Press Club Honors Silverman

New Times staff writer Amy Silverman was named the state's top journalist Saturday by the Arizona Press Club. It marks the sixth consecutive year that a New Times journalist has claimed the coveted Virg Hill Journalist of the Year trophy.

Silverman, 33, was honored for a 1999 portfolio of work that included several in-depth stories about U.S. Senator John McCain, a profile of openly gay state Representative Steve May that led to a "don't ask, don't tell" investigation of him by the U.S. Army, a project on lobbyists and campaign spending, and a profile of abortion doctor Brian Finkel.

A panel of four highly decorated, out-of-state journalists judged the Virg Hill competition. "This reporter gets high marks for writing lots of stories, taking contrarian angles and hitting the topics hard," one judge wrote of Silverman. "There obviously isn't much this reporter doesn't know about Arizona politics."

New Times staff writer John Dougherty, who's won the prestigious award three times, tied with Mark Flatten, a reporter for Tribune Newspapers, as runner-up for Journalist of the Year.

A judge wrote that Dougherty "displayed incredible versatility and dedication to mastering subjects that most reporters would shy away from. Each story is told with authority. This writer is a pro."

At a dinner emceed by former attorney general Grant Woods, the Press Club also honored former New Times writer and editor Deborah Laake with its Distinguished Service Award. Laake, whose 1993 book Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman's Intimate Diary of Marriage and Beyond was a New York Times best seller, died earlier this year. She was 47, and had battled breast cancer and depression.

The Photographer of the Year Award went to Michael Chow of the Arizona Republic. Patrick Cavanaugh of the Northwest Explorer was named Community Journalist of the Year.

The club's infamous Brick Wall Award, aimed at focusing attention on public officials and institutions that brazenly ignore the duty to disclose public information, was given to Karen Wittmer, publisher of The Tribune, and her fellow members of the Governor's Stadium Task Force. Wittmer voted to ban the press -- including one of her own reporters -- and the public from meetings of the task force as it considered using public money to pay for a new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals football team.

New Times staff writers and editors won numerous honors in the 76th annual competition, which drew 1,500 entries from 40 publications in the state. The paper's awards included:

• Brian Smith, winner of the Don Schellie Award for Feature Column Writing.

• The staff, second place in the Don Bolles Award for Investigative Reporting category for the 24-part "Hard Core" series on street gangs in the Valley.

• Gilbert Garcia, first place in religion writing for "Sid & Jesus," a look at the Christian punk movement.

• Tony Ortega, first place for explanatory reporting for "Think Tank Warfare," an examination of the Goldwater Institute. Ortega also won third place in science reporting.

• David Holthouse, first place for news feature writing for "Panacea Tranquility," a column about his bad back. Holthouse also won three thirds, for news column writing, non-deadline sports writing and government/politics reporting.

• James Hibberd, first place for lifestyle reporting, short form, for "Phone Alone," a visit to a phone booth in the middle of the desert.

• Paul Rubin, first place for lifestyle reporting, long form, for "Olden Opportunity," a story about the marriage of a 99-year-old man to a much younger woman. He placed second in long form news feature writing.

• Amy Silverman, first place in personality profile for "The Terminator," the profile of abortionist Dr. Brian Finkel.

• Dewey Webb, a tie for first place -- and third place -- in the feature headline category. Webb also placed third in long form lifestyle reporting.

• Artist Timothy Chapman, first place for illustration.

Other New Times winners:

• Terry Greene Sterling: second in non-deadline reporting; second in science reporting; third in business non-deadline reporting.

• Michael Kiefer: second in environmental reporting; second in personality profile.

• Garth Weber: seconds in multiple-page design, magazine design and magazine cover design.

• M.V. Moorhead: second in travel and food review.

• Contributor Leo Banks: second in lifestyle reporting, long form.

• Paolo Vescia: third in picture story.