A series of articles focused on the Timberland Regional Library network’s plans to shutter rural libraries has resulted in The Chronicle’s third consecutive first-place C.B. Blethen Award for Distinguished Reporting in the investigative reporting category.
The honor was one of four Blethen awards won by The Chronicle this year in a contest that included daily newspapers with circulations under 50,000 in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Alberta and British Columbia.
“I am not surprised by the continuing accolades for this news team,” said Chronicle Publisher Michael Wagar. “This is also a reflection of the staff that supports impactful journalism, from customer service representatives, sales associates, designers, circulation and distribution employees. Without all the staff, this simply does not happen. I also appreciate the continued support from the Lafromboise family for more than five decades. We are fortunate to have such a quality operation in this community.”
The Chronicle won in the investigative reporting category for reporter Alex Brown's story about the proposed closing of a third of the Timberland Regional Library system's most rural libraries.
"The coverage was a powerful story about a volatile community issue involving secret plans to close a local library," the judge wrote. "It was one of the few entries in the field to include real investigation."
Brown also won a second place award in the feature writing category. His story focused on the “Grove of the Matriarchs” in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a stand of trees few locals are aware of.
“How interesting that the Forest Service employees had no knowledge of the Grove of Matriarchs and remarked that it’s something Squires discovered and named it himself,” judges wrote. “Nice touch adding the anecdote about your pitch to your editor. Very descriptive writing of the flora and terrain. Your narrative is delightful … Perfect photos to represent the scale of the behemoths. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing style and the story. Well done!”
Former Chronicle reporter and longtime freelancer Carrina Stanton won second place in the enterprise reporting category for her series on homelessness.
“Detailed reporting, evocative writing,” a judge wrote. “Frames the homeless issue with key facts, findings — and sensitivity.”
Former Chronicle reporter Will Rubin was honored with a third-place award in the investigative reporting category for his coverage of Twin Transit in a series titled “East County Bus Service On Track to Continue, Despite Do-or-Die Rhetoric.”
“A fact-filled series on who knew what and when when two transit agencies were merged, perhaps unnecessarily,” a judge wrote. “Shows good evidence of bringing in diverging sources to help understand the issue.”
The Chronicle has now won 17 Blethen awards since 2003.
“I am so proud of the newsroom for their continued excellent journalism. These four awards speak volumes about their efforts,” said Jenifer Lafromboise Falcon, owner of The Chronicle’s parent company Lafromboise Communications, Inc. “The community is well served when its newspaper is among the best in investigative reporting. Kudos to Editor Natalie Johnson for her leadership.”
This year’s win in the investigative reporting category comes after the newspaper won top honors in the category in 2017 and 2018. Editor Natalie Johnson was responsible for the previous two top honors for reporting on problems at the 911 Communications Center and allegations of abuse at the Kiwanis Vocational Home in Centralia.
Johnson said the honors reflect The Chronicle’s small newsroom’s desire to hold those in power accountable and provide readers information and insight that would otherwise remain in the shadows.
“Carrina, Alex and Will are all exceptional reporters who are dedicated to serving their communities through their work,” Johnson said. “Lewis County is undoubtedly better off for their reporting on these issues and others. We’re lucky to have them.”
Lafromboise Communications Regional Executive Editor Eric Schwartz noted that four Blethen Awards is the most The Chronicle has ever won in a single year. He credited Johnson for maintaining a newsroom culture that values watchdog reporting.
“Natalie was among the best investigative reporters The Chronicle has ever had prior to becoming editor in 2018,” Schwartz said. “Her desire to uncover news and provide our readers with a real look at what happens behind the scenes is contagious. Her leadership is of great value to The Chronicle and its readers.”
The Blethen Awards were established in 1977 in honor of C.B. Blethen, who was publisher of The Seattle Times for 26 years, from 1915 to 1941.
The Chronicle won two awards in 2018 and one in 2017. In 2016, the newspaper received three Blethen Awards for deadline and enterprise work published in 2015 and early 2016. A first-place win in deadline reporting acknowledged coverage of a March 2016 fire that claimed the lives of three young children in Centralia. The Chronicle took third-place in the same category for comprehensive coverage of flooding throughout Lewis and Thurston counties in December 2015. The staff also took third-place in enterprise reporting with its week-long series on drug issues titled “Lewis County Highs and Hopes.”
Other Lafromboise Communications newspapers have also been acknowledged for excellence this year.
The Nisqually Valley News in Yelm and The Reflector in Battle Ground are both finalists for the General Excellence award given by the Washington Newspaper Association. The results of that contest will be announced later this year.