Paul Rubin was named Virg Hill Journalist of the Year for the third time in his 20 years as a staff writer at New Times, at the 82nd annual Arizona Press Club awards banquet, held May 6 at the Heard Museum.
Sarah Fenske was honored as Virg Hill first runner-up, for her work during her first year at New Times.
Our publication's staff and freelancers won a total of 30 awards, including 12 first-place wins in categories ranging from public safety reporting to film criticism. Two writers, Robert Nelson and Robrt L. Pela, won multiple "firsts."
Arizona Press Club awards
In addition to his three wins, Rubin, 55, has been a finalist for the award so often he's called the Susan Lucci of Arizona journalism. He was honored for a portfolio of work in 2005 that included the tale of a homeless musician who died in last summer's heat wave, an epic about alleged murder and deceit in the famed Carbajal family, and several stories that uncovered corruption in the legal system.
The contest was judged by a panel of three, including Walt Bogdanich, assistant investigations editor at the New York Times. "Rubin embodies the best of the old-time crime reporter: a big heart and a low threshold of indignation," Bogdanich wrote. "That combination, backed by a skilled use of interviews and public records, produced a compelling series of stories."
Peter Bhatia, executive editor of the Oregonian, praised Rubin as well. "From con men to criminals to those that society forgets," the judge wrote, "his combination of journalistic skills make these people compelling -- even if you ultimately end up really disliking them."
Fenske, 29, had a portfolio that included an investigation of ambulance service providers, a story about efforts to fix babies' flat heads, and a trend piece about lesbian chic.
Contest judge Bob Baker, retired reporter, editor and writing coach at the Los Angeles Times, called Fenske's work "an impressive tour of the human condition. The writing was authoritative without being showy; the tone was confident without sneering."
Individual first-place honors went to:
Robert Nelson, public safety reporting, "Altar Ego," and education reporting, "Mold Attacks."
Robrt L. Pela, slice of life reporting, "You Don't Know Jack," and video, film and television criticism, "The Virtues of Chastity."
Paul Rubin, personality profile, "Crying Shame."
Michael Lacey, news column writing, "I Could Just Slap Him," "Thunder Road," "Unequal Justice."
Brendan Joel Kelley, music criticism, "High Voltage."
Leanne Potts, visual and performing arts criticism, "Suburban Pall."
David Hollenbach, color illustration, "Shot at Redemption."
Former staff writer Joe Watson won diversity reporting for "The Crying Game."
And Fenske, Nelson, Rubin, Watson and former staff writer Jimmy Magahern placed first in project reporting, for the methamphetamine series "The Perfect Drug."
The staff was also honored with many seconds, thirds and honorable mentions.
John Dougherty placed third in the Don Bolles Award for Investigative Reporting for his series on polygamy, and Fenske placed second in the John Kolbe Award for Politics and Government Reporting with "Ambulance Chasers."
Fenske also received a second in health reporting, a third in environmental reporting, and an honorable mention in public safety reporting.
Nelson took second in both sports enterprise reporting and personality profile.
Watson placed second in slice of life reporting and third in personality profile.
Photographer Jeff Newton placed second in metro photo package, and Potts placed second in visual and performing arts criticism, a category where Pela took third. Other third places included: Niki D'Andrea, feature beat reporting (for music); Magahern, immigration reporting; and former staff writer Bruce Rushton, growth and development reporting. Clay McNear placed third and Benjamin Leatherman got an honorable mention in feature headline writing.
Robert Anglen and Chris Hawley, both of the Arizona Republic, tied for second runner-up in the Virg Hill race. Michael Chow, also of the Republic, was named Photographer of the Year, and Marley Shebala of the Navajo Times was chosen Community Journalist of the Year.
New Times has also done well on the regional and national awards front. Robert Nelson won the 2006 Thurgood Marshall Award for Print Journalism from the Death Penalty Information Center for his story "About Face." In addition, Nelson's story "Altar Ego" is slated for inclusion in the 2006 edition of The Best American Crime Writing.
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The paper's meth project won a Maggie Award from the Western Publications Association in Los Angeles for "Best Series of Articles/Consumers," and Fenske won "Best News Story, Consumer" for "Ambulance Chasers."
Watson placed third in Best of the West for "The Crying Game."
Food critic Stephen Lemons was a finalist for a James Beard Award, in the Wine & Spirits category for "Behind the Green Door."