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Colorado Sun journalists win 13 firsts in Top of the Rockies contest (Local Tips & Reviews)

The four-state Top of the Rockies journalism contest honored The Colorado Sun with 23 awards Saturday night, including 13 first-place citations in categories ranging from health and the environment to social justice, opinion and editorial cartooning — by far the most among  Colorado news organizations.

The contest, sponsored by the Colorado Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and open to news organizations in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, drew more than 1,750 entries from over 100 outlets and freelancers that were judged by journalists from Illinois and Ohio. The contest accepts entries from small, medium, large and extra-large newsrooms, based on staff size. 

The Sun, despite its relatively smaller staff, competed in the extra-large newsroom division along with The Gazette from Colorado Springs, Colorado Public Radio and The Denver Post. The Gazette was recognized with four first places, CPR had three first places and The Denver Post had one first place in the extra-large category and was recognized with three firsts in the medium-sized newsroom category for stories and a photo co-published with ProPublica. 

“I’m so proud of the recognition that Sun journalists received from our peers across the West,” said Sun editor Larry Ryckman. “But we do this important work for our readers, not for awards. These are just a reflection of the support from the thousands of Coloradans who turn to us as their trusted news source every day.”

The Sun’s Jennifer Brown led the way with three individual first-place awards for her coverage of a national medical ethics debate, Medicaid issues within the state’s mental health system and Colorado’s controversial wolf reintroduction program

John Ingold took a pair of top prizes for a story that deconstructed marijuana legalization and another that chronicled efforts to improve vaccination rates among the state’s Latino population. Reporter Shannon Najmabadi also scored two firsts for her stories on wind turbines and a school sexting scandal.

Michael Booth, who covers the environment, climate change and related issues for The Sun, was recognized with a first place award for beat coverage. A collection of stories by reporters Tatiana Flowers, Tamara Chuang and Brammhi Balarajan took top honors for social justice reporting, while a collaborative project looking at the century-old Colorado River Compact, led by The Sun’s Chris Outcalt, took first in the “extended coverage” category.

Flowers also contributed to a project by the Colorado News Collaborative, a consortium of news organizations across the state, called “Chasing Progress,” which judges called a “compelling collaboration about real people pursuing the American dream.” It took first place for enterprise reporting.

Sun contributor Mark Jaffe, often recognized for his coverage of the energy industry, showed his versatility by winning first place in the arts and entertainment category with his look at the precarious economics of opera.

Cori Redford, left, and R. Alan Brooks collect their first place award for editorial cartooning on Saturday in Denver. The award recognizes their collaboration on the strip “What’d I Miss?” in The Colorado Sun. (Juannean Young, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Sun contributors took two of the top three spots in editorial cartooning. The weekly comic strip “What’d I Miss?”, written by R. Alan Brooks and drawn by Cori Redford, took first for addressing social issues through the lens of its unique characters, while Sun contributor Drew Litton took third. Sun columnists also dominated their category, with Trish Zornio winning the top prize and Mike Littwin taking second for collections of their work.

Second-place finishes were awarded to Erica Breunlin in education writing for her stories on Colorado’s teacher housing crisis, and Eric Lubbers for his informational graphic that crunched census data to show population migration in Colorado.

The Sun landed eight third-place awards, including separate public service honors in two divisions. The project “Colorado’s Failed Adoptions” by Brown, Najmabadi and Olivia Prentzel took third among extra-large newsrooms. Brown also contributed to the Colorado News Collaborative’s third-place finish for  “On Edge: Mental Health In Colorado.” 

Other Sun third-place finishes: Lubbers and Danika Worthington in feature page design for their Colorado Sunday cover “Where are all the salmon?”, photographer Hugh Carey (sports photography), Jason Blevins (business), Nancy Lofholm (education), Kevin Simpson (climate reporting) and Najmabadi (politics).

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