Among its 13 awards in Division F, circulation less than 4,000, The Catoosa County News earned six first place awards, including the coveted general excellence award — its first ever — in this year’s Georgia Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
Editor Stan Guess is thrilled with the performance of The Catoosa County News staff, including its columnists and part-time feature writers.
Our phenomenal success in the 2003 Better Newspaper Contest is directly attributed to a news-hungry staff that clicks well as a team and a community that often takes the time to do its own public relations work," Guess said. "When our readers pick up a copy of The Catoosa County News, they can be proud knowing that they contribute to our success. Our readers give us our stories, good or bad, and they have helped us reach the pinnacle of being the best weekly newspaper of its size in Georgia.”
Other awards include first place in local news coverage, business coverage and community service, a second place in headline writing and a third place award for lifestyle coverage.
“Great school, business and government coverage,” judges said about local news coverage. “Really packed full of local news.”
This is the newspaper’s second consecutive first place win in this category.
The awards, which recognize Georgia newspapers’ outstanding achievement during 2002, were announced June 20 during the annual GPA awards banquet in Panama City Beach, Fla.
The staff garnered the awards among 63 eligible weekly newspapers throughout the state.
"The Catoosa County News does what every newspaper should do for its community and its readers," publisher Don Stilwell said. "We don't just tell our readers what is happening. We don't just cover the big headlines. We report events, big and small, from massive pile-ups on the interstate to a child's first birthday. In our eyes, no event is 'small.'
“Most important, we interpret those events — we comment on them, challenge our readers, scrutinize community leaders, and we often protest and criticize. Why? Because we care about Catoosa County, in a way that no other newspaper does.”
After placing third in business coverage in 2002, Chris Zelk’s impact of a Tennessee sales tax increase on North Georgia, Randall Franks’ focus on Ringgold tourism and a business profile on Ringgold Telephone Company by Kim Brown moved the newspaper to the first place slot.
“Impressive focus on local business news,” judges said. “A standout winner in the category.”
The community service award focuses on a specific project by the newspaper for improving a need in the community.
The Catoosa County News chose the programs at Catoosa’s Shirley Smith Learning Center as its project with an emphasis on improving literacy in the community.
Throughout 2002, The Catoosa County News staff concentrated its efforts to provide the public information about how they can learn or improve reading skills, basic computer skills or English as a second language.
Throughout the year staff writer Randall Franks, who now chairs Catoosa Citizens for Literacy, wrote articles about the students, teachers and local people who help to make the Learning Center a success.
“The combination of a newspaper encouraging the public to learn to read or improve their education seemed to be a perfect fit,” Franks said. “The greatest reward for our efforts is seeing the glow of success on the faces of those reaching goals at the Learning Center.”
Later that year he volunteered his services as co-author of “Stirring Up Success with a Southern Flavor,” a fundraising cookbook featuring favorite recipes from celebrities along with area students, teachers and Learning Center supporters.
All the members of The Catoosa County News staff contributed to the project, which was completed last month and is expected for release this month.
Photographer Chelle Maynard, who has also won international recognition for her photography skills, took three first place awards and two third place awards for her photos.
Photos highlighting a day at Camp Catoosa won first place in photo essay from 24 entries.
“Your pictures made me think of being a child at camp,” the judges said. “You captured the aspects of camp life.”
An image bringing to life the opening of the new Catoosa County Detention Center won first place in news photo from 20 entries.
“The story of the new jail gets a human face with a picture of a little boy reflected in a prison cell mirror,” judges said. “Draws the reader in.”
Maynard’s photo of a little girl in her father’s arms overlooking the scene of last year’s disastrous I-75 pile-up on March 14 won first place for spot news photo out of 18 entries.
She also placed third in news photo for the “striking image” of a lone protester in front of the Catoosa County Courthouse and third in spot news photo for a shot of the tragic event when a truck collided into Aim Pest Control.
Columnist Sue Mason received a second place win in humorous column.
“Great sense of humor, but delivers a message with her delivery. I like the way you can take social issues and deal with them realistically, but with a laugh to get you through,” judges said.
Mason said she is “at a loss for words” after hearing about the award.
News editor Chris Zelk, then a staff writer, received a third place award in investigative reporting for articles about identity theft, West Nile Virus and Catoosa’s most dangerous roads.
"Our readers can look forward to more great coverage, more great photos that capture the soul of our county and better community journalism," Guess said. "We cover Catoosa County news better than any other media source because we are your neighbors. Most of us live here, and we have an emotional investment in the success of this community."
In 2002, The Catoosa County News editorial staff included Don Stilwell as publisher, editor Stan Guess, sports editor Misty Martin-Chastain, staff writers Randall Franks and Chris Zelk, staff photographer Chelle Maynard, part-time feature writers Karen Phillips, Kim Brown, Suzanne Stilwell and Kevin Cummings, and office manager Cindy Black.
The Catoosa County News regular columnists are Jeff Greer, Mike North, Joan Bishop, B.J. Darnell, Sandy Hall, the Rev. Brent Madaris, Lillie Ware, Robbie Rogers, Norma Haisten, Joan LaFerry, Margie Stringer and Deanne Clayton.
“The Deck Chefs” Kent and Jamie Whitaker provide a regular cooking column. Kent recently won Emeril Live’s nationwide barbeque contest on the Food Network with his recipe for BBQ Cornbread from over 24,000 entries.
The Catoosa County News, serving Catoosa County since 1949 as the county's legal organ, is one of six News Publishing Co. newspapers that earned 48 awards from the Georgia Press Association this year. The 13 awards earned by The Catoosa County News add to 26 GPA awards presented to the newspaper since 1991.
News Publishing Co. is headquartered in Rome, Ga