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Readers should be proud of Beacon’s award-winning news team

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By Jackie Torok, Managing Editor

Just a few days before the Oscars, a week ago, the North Carolina Press Association had its own awards ceremony in Chapel Hill for excellence in journalism in 2013. I’m proud to say our team brought home eight of those awards.

Our sports editor, Michael Paul, brought home the most. If you haven’t encountered him yet, don’t worry. He’s usually a blur, working sidelines all over Brunswick County as a virtual one-man show who coordinates coverage among an equally dedicated group of correspondents and columnists. He’s focused and hard-working, and the judges recognized that by awarding him first- and second-place honors in the sports photography category and third place in overall sports coverage.

Staff writer Laura Lewis earned second-place honors in the arts and entertainment reporting for her piece on Willie Nelson’s first Brunswick County concert in December 2012. Laura, for those who don’t know, leads our arts and entertainment coverage in our Tides section every week, in addition to her fearless coverage of the communities south of Shallotte and weekly feature stories. She also has the longest daily commute to the office of anyone in the newsroom, but you wouldn’t know it from the passionate and tireless approach she takes to her work.

Staff writer Brian Slattery garnered third place for his story in November 2012 on quintuplets born into a Leland family. In addition to covering the goings-on among the people in and around in Leland, Brian keeps tabs on Brunswick County and Ocean Isle Beach government, plus business news, in his own deliberate and unassuming style. In Chapel Hill, I had the pleasure of meeting his former bosses, who earned their share of press awards. I seized that opportunity to let them know I wouldn’t let them take him back.

While I appreciate all the NCPA awards the Beacon received, I have to say I thought we deserved even more. I’m obviously biased, of course. I really can’t say enough good things about every member of our news team. They, like everyone else at the Beacon, are a joy to work with. It’s a blessing to look forward to going into the office every single day. Not many people I know can truthfully boast about such a thing. I wish everyone was as fortunate as I am to work in this wonderful environment.

In other news, during the business portion of the NCPA gathering last week, I was elected to the newly revived board of the NCPA Association of Community Newspapers. It’s a tremendous honor for someone who has only been leading a newsroom on her own for eight months. It gives me the chance to tell you about the work the NCPA is doing not just on behalf of all the state’s journalists, but also everyone who lives and works in North Carolina.

Among the honorees Feb. 27 was state Rep. Marilyn Avila. According to the NCPA, “Avila’s floor speeches imploring House members to protect the public’s right to know through her amendment and to protect free press rights (by staving off local government’s ‘option’ to revoke public notice advertising following unfavorable editorializing or coverage by our members) are now legendary. At session’s end, she had taken substantial political risks to carry the amendments on the House floor, and she prevailed.”

Another fight we in the NCPA have undertaken on behalf of the greater good is gaining access to documents we feel should be public. When I was growing up in North Carolina, the Tar Heel State was known as a much more progressive state than it is now. Back in South Carolina about nine years ago, my colleagues at The (Charleston) Post & Courier used personnel records to expose a disturbing pattern among law enforcement agencies throughout the state who were allowing cops with disciplinary problems to resign and be rehired at other agencies, where they caused even more harm to the people they were sworn to serve. The awards that series earned, however, were less important than the information it provided to readers and the necessary changes it prompted as a result.

We — not just us in the press, but also the average taxpayer — are powerless to effect similar change in local and state government and public service agencies without access to these and other records North Carolina keeps hidden from view and scrutiny. We’re working to change this.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you, our faithful readers, for all you’ve done to ensure the Beacon’s success in the past, present and future. You’re the reason we’re here, doing what we do, day in and day out, and we won’t forget it.

Jackie Torok is the managing editor of the Beacon. Reach her at editor@brunswickbeacon.com or 754-6890.