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Journalist of the Year

For the third year in a row, a New Times writer has been named Arizona's top print journalist. Deborah Laake won the Arizona Press Club's Virg Hill Journalist of the Year Award at the club's annual banquet on Saturday night. Staff writer Terry Greene was last year's winner, and staff writer Paul Rubin won the preceding year. Rubin also was a finalist for this year's award, along with Associated Press reporter Larry Lopez.

Overall, New Times won more awards than any other news organization in the state, capturing 10 first-place and 24 total awards. New Times also swept the music criticism and general criticism categories, won the Don Schellie Award for feature columns for the fourth consecutive year, and copped the Don Bolles Award for investigative reporting. Six writers for the paper won multiple awards.

The Virg Hill Award is named for a former Phoenix Gazette political writer who died of a heart attack while covering the state House of Representatives. There were twelve entrants for this year's award, which was judged by four out-of-state journalists working independently. "Laake wrote with extraordinary power, range and emotion," wrote one judge. Another judge said Laake's work contained "powerful and vivid writing that I seldom see in many newspapers. It is compelling writing and comprehensive reporting."

Staff photographer Jon Gipe was a finalist for Photographer of the Year, which was won for the fourth time by Peter Schwepker of the Arizona Republic. Randy Reid of the Phoenix Gazette was the other finalist. Gipe was Photographer of the Year two years ago.

Two other top awards were given by the club at the banquet, which was held at the Sheraton San Marcos Hotel in Chandler. Sandy Tolan of Desert West News Service in Tucson was named Broadcast Journalist of the Year, and James B. "Britt" Jones of KPNX was TV Photographer of the Year.

The Arizona Press Club awards are judged by out-of-state journalists. New Times competes in the any-publication classification against the state's largest newspapers and magazines. A list of the paper's winners, by category:

Music criticism: Andy Van De Voorde, first place for a story on the "La Bamba" revival and third place for a story on Sting. Contributor Theo, second place for a profile of musician Zodiac Mindwarp.

General criticism: Contributor Larry Cheek, first place for an analysis of Chandler's postmodern architecture. Former restaurant reviewer Nikki Buchanan, second place for a review of two Scottsdale trendy cafes. Film critic Michael Burkett, third place for a review of Clint Eastwood's Bird.

Don Schellie Award for feature columns: Executive editor Michael Lacey--winning for the third time in the last four years--for his collection of columns on topics including a fired grade school janitor and a bawdy political candidate. Third place in feature columns went to Laake for columns on AIDS, politicians and the Mecham administration.

Don Bolles Award for investigative reporting: Editor Jana Bommersbach tied for first place for a probe of the state's major medical malpractice insurance company, which prompted a state investigation that resulted in an $18 million rebate to Arizona doctors. (Tied with the Arizona Republic probe on misuse of farm tax breaks.)

General reporting: Bommersbach, first place for stories on the election campaign for Maricopa County attorney. (Tied with the Arizona Daily Star for its stories on AIDS in Mexico.)

Sustained coverage: Staff writer Kathleen Stanton, first place for coverage of environmental issues.

Explanatory reporting: Contributor Richard Fleming, first place for a story about pesticides in fruits and vegetables imported from Mexico. Contributor Charlotte-Anne Lucas, second place for a story on the county's public-defender office.

Editorial writing: Assistant editor Ward Harkavy, first place for the "Hall of Shame" in the Worst of Phoenix issue.

Features: Laake, first place for a story about a young retarded man who drowned his sister.

Religion features: Rubin, first place for a story on political infighting at Trinity Cathedral.

News columns: Laake, second place for a column about the Arizona Republican party's stance on AIDS.

Sports reporting: Rubin, second place for a profile of boxer Bobby Chacon. Fleming, third place for a story about Arizona State University's troubled track program.

Portrait/personality photography: Gipe, second place for a photo of a saxophonist.

Page layout: Former art director Neal Berg, second place for design of a story on racist memorabilia.

Lifestyle reporting: Bommersbach, third place for a profile on a compulsive shopper who landed in jail.

Business writing: Rubin, third place for a story of the state's controversial Lakeview land swap. Lucas, third place for a story on the war between America West and Southwest airlines.

Laake, a columnist and feature writer for New Times and the paper's former managing editor, also has worked as a staff writer for the Dallas Morning News. A graduate of the University of Utah, she attended graduate school at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She recently signed a contract with the publishing house of William Morrow to write her story of growing up Mormon in Arizona and Florida.

She will take an eight-month leave of absence from the paper, starting May 1, to write the book. The New York City publisher plans to release it in early 1991.

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