From left: Heather Gray, Craig Moorhead and Marlene Deschler stand with awards won for the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
From left: Heather Gray, Craig Moorhead and Marlene Deschler stand with awards won for the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
Bluff Country Newspaper Group won six awards at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention at the end of January.

The state association holds a Better Newspaper Contest each year with judges from another state choosing the top entries in various categories among state newspapers that compete within circulation classes. Newspaper professionals from Illinois judged this year's contest.

Bluff Country Newspaper Group won one first place, three second place and two third place awards in the contest. The community newspapers in the local newspaper group are judged in the small weeklies division.

The first place award went to Publisher David Phillips in the category for best columnist.

"A column that stands out from the rest. Nicely written," noted the judges. "The columnist makes a point of writing about news that occurred in the community, elevating the discussion and sometimes giving readers a peek at the story behind the story. Excellent, thoughtful, well done."

Phillips has been writing his column, Publisher's Notebook, for several decades, winning awards in previous years as well.

"I try to vary my column, writing about issues, people and my life," said Phillips. "One column the judges singled out was on the lessons learned as a youth by Donovan Frank, a former resident who went on to become a federal judge. It was very interesting to me how local people, without realizing it, contributed so much to the foundation that shaped his life after he left the area."

The Spring Grove Herald won the other awards. Heather Gray was managing editor during the time of the contest period. She is no longer in that position at the Herald, but still does some graphic arts work for the newspaper.

"I am so pleased to see the paper win five state awards back to back," she said. "What a testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire staff to put out a quality product week after week."

The Spring Grove Herald won second place in general reporting. "The Spring Grove Herald offers its readers a good mix of well-reported stories," commented the judges about the award. "The paper does not shy away from hard news and provides a good mix of community news event coverage."

The Spring Grove Herald also won second place for headline writing. "Nice paper overall, and good use of headlines with some stories," commented the judges. "Nice job of covering the basics of this category in your paper."

Craig Moorhead, who primarily writes for the Spring Grove Herald, but also writes sports for the Republican-Leader and News-Record and has written stories for the Bluff Country Reader, won two awards for his writing.

Moorhead mostly covers government news in addition to sports, but he loves to squeeze in the occasional feature story when time permits.

He won second place in the category of business story for his article on "private disasters unfolding," which outlined the effects of the spring flood on farmers in Yucatan Valley in Houston County.

"Nice writing, thorough coverage," the judges commented about the story.

Although the story was off his government beat, it was a more serious feature story, commented Moorhead, who joined the newspaper group in 2011 after free-lancing for the Herald for several years.

"I felt it was important for us to tell this story because there were quite a few area farmers who really endured some serious damages from those late June rains," he said.

He also won third place in the category of sports story for his feature on ice angling on the Mississippi River.

"Very nice feature of high interest to Minnesota readers," said the judges. "Reporter did his homework by obtaining comment from several sources."

Moorhead noted that the ice fishing story "was just fun to do since there are lots of folks from Spring Grove who enjoy going to the Brownsville area to fish around Lawrence Lake and/or Wildcat Park."

Marlene Deschler, who covers school and community events for the Spring Grove Herald, won third place for arts and entertainment story, which was about a comedy performance that showed the audience the action on stage and backstage.

"The writer is very thorough in her discussion of the play and giving readers plenty of information to understand and to be enticed into attending the local performance," explained the judges. "Clean writing, very consistent."

Deschler said she enjoyed writing the article as "I was given a chance to have a sneak peek of this production. To me, it is fun to get this 'insiders view' of the production and then share it with the community. I am always impressed with the local talent that participates in all the Ye Olde Opera House productions and I enjoy being able to help promote that."

Bluff Country Newspaper Group won eight awards in last year's contest and has won a total of 31 awards in the last five years of the annual Better Newspaper Contest.