The Border Belt Independent won 10 awards at the North Carolina Press Association’s annual meeting on Thursday, including one of the top awards: first place in General Excellence for Websites. The Border Belt Independent competes in the online division.
Editor Sarah Nagem, reporter Ivey Schofield and publisher Les High won individual awards.
Nagem picked up three first-place awards:
- Family calls for change after deputies shoot NC man struggling with mental illness, drugs, Beat News category
- Teaching resilience in hurricane-battered southeastern North Carolina, News Feature Writing category
- Rural North Carolina hospital leader emerges as outspoken critic of COVID ‘noise,’ Profile Feature category
Nagem also won two second-place awards:
- COVID vaccinations are climbing, slowly, in rural North Carolina, but skepticism remains, Beat News category
- In one of the America’s most diverse counties, the wounds of racism run deep. Nagem shared the award in the Multimedia Project category with Keem Grady, who produced a documentary on the subject, and Kevin Maurer, who contributed additional reporting and editing on the story.
Schofield won a first-place award in business writing:
Schofield won second place in the News Enterprise Reporting category for a seven-part series on opioid misuse in Columbus County titled, “Opioids in Columbus County: What’s changed, if anything, in the last seven years?” The stories followed up on a five-part, 2015 series published in The (Whiteville) News Reporter.
High won first place in the Religion and Faith Reporting category:
High also won a second-place award for series of photos titled, “An easy day on the River Walk.”
The North Carolina Press Association, which will be 150 years old next year, represents most community and daily newspapers across the state, as well as a growing number of online-only news organizations.
Approximately 300 people attended Thursday’s awards banquet, held at the North Raleigh Hilton. There were more than 4,200 entries, making North Carolina’s contest one of the largest in the nation.
Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport won the William C. Lassiter Award, which is given to someone outside the news media who supports the principles of the First Amendment or ensures open government and transparency. The press association recognized Rabon’s efforts to keep public notices where the highest number of people will see them – in newspapers and on their websites – and for sponsoring the Government Transparency Act, which would require government agencies to disclose the reasons why an employee has been disciplined or fired. North Carolina is one of only 10 states that prevents the release of this information. The bill includes an appeals process for public employees before information can be reported.
Rabon, a Fair Bluff native first elected to the General Assembly in 2010, is a Republican serving Columbus and Brunswick counties.
The Border Belt Independent is an online, nonprofit news organization founded in April 2021. It primarily covers in-depth, issues-based stories in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.