New Times staff writer Tony Ortega won the state's top award for print journalism Saturday when he was named 1996's Virg Hill Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Press Club. New Times reporter John Dougherty was runner-up for the award.
New Times writers placed first in 10 of 24 writing and reporting categories, including the Don Bolles Award for investigative reporting, awarded to Paul Rubin for the fourth straight year.
Ortega, 33, spent much of 1996 reporting about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Ortega exposed Arpaio's posse program as little more than a public relations vehicle that saps his department's scarce resources. He also chronicled the sheriff's inhumane treatment of prisoners.
"This reporter has a fresh eye for the intriguing story, a masterful writing ability, an obvious talent for drawing stories out of other people and keen investigative skills," wrote Allison Grant, a 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter. She was one of four decorated out-of-state journalists who judged the Virg Hill competition.
Ortega's stories about Arpaio also won him second-place honors in the Press Club's sustained-coverage category. Other stories in his diverse portfolio explored the militia movement in Arizona and how Sumitomo-Sitix wooed city officials into allowing it to build a massive silicon-wafer plant in north Phoenix.
Ortega also took first place in the long-form feature writing category with "A Cosmic Blunder," the story of how a fledgling astronomer from Phoenix became co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp.
Incredibly, Ortega has been a journalist only 19 months. Before he joined New Times, he taught English at California colleges for eight years.
Dougherty remains the only reporter who has won the Journalist of the Year honor three times--in 1995, 1994 and 1992. As he has done since 1992, Dougherty wrote primarily about the financial and ethical problems of Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington III, and seven of his 12 entries in the Virg Hill competition for 1996 dealt with Symington.
Dougherty's stories about Symington also won him second in the investigative reporting category.
"This reporter unravels the complicated dealings of Gov. Fife Symington with deftness and an eye for the high drama in the dry details of accounting," one of the judges wrote.
Rubin won the Bolles award for "A System Gone Mad," the story of a mentally ill Vietnam veteran who was left to die of heat prostration on a Phoenix street. The judge described Rubin's entry as "a courageous bit of work to protect the dignity of society's unwashed . . . great writing. Great sleuthing . . . a piece to be proud of."
Rubin won four other awards, all seconds, for explanatory reporting, long-form feature writing, business reporting and sports reporting.
Two New Times staff writers, Michael Kiefer and Dewey Webb, captured multiple firsts.
Kiefer's titles were for explanatory reporting and personality profile. One judge wrote that he read Kiefer's profile piece five times.
Webb took first and second place for lifestyle reporting and first place in entertainment writing. A judge called Webb's writing "funny and engrossing from start to finish."
Overall, New Times took 29 of 72 writing and reporting awards. Other honorees were:
* Former staff writer Marc Ramirez--first and third in diversity reporting, and third in lifestyle reporting.
* David Holthouse--first in sports feature writing and second in entertainment reporting.
* Sonda Andersson Pappan--first and third in multiple-page design and third in cover design.
* Jeremy Voas--first and third for headline writing.
* Terry Greene Sterling--second in business writing, second in diversity reporting and third in sustained coverage.
* Amy Silverman--second in ethics/religion reporting.
* Peter Gilstrap--second in feature column writing.
* Timothy Archibald--second in the picture-story category.
* Ted Simons--second in general criticism.
* Howard Seftel--third in general criticism.
David Sanders of the Arizona Daily Star was named Photographer of the Year, while Ann Ryman, editor of the Paradise Valley Independent, took the title of Community Journalist of the Year, an award she also won in 1993.