WyoFile reporters won recognition in the four-state “Top of the Rockies” journalism contest Friday, receiving five first-place awards for investigative, enterprise and general coverage of energy, politics, the environment, criminal justice, immigrants, sports and more.
Sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the contest was open to reporters in broadcast, print and digital media in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
“Thank you to the SPJ, the judges and to all the WyoFile supporters who make this critical work possible,” said Matthew Copeland, WyoFile chief executive and editor. “Our reporters strive to serve and inform Wyoming, and I couldn’t be more proud of their efforts.”
Reporter Andrew Graham won two first-place awards, one in the investigative/enterprise category and the other for political enterprise reporting. For a series on Immigrants in Wyoming, judges said Graham produced “outstanding reporting that combines human drama with numbers and hard facts.”
Five stories made up the entry, starting with one titled Increased ICE activity spurs worries in Wyoming farm country. Graham went on to explore other aspects of immigrants in the state, including its deep roots in agriculture, the proposal for a private immigration jail in Uinta County and the effects of deportation on a family in Casper.
The series concluded with a probe into the authority of regulating private immigration jails and Gov. Matt Mead’s important decision on the subject.
For political enterprise reporting, Graham’s three-part series Who killed criminal justice reform? was “an ambitious overview of an ill-fated prison-reform proposal,” judges said. It had “ample amounts of historical background, political intrigue, dollar signs and statistics to put the topic in the proper context.” The story was well-written and well-sourced, judges said.
Graham also won third place in the general political reporting category for stories about a legislator who sought to change discriminatory language in Wyoming laws. Titled Unduly cruel: Gender language debate turns ugly, it told of how Rep. Cathy Connolly, while testifying before her colleagues, was denigrated by members of a small, rural community who were egged on by a divisive national organization. He followed up with a story on the meeting’s fallout.
Angus M. Thuermer Jr. won two first place awards, one for business enterprise reporting and one for general political reporting.
The business story revealed the stakes and stakeholders of Jonah Energy’s $17 billion play in a huge gas field proposed in Sublette County. Judges called it an “exhaustive, important story breaking through corporate shells to show who would benefit from a drilling plan in a sensitive area, and what the public policy implications of approving the plan would be.” It credited the author with “good insider knowledge and sourcing [that was] on display throughout.”
In the politics category, judges recognized an in-depth profile of Karen Budd-Falen, a potential pick to run the Bureau of Land Management in the Trump administration. Asking whether the native Wyoming attorney was a provocateur or protector, the story was “well-researched and illustrates why the [potential] appointment is of particular concern to the Western United States,” judges said.
Thuermer also won a second for agriculture and environment enterprise reporting for the story about a ranch owner building a cabin in the Path of the Pronghorn and his subsequent decision to remove it from a conservation easement
Kelsey Dayton won first place among sports columns for her weekly stories in Peaks to Plains. Her column “passed the true test of a column; Does the reader learn something memorable?” judges said. “The answer is a definite yes,” they wrote.
Judging was based on overall excellence, service to the community, and contributions to the public understanding of issues and events. Judging criteria included depth of research, quality of presentation and the difficulty in obtaining information. WyoFile competed in the class for publications with print circulations less than 10,000.
The regional, multi-platform contest for reporters and news organizations grew from a Colorado-only contest after the closure of the Rocky Mountain News in 2009. The contest included a range of categories and divisions within print and magazines, online journalism, radio and television “to ensure a robust and competitive field in the changing landscape of media,” the Colorado SPJ chapter said.