WyoFile won 27 awards in the 2021 Top of the Rockies journalism contest — more than any other “medium newsroom” publication in the four-state competition.
The nonprofit news site’s reporters, editors and contributors took home 11 first-place awards, 10 second-place honors and six third-places in the contest, which is coordinated by the Colorado Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. WyoFile’s haul represents the most awards given to any Wyoming newsroom.
“I’ve really just been flooded with gratitude: I’m grateful for the recognition of our colleagues, of course, but even more so for the community — the journalists, volunteers, members and subscribers who made it all possible,” WyoFile Chief Executive and Editor Matthew Copeland said. “As [WyoFile reporter Angus M. Thuermer, Jr.] is fond of saying ‘There may only be one byline on the story, but there’s a big team behind it.’”
Judges in categories ranging from enterprise reporting, political features and education selected pieces like Hemp’s stumbles reveal hurdles in Wyoming’s race to diversify, Ranchers: Grizzly suit imperils rights, wildlife migrations and Remembering Sissy Goodwin, skirts and all for first-place recognition.
WyoFile took home several honors for its coverage of the pandemic, a new category this year. Katie Klingsporn’s reporting on Reservation communities’ testing efforts and the new world of virtual education garnered recognition as did Angus Thuermer’s story on the COVID-19 vaccines’ long, cold trip to Wyoming, and Andrew Graham’s COVID-19 comes to Centennial: (and goes … ?).
Judges described Thuermer’s first place piece Wyoming doc works around COVID-19 testing bottleneck as “great boots-on-the-ground journalism during COVID-19,” praising the reporter for “finding an innovative doctor and digging deep into a facet of testing for this new disease.”
Though Graham, WyoFile’s former state government, criminal justice and economic reporter, now works in California, his 2020 WyoFile reporting was heavily decorated. Graham wrote or contributed to stories that won 14 awards, including five first-place honors for stories such as Ousted Blackjewel CEO Hoops seeks more than $20 million.
Graham’s collaboration with Seth Klamann and the Casper Star-Tribune revealing the origins of a secret investigation into former UW President Laurie Nichols even took first place in the “extra-large newsroom” division. He also partnered with Wyoming Public Radio reporter Tennessee Watson on a first-place story examining how Wyoming budget reductions put mental health programs on the chopping block.
In fact, judges recognized many WyoFile contributors alongside full-time staff. Judges chose long-time columnist Kerry Drake’s work as the best news column in the region and awarded freelance reporter Dustin Bleizeffer second place in the legal news category for his analysis of the legal maneuvering surrounding Powder River Basin coal shipments to Washington state. (WyoFile swept that category with first- and third-place entries from Graham). Designer Eda Uzunlar also nabbed a first place for the information graphics she created for Wyoming’s missed investment fund opportunities cost it billions.
Nick Reynolds, the newest member of WyoFile’s team, took a second-place win for his collected reporting on the Wyoming GOP at his former outfit, the CST.
There were 1,306 entries in the 2021 contest, said Deb Brobst, the contest coordinator. While that number was down slightly from last year, Brobst said, it “was impressive especially considering the impacts that COVID-19 had on news media.”
This year’s awards, she continued, “showed the quality of journalism that is happening in the four-state area, and judges said they were particularly impressed with the pandemic and mental health coverage, both new categories this year.”
2020 was off-the-charts tough for everyone, Copeland said.
“So much of what we rely on got scrambled, including access to the facts,” he said. “To have the opportunity to be of service, to fill a need amid so much uncertainty and suffering is a rare privilege, and not one I’ll soon forget.
“It’s an honor to work with this amazing group of professionals every day,” Copeland said. “For our colleagues to appreciate their talent and hard work too is icing on the cake.”