The Gloucester Daily Times' coverage of a string of local deaths tied to heroin overdoses last year has earned the newspaper a national Public Service Award from its parent, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., as part of the company's annual Best of CNHI competition.
The contest honors the work of journalists throughout CNHI's 80 daily and 40 non-daily newspapers in 22 states, along with the newspapers' websites, community magazines and other publications.
The Times, which was a runner-up this year for CNHI's Newspaper of the Year for its circulation size, an award it earned in 2008 and 2009, and the New England Newspaper Association's Newspaper of the Year honors for its circulation size in 2009, earned its latest honor for stories written by Community News Editor Joann Mackenzie and Gloucester beat writer Steven Fletcher that began with the deaths of three men through heroin overdoses within three weeks of January and February last year.
Mackenzie's stories included one drawn from interviews with the family of Michael Rogers, who died at the age of 26 due to an overdose in February. Her follow-up coverage included their and others' views on the roots and the toll taken by Gloucester's heroin scourge. Then she covered, along with photo correspondent Desi Smith, Gloucester's first vigil to recognize those who had fallen victim to overdose — an event that drew some 200 people to Stacey Boulevard last August.
Fletcher, meanwhile, covered the story as the city stepped up its efforts in the drug fight through, among other things, providing Narcan, a nasal spray administered to revere the effects of a drug overdose.
"We're especially proud of this award because, while we know this is a significant health and safety issue, it's one that's never easy for people to talk about," said Times Editor Ray Lamont. "Through Joann's powerful stories, especially, and through Steve's coverage, we've tried to keep this issue in the front burner for community discussion."
Times Publisher Mark Zappala added that he's proud that the Times' award spotlighted the paper's public service coverage.
"I'm extremely proud of Joann, Steven and the entire staff here at the Times," said Zappala. "It is rewarding to be recognized for this Public Service Award because, after all, as a community newspaper it is our goal to serve our readers by providing them with in-depth news coverage, good or bad, that affects our community.
"With each day's edition of the Gloucester Daily Times," he said, "we are committed to providing the best local coverage of news, information and advertising messages for Cape Ann."
The Times award was one of several captured by newspapers within CNHI's North of Boston Media Group.
Keith Eddings of The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover was named reporter of the year in the largest circulation category, while The Eagle-Tribune's Ken Johnson was named Editorial Writer of the Year for editorials on, among other things, Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua, casino gambling, and the arrogance of the utility companies in the wake of last year's major power outages.
The judges also honored The Eagle-Tribune's Angie Beaulieu as Photographer of the Year and Joe Myers as Designer of the Year. And judges selected The Andovers, produced by The Eagle-Tribune, as the "Magazine of the Year."
Matt Williams of the Salem News won the award for Sportswriter of the Year in the category for large dailies, while judges chose Jim Reily of the Newburyport Daily News as Designer of the Year in the small daily newspaper category.