The Commercial Dispatch took home 16 awards, including five first place prizes, from the Mississippi Press Association Better Newspaper Contest luncheon Saturday in New Orleans.
Managing editor Zack Plair won four awards overall, placing first in The Dispatch’s circulation division in both the In-Depth/Investigative and Feature Story categories.
Plair’s investigative piece looked into the high number of absentee ballots cast in Columbus municipal elections in 2017 and how candidates either hire or enlist volunteers to collect absentee votes from elderly or disabled citizens.
His winning feature profiled Joshua Hibbler, who remained calm despite harassment from a Columbus police officer during a 13-minute traffic stop caught on the officer’s body camera footage. The city fired the officer shortly after the body camera footage became public.
Reporter Alex Holloway, who covers the Starkville and Oktibbeha County beat for The Dispatch, placed first in the circulation division for General News. His story focused on a political action group that was not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office purchasing thousands of dollars in radio advertising supporting a ballot initiative to sell OCH Regional Medical Center.
Slim Smith’s “Slimantics” columns placed first for General Interest and second for Commentary in The Dispatch’s division, while Immediate Past Publisher Birney Imes placed first in the Commentary category and second in General Interest for his weekly “Partial to Home” column.
Of Smith’s first-place work, a judge commented: “Top-notch writing from a master columnist. Let’s just haul out the adjectives: innovative, incisive, thought-provoking, funny, insightful, original and, to put an Obama ball cap on and wear it to a Mississippi fair, gutsy.”
Of Imes’ commentary, a judge said: “These columns are beautifully written and easy to read, a difficult feat considering their elusive subjects. Mr. Imes knows how to get to the heart of the matter, resulting in work that touches the heart. I read these columns over and over, and cried twice reading one.”
Plair also placed second in Sports Feature and third in General News.
Other winners from The Dispatch included:
■ Matt Garner, second place, Front Page;
■ Isabelle Altman, third place, In-Depth Investigative;
■ Adam Minichino, third place for both Game Story and Sports News Story;
■ Jan Swoope, third place for both Feature Story and Lifestyles Section; and
■ Scott Walters, third place, Sports Column.