ reporting, but in this case it really helped reveal the storyline.”

The judge wrote that editorial cartoonist Brent Dyer’s sketches were “a hoot.”

Joshua Archer’s winning photo of the Presque Isle color run “shows people at their best,” wrote the judge. “This had action with high visual interest.”

Cyr also shared a second-place writing award in the continuing story category with reporter Jen Lynds about a series of pieces they wrote about the Cary Plantation deorganization effort. The judge wrote, “Even though there were two writers, I was never left wondering what happened. The backstory was clear in every article. Each article articulated the struggles of the community, what they wanted to see happen and the next steps of the process. Job well done.”

A member of the Oakfield volunteer fire department sprays water on the Drew Street garage owned by Linda Slauenwhite and Laurel Peters Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to the home. (Joseph Cyr)

In addition, Cyr won second place in the feature photo category for a high school graduation shot; third place as a columnist for his “Cup O’ Joe,” series; third place for a sports news story about the Katahdin High School baseball team enjoying success without playing on a home field; third place in news photo for a fireworks shot; third in the picture story category for a series of pictures of Houlton’s Fourth of July celebration; and third for a sports photo of a runner reaching base safely as the first baseman leaps into the air to catch a high throw.

Cyr and Lanette Virtanen shared a third-place award for their design of a sports section of the paper.

Callie Picard won a second-place nod for her creation of a local advertisement for Tidd’s Sports Shop and the Pioneer Times won second place in the weekly advertising-circulation best young reader engagement category for its Newspapers in Education supplement.

Star-Herald writer Melissa Lizotte garnered a pair of writing awards, including a second-place win for an education story about fourth-graders from Mapleton Elementary School sharing their published book with the Leisure Village retirement center residents who inspired it.

“Great coverage of a very interesting activity going on in your school,” wrote the judge. “Loved the multi-generational aspect.”

Lizotte also picked up a third-place award in the health writing category for an article in February about 105 Aroostook County employees in the social services field receiving training in “mental health first aid,” focused on raising awareness of the resources available to individuals who struggle with mental illness.

In addition, The Star-Herald took second and third places in weekly advertising-circulation for a breast cancer awareness special section and best young reader engagement for its Newspapers in Education supplement, respectively.Archer also picked up a second-place for his news photo of workers putting the newly renovated planet Jupiter back in its spot in the University of Maine at Presque Isle solar system display that stretches from Presque Isle to Topsfield.

The staff of the Aroostook Republican took second place in front page design with the judge indicating that “Although there is a lot going on here, it is still easy to read and flows well. There is hierarchy and my eye flows in a circle staying on the page.”

Bouchard of the Aroostook Republican also picked up a third place in the religion category for his touching article about hundreds of mourners gathering to bid final farewell to Father Clement Thibodeau.

“I am constantly amazed by the diversity of topics our staffers tackle so ably on a regular basis,” said Senior Editor Rick Levasseur of Northeast Publishing, a division of Bangor Publishing which produces the Aroostook Republican, The Star-Herald and the Houlton Pioneer Times. “Our folks really care about the communities and the people they cover, and that really shines through their work.”

Northeast Publishing General Manager Andrew Birden added, “This year’s showing at the Maine Press Association highlights an amazing editorial team for Aroostook County newspapers. I’d say I was surprised at the awards we received, but, simply put, it’s what we do. Our team of journalists share the hopes and concerns of the people of the communities we serve, and this comes out in their writing, their dedication to truth and the excitement they express as we discover and rediscover the amazing stories in this part of Maine.”

During the awards banquet held Saturday evening at the Sunday River Resort and Conference Center in Newry, the Maine Press Association also inducted Kathryn Olmstead of Caribou into its Hall of Fame.

Olmstead began her affiliation with Maine journalism in the mid-1970s as a correspondent for the Bangor Daily News. In 1977, she went to work for the Aroostook Republican & News in Caribou, first as a reporter, then the editor. She served U.S. Sen. William S. Cohen as northern Maine field rep from 1979 to 1984 before joining the journalism faculty at the University of Maine. Her career at UMaine spanned 25 years, including six as associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In 1988, she co-founded Echoes: Rediscovering Community, a quarterly magazine focused on Aroostook County. She edited, designed and managed Echoes until its final edition in 2017. She also wrote a column about life in Aroostook County for the Bangor Daily News from 2010 to 2017. In 1993, Olmstead founded the Maine Center for Student Journalism, to foster the practice and teaching of journalism in secondary schools. In 2002, she was honored for that work with a special award from the New England Scholastic Press Association.

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