Editorials, photo, land-sale stories bring state awards for News-Item

SHAMOKIN — The News-Item has won statewide awards for writing and photography in the prestigious Keystone Press Awards contest, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association (PNA).

The News-Item won three awards in the 2003 competition, which involves work published the previous year. The newspaper competes in Division V (daily newspapers under 20,000 circulation), which involves dozens of newspapers throughout Pennsylvania.)

Managing Editor Jake Betz won a second place award in the Editorial category. Contestants were required to submit three editorials from specific dates throughout 2002. Betz’s winning editorials touted Northumberland County as the best location for a federal prison, argued that a single bid of $5,000 received for the Eagle Mill Clock did not accurately reflect the clock’s importance to the community and urged Northumberland County commissioners to adopt a policy to return bid bonds immediately — and uncashed — to unsuccessful bidders.

Betz has been employed at The News-Item since 1974, serving as managing editor since 1991. Assistant editor Dave Rompolski and staff writer Mark Gilger won a second place in the Ongoing News Story category for their coverage of land sale issues in Northumberland County. Newspapers were permitted to submit up to six stories regarding coverage of an ongoing issue.

The News-Item broke the story of county-owned properties being sold for as little as $25 despite market values of tens of thousands of dollars. While no wrongdoing was uncovered in a subsequent county-led investigation, some of the properties were rebid for sale. Also, the county has modified its process for selling properties on which taxes are owed and local municipalities are more closely studying their approval of sales within their jurisdictions.

Gilger and Rompolski are both veteran reporters for The News-Item. Gilger joined the staff as a part-time sports writer in November 1982 and was promoted to full-time staff writer in March 1983. Rompolski worked as a reporter from his hiring in 1992 until 2001, when he was promoted to his current position.

Staff photographer Ray Silcox won a second place in the Sports Photo category for his picture, “Agony of defeat.” The pictured showed the Shamokin Area High School girls’ soccer goalie, on her knees, her face buried in her hands and her head on the ground, after giving up a goal in overtime against Southern Columbia Area in a Pennsylvania eastern semi-final game. The soccer net and ball were visible behind the goalie, and a teammate was consoling her.

Silcox has worked for The News-Item’s parent company since February 1995, spending the first five years at the company’s sister publication, The Citizen-Standard, in Valley View. He moved to The News-Item three years ago.

This marks the fourth consecutive year in which The News-Item, which is owned by Times Shamrock Co., Scranton, has won at least one PNA award.

The Keystone Press Awards reinforce excellence by individuals in the newspaper profession by recognizing journalism that consistently provides relevance, integrity and initiative in serving readers, according to PNA. Further, the awards stimulate journalists to improve their craft and ultimately improve their communities.

-from The News-Item; April 17, 2003