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Editorial: Beyond the fake news, big wins for the little guys

It was a big week for community journalism.

The Storm Lake Times, a 3,000-circulation, twice-weekly newspaper in rural Iowa, won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the family-owned paper with a staff of 10, was honored for his “editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa,” according to the Pulitzer board. Those corporate interests include Monsanto and Koch Industries, which the paper revealed as secretly funding the defense of high-profile environmental lawsuits in the state.

News of the paper’s Pulitzer win traveled fast to newsrooms around the country — so fast that editors of this newspaper more than 1,300 miles away learned about it before the Times had even announced the win on its own website.

It was the type of industry news small publishing companies want to hear these days. The kind we need to hear as circulation numbers drop, advertising budgets dry up and some question the trustworthiness of the news media.

Despite the challenges we face and the constant pressure to adapt to meet readers’ changing media habits, community newsrooms nationwide continue to produce quality work. This was evidenced this past weekend in Saratoga Springs, where the New York Press Association presented its annual Better Newspaper Contest awards.

Times Review Media Group, publishers of this newspaper, earned more honors than any publishing group in the state. While it might not be the Pulitzer, the Riverhead News-Review is proud to have brought home the first-place award for editorial writing in that contest.

“Thoughtful and elegantly written, these editorials offer readers a clear and authoritative voice,” the judges said of the winning entry, which included separate an opinion piece on the need for Riverhead school and town officials to better communicate with the public and another calling out readers and town officials for questioning the intentions of a group of Muslim men looking to build a mosque in town.

Each editorial, like many of the others published in our three newspapers every week, was sure to be unpopular with some readers. We wrote them anyway, because we believed them to be honest opinions worthy of debate.

Times Review newspapers also won for spot news photo, swept the feature writing category — the contest’s most competitive — and earned first-place honors for in-depth reporting for the fourth consecutive year.

The Sag Harbor Express, an even smaller family operation on the South Fork, won more NYPA honors than any other newspaper in the state last weekend in both the advertising and editorial contests, earning the Newspaper of the Year award in the process. Many of its honors were for the beautifully packaged and thoughtfully prepared edition published the week of the cinema fire in December. No newspaper wants to have to write such a story; few could have done it better than the Express.

Honors like the ones bestowed this past weekend do more than just stoke the confidence of newspaper staffs. They stand as reminders that local media companies continue to do important work and provide a service to the communities they cover.

We couldn’t do any of it without our loyal readers, especially those who continue to pay for a print subscription, and the advertisers who fill our pages. Remember to buy local; support local news and the businesses that help fund it.

File photo: Elizabeth Wagner’s photo that ran on the cover of the July 14 issue of the News-Review won first place for spot news photo. ‘A stirring photo that speaks volumes,’ the judges wrote.