On the Virg

Two New Times writers are finalists for the state's top journalism prize

Two New Times staff writers--John Dougherty and Tony Ortega--are among three nominees for Arizona's top journalism prize, Arizona Press Club officials announced Monday.

Arizona Republic reporter Bill Muller joins Dougherty and Ortega as a finalist for the title of 1996 Virg Hill Journalist of the Year.

Hill, a longtime reporter for the Phoenix Gazette, died while covering the Arizona Legislature.

Dougherty, 40, has won the Virg Hill award three times. He was nominated for a 1996 portfolio that featured reporting on the financial and legal travails of Governor J. Fife Symington III. Dougherty explored Symington's real estate valuation methodology, outlined his possible legal defenses and exposed his links to Mexican businessmen.

Dougherty also revealed that Maricopa County had paid $1 million toward construction of the Bank One Ballpark while the public had been told that $1 million would be paid by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He reported that the City of Phoenix had manipulated consultant reports to justify construction of a parking garage across the street from the ballpark.

Ortega, 33, left a career as a college instructor to become a staff writer for New Times in 1995. He taught at several California colleges, most recently at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where he remains a candidate for a doctorate in literature.

Ortega's 1996 portfolio contained several stories about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, including pieces about the sheriff's misuse of state funds, poor morale inside the department, the high cost of the sheriff's posses and evidence of abuse of jail inmates.

Ortega also broke stories about the governor's role in questionable appraisals of state land leased to Sumitomo-Sitix and the willingness of local politicians to follow scripts that Sumitomo's public relations advisers had prepared.

The contest is judged by a panel of distinguished journalists from across the nation. The winner will be announced at the Arizona Press Club's 73rd annual awards banquet in Tucson on May 10.

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