ST. GEORGE — St. George News was recently recognized for excellence in reporting in the Top of the Rockies 2020 journalism competition.
Four writers won nine awards across a variety of categories for stories written in 2019, including politics, breaking news, marijuana, sports, photography and education, making St. George News among the top finishers in its division.
The winners were announced April 17 by the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The awards were originally planned to be presented at the Denver Press Club, but the gathering was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is an especially difficult time for everyone, including journalists,” SPJ Colorado Pro President Tony Flesor said in a press release. “Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest – and special thanks to all the working journalists who continue to bring essential information to people who need it.”
In the health category, Mikayla Shoup, who currently serves as managing editor, won first place for her coverage of the abrupt closure of an opioid treatment clinic in St. George. The story describes the aftermath of the closure, which left patients scrambling to find other treatment options.
Shoup was awarded another first place for a story in the marijuana reporting category, in which she examined how the legalization of medical cannabis in Utah would affect drug testing in the workplace — something that wasn’t specifically addressed when the law originally passed.
Joseph Witham, current St. George News editor in chief, took first place in the news photography category. The winning photo depicts a coyote caught in an illegally placed leg trap in a popular recreation area on the outskirts of St. George.
Witham hiked several miles to the location to take the photograph for a story about concerns over wildlife trapping.
Witham was also awarded first place for his multimedia coverage of a riot that broke out at a youth treatment center in St. George. The story captured video and photos of the massive law enforcement response at Red Rock Canyon School, which shut down an entire stretch of road as police vehicles swarmed the area.
Dedicated sports reporter Ryne Williams was awarded second place in sports reporting for his profile of Snow Canyon High School’s Darcy Jackson, a high-performing dual-sport athlete who is also battling lupus. The story chronicles Jackson’s success in track and volleyball as she receives chemotherapy treatment for her condition.
In the politics (enterprise reporting) category, Shoup was recognized for her coverage of Zion National Park during the extended government shutdown in early 2019. Shoup spoke with a park employee on the condition of anonymity who described what it was like to work in the park with limited services and how it affected furloughed workers.
Former reporter Ryann Richardson was awarded second place in the politics (general reporting) category for her extensive coverage of Utah’s Tax Restructuring and Equalization Task Force, comprising a series of more than a dozen articles examining the tax reform effort from a variety of perspectives and angles.
Williams took third place in sports reporting for a story about Dixie High School girls volleyball’s Cinderella run in the 4A playoffs. Williams creatively weaved anecdotes about the team’s unofficial unicorn mascot with highlights of triumphant plays and athletic skill.
In the education category, Richardson was recognized with a third-place award for her look at a newly implemented “wellness room” at Pine View Middle School. The story walks the reader through the room, using photos and video to complement a complete explanation of its mental health benefits for students.
The Top of the Rockies 2020 contest drew a record number of entries from Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, with 1,328 total entries, a 6% increase over the previous year.
“The judges were impressed with the quality of the work,” Deb Hurley Brobst, a board member for SPJ Colorado Pro who coordinates the contest, said in the press release. “Thanks to everyone who entered and to the judges.”
This year’s winners were but a few of the many award-worthy stories that St. George News’ dedicated team of reporters and editors worked to deliver to readers throughout Southern Utah and beyond.
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