The Juneau Empire won 11 Alaska Press Club awards at its annual banquet, which took place five days after the newspaper announced a cutback in print editions from five editions to two editions per week.
Six awards went to the Empire’s newsroom staff, while five were won by the “Planet Alaska” column featured in the Empire’s Capital City Weekly section.
“Alaska is home to some extremely talented journalists and supremely gifted storytellers, so I am beyond proud that the efforts of our hard-working staff and contributors were recognized by the Alaska Press Club,” said Ben Hohenstatt, the Empire’s managing editor.
The Empire’s news staff (not including those contributing to “Planet Alaska”) submitted 14 entries to the press club, which has several hundred members statewide. The awards were announced at the end of APC’s annual convention April 20-22 in Anchorage.
The APC’s biggest honor, the Public Service Award, went to two public broadcasting journalists.
Lex Treinen of Alaska Public Media won the award for revealing then-Anchorage Health Director Joe Gerace fabricated his resume, which led to his resignation. Claire Stremple, a then-KTOO reporter now working at the Alaska Beacon, was honored for breaking the story about the state’s months-long food stamp application backlog.
Reporter Clarise Larson won two awards, including second-place for best short feature for her story “Kake to welcome artifacts — some over 200 years old — back home.” The feature follows return journey of the 25 Alaska Native artifacts ranging from spruce root-woven baskets to ceremonial paddles to headdresses that were taken from the village during the early 1900s.
“An important matter for Alaskans well-described with good photos,” a judge’s comment notes.
Hohenstatt said Larson, who also recent won second place in the Feature Writing Competition of the 2022-23 Hearst Journalism Awards Program for an article written for the Native News Honors Project, has quickly established herself as a formidable talent during her first year in Alaska.
“The best short feature category should be Clarise’s sandbox as long as she’s in Alaska,” he said.
Larson’s other APC award was a third-place culture writing prize for “Once again, Angoon has a dugout,” as the village welcomed a new boat crafted by master carver Wayne Price after the U.S. destroyed the village’s fleet in 1882.
“Great writing and deeply informative,” the judge’s comment notes.
Jonson Kuhn, who also joined the Empire as a reporter a year ago, won third place in sports features for “Petersburg teen takes NBA All-Star’s advice into fight with cancer.” It tells the story of Joseph Tagaban, 15, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, getting an opportunity to meet his NBA idol Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, who’s had to overcome his own injury struggles.
“Good subject, good reporting,” the judge’s comment notes.
Hohenstatt said the award is noteworthy because the Empire does not currently have a dedicated sports reporter.
“I cannot recall the last time we won a sports award, so big congrats are in order,” he said.
Former reporter Peter Segall, who departed the Empire last summer, won third place for best news photo with his story “Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line.” The photo, showing a trio of Alaska Native leaders hugging on the state Senate floor, earned by far the longest comment by a judge among the Empire’s newsroom winners.
“Nice work by the photographer being present for an important verdict, and even though I would like to see more faces, that’s out of the photographer’s control with the fixed positioning of courtroom photography (I did appreciate the use of a secondary image that showed faces),” the judge remarked. “In this case, its the arms and body language that speak to the emotion of this moment, and the decision to leave the person at left in the frame helps explain visually that this was an official matter (perhaps this person is an attorney) and his smile helps confirm that this is a happy moment.”
Hohenstatt had a more succinct assessment.
“It was a big moment and he nailed the emotion,” he said.
Hohenstatt won two awards of his own. The first was third prize for arts reporting for “Big sound from a small town,” profiling Gustavus musician Sean Patrick and his new rock album.
“A good profile of a musician from Gustavus with big dreams, told with zest while avoiding longueurs and avoiding diversions that might take the focus off the main point of the piece… i.e., the dude and his music,” the judge’s comment notes. “Even the discussion of tube versus digital recording technology was in place and, at the same time, relevant.”
The Empire’s managing editor offered a conditional self-assessment in receiving the award.
“I got a judge who liked my aside on tube amps, so lucky draw,” he said.
Hohenstatt also won the most recent of multiple awards for headline writing, earning a third place prize this year.
“Lots of puns in this category,” the judge’s comment notes about the three winners. “The most successful entries used puns to further explanation of the stories and to tease content, not just to show off being clever.”
Entering the stratosphere of Planet Alaska
Vivian Prescott, a Wrangell writer and artist, and her daughter Yéilk’ Vivian Mork won first place for Best Social Media Presence for their “Planet Alaska” series.
“Planet Alaska’s well-rounded social media presence excels at reaching their audiences across all the major platforms,” the judge’s comment notes. “Their content captures Alaska at its best. In particular, their Facebook page keeps up a regular cadence of posts that keeps their followers engaged and eager for what’s next.”
Prescott, in a social media message two days after the awards were announced,
“If I gave myself a literary award it’d be FIRST PRIZE for the Poet with the Most Poems about (or mentions) Spruce Tips,” she wrote. “It’d also include $ & a publication contract.”
“Well-executed transition to some serious discussion after readers have been lulled into the peace of the smoke house,” the judge notes.
“A real sense of place and a joy to read,” the judge’s comment notes.
Mork won third place for Best Alaska Outdoors Reporting for “This Old Dog,” about her husky, Keishísh, who “is 94 dog years old.”
“I’m sucker for any heartwarming tale of a good old dog. This one was uniquely Alaskan,” the judge wrote.
A first-place prize for best feature photo was awarded to Elleana Elliott for her picture captioned “Bears Greet Each other on Chichagof Island” as part of a feature about the her photographing the animals as a Hoonah resident.
“Awesome photo,” the judge remarked. “It must have taken a lot of shots to get this one. Not knowing Alaska all that well, hopefully this was in a controlled environment. If not, it was either a very brave photographer or a very long zoom lens.”
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com.