By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre Daily News was honored this weekend for stories and editorial pages it produced about the rights of people with developmental disabilities.
The work won first place for community service at the Montana Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest. It was one of five first-place awards received by the Havre Daily News, which competed against other daily and weekly newspapers with circulations between 3,001 and 7,499 in Montana. The awards, for work done in 2003, were presented during a banquet in Great Falls on Saturday.
It was the second year in a row that the Havre Daily News won the community service award, one of the major awards presented in each circulation category.
The award recognized the newspaper's coverage of a controversy that erupted after the manager of a local bar asked a group of people with developmental disabilities to leave, including a series of articles prompted by the controversy that described the lives of children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities in Havre. The submission also included an editorial, guest columns and letters to the editor about the controversy.
One of the judges, from the Oklahoma Press Association, wrote: "Effective use of newspaper's resources as a means of providing a public forum for comments on a local controversy. This should be required reading for other newspapers to show what 'community service' really means."
The Havre Daily News took home a second-place award in the Best Freedom of Information Effort category for work that resulted in policy changes at the Havre Police Department and Hill County Sheriff's Office.
Both agencies formerly withheld information about sex crimes from their 24-hour dispatch logs. After the Havre Daily News threatened to sue the Police Department over access to that information, it revised its policy to include those calls in the dispatch logs. The Sheriff's Office also revised its policy. Both agencies also began to develop more complete incident reports for the public.
The newspaper's entry also included coverage and editorial comment about the Havre Police Department's subsequent effort to secure a Montana attorney general's opinion that would allow it to limit information it makes available to the public.
The Havre Daily News received first-place awards for editorial pages, feature photography, government reporting, and business writing, as well as second-place awards for sport column writing and short-feature writing. The paper also earned third place in the Best Advertising Series category.
The top awards at the contest were won by the Billings Gazette and the Bigfork Eagle. For the first time since 1996, the Gazette won the Sam Gilluly Sweepstakes Award as the state's best daily newspaper. The Bigfork Eagle claimed the Thomas Dimsdale Sweepstakes Award, given to the state's best weekly newspaper, for the third straight year. It's also the Eagle's fifth time to win the award since 1997.