The Write Stuff

Press Club honors New Times scribe

New Times staff writer Laura Laughlin was named the state's top journalist Saturday by the Arizona Press Club.

The 44-year-old Laughlin was selected for the coveted Virg Hill Journalist of the Year award from a field of 14 reporters. It marks the seventh consecutive year that a New Times journalist has won the top honor.

Judges cited Laughlin's solid reporting on a broad range of topics in 2000, including an investigation of State Farm Insurance Company's practice of slow payment nationwide on numerous policyholder claims, a compelling story about the effectiveness of tribal scholarship programs fueled by gaming income, and an in-depth tale of tension and possible wrongdoing at Phoenix's largest Hispanic Catholic church, Immaculate Heart of Mary (a story she co-authored with staff writer Gilbert Garcia). Laughlin's portfolio for the year also included profiles of Phoenix businessman Jim Kaufman and longtime downtown resident Vic Kramer, an analysis of the March 2000 transit ballot initiative and a groundbreaking look at problems in the military's mandatory anthrax vaccination program.

"Tireless reporting, deft writing and an eye for the story that matters make this versatile journalist a credit to her craft," wrote judge Robert Kaiser of the Chicago Tribune. "What a wonderfully diverse array of stories; all of them are original, fresh, surprising and thought-provoking."

Richard Read, a writer who was a member of a team that won the Pulitzer for public service this year for The Oregonianin Portland, Oregon, wrote, "This reporter opens up worlds, whether they be the inner workings of an unscrupulous insurance company, the feuding members of a church congregation or the closed society of a Native American community. Her stories are local and examples specific, but her conclusions are nationally significant. She uses compelling characters to tell powerful stories."

A journalist for more than 20 years, Laughlin has worked for the Phoenix Gazette, Tucson Citizen and newspapers in central and northern California. She was a freelance writer for 10 years before joining New Times, writing regularly for publications including the Dallas Morning News, Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times and the Arizona Capitol Times.

Laughlin, a native of northern California, holds an undergraduate degree from the University of the Pacific and a master's in journalism from the University of Arizona. She has lived in the Phoenix area since 1983. Laughlin is married and has three teenage children.

Arizona Republic reporter David Parrish was named first runner-up for Journalist of the Year. New Times staff writer Paul Rubin was second runner-up.

The Republic's Michael Chow retained his title as Photojournalist of the Year, which he's won three years in a row. First runner-up was the Republic's Cheryl Evans, who is married to Chow. Second runner-up was Tricia McInroy of the Tucson Citizen.

Monica Alonzo-Dunsmore of the Daily News-Sun of Sun City was named Community Journalist of the Year.

"This writer shakes things up and makes things happen," wrote judge Lynne DeLucia of the Hartford Courant. "If I lived in El Mirage, I wouldn't want this reporter tailing me."

First runner-up for Community Journalist of the Year was Margaret Regan of Tucson Weekly. Second runner-up was Allen Kalchik of HeatStroke News.

Peter Schwepker, who retired last year after 22 years at the Republic as a photographer, was given the Press Club's Distinguished Service Award. He is an instructor at Northern Arizona University and is known for his work as a mentor with young journalists.

The Press Club's 77th annual competition drew more than 1,800 entries from reporters, editors, photographers and designers from 23 newspapers and magazines throughout the state. For the first time, the organization honored Spanish-language newspapers and online news operations. The contest was judged by dozens of veteran journalists from throughout the country, most of whom have won national awards themselves.

New Times staff writers won numerous honors in the 2000 competition. The paper's awards included:

-- Robert Nelson tied for first place in the John Kolbe Politics and Government Reporting Award, for "Posse Galore," a look at last year's campaign for Maricopa County Sheriff. Nelson also won third place in non-deadline reporting for "Committing the Truth," about university whistle-blowers, and an honorable mention in film and video criticism for a review of the film Boys Don't Cry.

-- Paul Rubin tied for first place in long-form news feature writing for "Danger to Children," a heartbreaking and horrifying tale of Kelly Blake, a mentally ill Phoenix mother who set herself and her three children on fire. Rubin also won a second-place award for law and order reporting for "Judge Not," about a Superior Court judge who let dozens of cases go unresolved for months.

-- James Hibberd won first place in long-form lifestyle reporting for "Big Audio Dynamite," a look at a mother-son team competing in the world of ear-shattering, high-decibel car audio competitions. Hibberd also won a first-place award in non-deadline business reporting for "Ecstatic Fall," an examination of the failed business practices of a multimedia company linked to the wild world of raves and online media.

-- David Holthouse won second place in the Don Schellie Award for feature column writing. Holthouse also won second place in personality profiles for "Remains of the Day," about the work of a local medical examiner.

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