Two western journalism organizations this week recognized WyoFile reporters, photographers and editors for excellence involving 21 stories or series published in 2019.
The Arizona nonprofit First Amendment Funding selected a 10-story WyoFile series in its Best of the West contest, recognized as the region’s most prestigious and involving newspapers and sites of all sizes from Texas to Alaska and Hawaii. The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recognized 20 WyoFile works in its four-state Top of the Rockies contest among newspapers and outlets with circulations less than 10,000.
“It’s a real honor to work with this team everyday and it’s gratifying to see its hard work recognized by our colleagues,” said Matthew Copeland, WyoFile’s chief executive and editor. “But ultimately these are awards for Wyoming. That this small state supports public-interest reporting to the degree that it competes with the very best — traditional newspaper powerhouses from Dallas to Seattle, Denver to L.A. — is a testament to Wyoming’s can-do grit and civic buy-in.”
WyoFile Managing Editor Katie Klingsporn said the number and variety of the awards WyoFile nabbed speak volumes about the organization’s output and quality in 2019. “These 21 awards are evidence that WyoFile is digging deep, telling meaningful stories, reporting in incisive and courageous ways and constantly pushing to better serve our readers,” she said. “This recognition makes us proud and also affirms the value of our work.”
The judge in the 14-state Best of the West contest cited Angus Thuermer’s 10-story series about Wyoming’s plan to allow Aethon Energy to dump millions of gallons a day of pollutants and thousands of tons of solids into waterways above Boysen Reservoir. “This was a news outlet serving as the watchful eyes and ears of a community and state,” wrote judge Taylor Batten, managing editor of the Charlotte Observer.
He gave Thuermer a second-place award in Growth and Environment Reporting, behind a 10-story series about Colorado River water shortages assembled by the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That newspaper produced “understandable, digestible, interesting explanatory journalism,” Batten wrote.
The third-place award in the category went to Tony Davis of the Arizona Daily Star, another major western daily newspaper.
WyoFile’s Moneta Divide stories “woke communities up to what was about to happen and forced a deeper look before the [gas- and oilfield] expansion was approved,” Batten wrote. “In the end, thanks largely to Thuermer’s reporting, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality changed its stance.
“It’s safe to say that things played out entirely differently with the expansion of the Moneta Divide oil and gas field thanks to the keen eye and sharp reporting of Angus Thuermer and WyoFile,” he wrote. Batten judged 53 entries in the category.
Graham wins 12 awards
Andrew Graham wrote or contributed to stories, series or packages that won 12 awards in the four-state Top of the Rockies contest. Individually, he won first place awards for stories about coal giant Blackjewel’s bankruptcy, including in political enterprise and business categories. Judges also gave him a first for describing blockchain technology and reporting allegations of insider legislation.
“Graham is an indispensable workhorse reporter and an enormous asset to Wyoming,” Klingsporn said. “He not only has a watchdog instinct to hold public officials to account and a solid journalistic ethic to back that up, but he can also translate complicated issues into graceful prose.”
Graham shared a first place award with Seth Klamann of the Casper Star-Tribune for a collaborative investigation into the demotion of University of Wyoming president Laurie Nichols. He shared another first with Thuermer, Klingsporn and freelancer Dustin Bleizeffer on a series of stories about the re-regulation of the coal-fired electrical industry.
Graham also shared a first-place sports photography award with freelancer Mike Vanata for coverage of Cheyenne Frontier Days. He won three individual second-place awards, two for reporting about Blackjewel in legal and investigative fields and one for feature writing on the state’s inability to diversify its economy. He also won four third-place awards.
Judges gave Thuermer first place in news reporting for a story about the Legislature’s secret effort to store nuclear waste in the state and for a sports story about how snowmobilers lead all other categories of avalanche victims. He also won three second place awards.
Judges gave Klingsporn a second place for education reporting for a story about different school policies for guns on campuses. “Katie not only makes every story we publish better through her editorial work, she also brings a distinct voice to WyoFile through her own reporting,” Copeland said. “It’s hard to overstate how much her addition has enhanced our newsroom.”
Columnist Kerry Drake received a third-place nod for his column about Wyoming’s stand-your-ground law.
“It is enormously gratifying to our Board of Directors to see WyoFile’s journalism getting the high-level recognition we feel it deserves,” said WyoFile Board Chairman Loring Woodman. “I say this unreservedly, without embarrassment, since WyoFile’s reporting is 100% independent of Board control.
“Sadly,” Woodman said, “the financial viability of Wyoming’s historic newspapers is being inexorably undermined by competition from internet advertising. It is the Board’s aim to nurture a stable, alternative, non-profit support system for WyoFile so as to assure the continuation of honest, balanced, in-depth reporting in our home state.”
With 20, WyoFile received more Top of the Rockies awards than any other Wyoming news outlet. This year’s contest drew a record number of entries from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming according to contest organizers. WyoFile won four Top of the Rockies in 2019 and seven in 2018. This is WyoFile’s first recognition in the Best of the West contest.