Spring Grove Herald reporter Marlene Deschler, left, Spring Grove Herald managing editor Heather Gray and publisher David Phillips collected eight awards in the Better Newspaper Contest at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention.
Spring Grove Herald reporter Marlene Deschler, left, Spring Grove Herald managing editor Heather Gray and publisher David Phillips collected eight awards in the Better Newspaper Contest at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention.
The staff of Bluff Country Newspaper Group won eight awards in the 2011-12 Better Newspaper Contest at the Minnesota Newspaper Association annual convention last week.

The awards were presented Thursday during a special banquet that is part of the three-day MNA convention in Bloomington.

More than 3,000 entries were submitted in the contest that is open to all Minnesota newspapers. Judges were Indiana working newspaper professionals. Newspapers were judged in circulation categories so they competed against equal sized publications.

The Spring Grove Herald won five awards, two for the newspaper and three for individuals. David Phillips won the other three awards in categories for individuals that include photography and writing.

The Herald won first place for general reporting. "The Herald seems to throw a blanket to provide a wide range of news coverage, an often difficult achievement for smaller newspapers with limited staff," noted the judges.

The Herald also took second place for headline writing. "Headlines announce content of articles without too much fluff," said the judges.

Three Herald staff members contributed to the first place entry in best advertisement. In an ad congratulating the Spring Grove football team on making it to the state playoffs, judges noted that it was "original" with "great photography." Michelle Oitzman, S. Lee Epps and John Speltz helped create the ad.

For individuals, Craig Moorhead won first place for a human interest story. In his story, "Everyone knew the milkman," judges said it was "A great look at a time gone by. Great quotes and warm characters in a well-told story. Great job!"

Marlene Deschler won first place for her story, "Students and community pay respects to fallen soldier," entered in the social issues story category. "Touching and well written," said judges. "I liked the many quotes from those watching the motorcade."

Phillips took first place in sports photography for a photo published in the Spring Valley Tribune. The photo, titled "Joy of running," showed elementary students competing in a race during an elementary school track and field day. "Shows both the thrill and fun of competitiveness," said the judges.

Another photo, this one a feature photo taken at a carnival benefit for Hunter Mundfrom, took third place. The photo, published in the Spring Valley Tribune, showed Cole Ramaker of Wykoff putting his all into pulling back a slingshot. "This is the type of photo where persistence pays off," said judges.

The other award was for best columnist, in which Phillips took third place. "Writer offered a diverse group of columns. All were informative and well written," noted the judges.

Phillips, Deschler and Spring Grove Herald managing editor Heather Gray also took part in the educational seminars at the convention.

"Although the recognition by our peers in the form of awards is gratifying, our main goal is to keep striving to bring a better product to our readers and advertisers," said Phillips. "The MNA provides many informative sessions that will help us continue to improve in the ever-changing world of communications."

Bluff Country Newspaper Group includes five community newspapers: the Chatfield News, the News-Record of Harmony and Mabel, the Republican-Leader of Preston and Lanesboro, the Spring Grove Herald and the Spring Valley Tribune. The local newspaper group also includes the regional Bluff Country Reader that is delivered to more than 17,000 residents as well as the Destination Bluff Country visitors guide and other publications.

The eight awards are the most won by the group in one year. Last year, the local newspapers won seven awards with the Chatfield News, Republican-Leader and Spring Valley Tribune getting honors.