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Staff Report
4:57 am CDT June 19, 2019

From an “inspirational” obituary to “engaging” breaking news to a “haunting” and “exceptional” investigation, 22nd Century Media publications earned a company-record 16 awards for journalistic excellence from the National Newspaper Association.

It is the seventh year of national competition for 22nd Century Media, parent company of The Orland Park Prairie, and the 16 awards top the company’s previous high of 14 (2015).

The National Newspaper Association boasts more than 2,000 members, and this year its annual Better Newspaper Contest welcomed more than 1,300 entries from 36 states. Winners in the competition, judged by esteemed journalists from across the country, will be honored at an Oct. 5 banquet in Milwaukee.

“I am blown away,” said Joe Coughlin, the company’s publisher. “Our editorial team works tirelessly to produce quality community journalism that informs and equips our readers. The work is for the community, but accolades of this magnitude help validate those efforts.”

Of the 16 awards won by 22nd Century Media, two were first-place and seven were second-place honors. 22CM also earned three third-place nods, and four were honorable mentions.

The Homer Horizon, the first newspaper launched by 22nd Century Media, earned both first-place awards — one for a feature written by Editor Tom Czaja and the other for an investigative piece produced by a team of reporters.

Four of the honors went to The Orland Park Prairie, which was recognized for two editorials by Managing Editor Bill Jones, a sports column by Jeff Vorva and an obituary tribute by reporter Meredith Dobes.

Regarding Vorva’s second-place Best Sports Column entry, “Plenty of heroes,” judges said “Jeff gets brownie points here for a piece that gets extra power from its efficient language.” They also called Dobes’ tribute to a late Montford Point Marine “an honestly inspirational obituary.”

Jones earned second-place for Best Editorial with a column about the importance of voting, with judges calling it a “creative twist to the same old, same old get out and vote opine.” He took an honorable mention for a column about the student walkouts, with judges saying it was “well written with several good points” but that it “could have been said in fewer words.” Jones disagrees.

“I would have done so ‘respectfully,’ but I feared that might be too wordy,” he wrote.

Jones also contributed to the second-place recognition the Malibu Surfside News received for its coverage of the devastating Woolsey Fire. Vorva also picked up a second place for Best Review in The Tinley Junction for his take on the Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie show at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, as well as an honorable mention in that paper for Best Sports Feature Story or Series an entry called “No white flag.”

Other awards southwest suburban awards were won by: The Lockport Legend (sports story by Editor Max Lapthorne) and The Frankfort Station (sports photo by Julie McMann).

“The variety of work that was recognized is particularly impressive to me,” Publisher Joe Coughlin said. “These are the best reporters in Chicago’s suburbs, and they keep proving it.”