Carmage Walls Commentary Prizes awarded

Top honors go to Taylor Batten and Keith Magill

Posted 10/14/13

Taylor Batten, editorial page editor of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, and Keith Magill, executive editor of The Courier in Houma, La., were awarded top honors by SNPA this afternoon in the Carmage Walls Commentary Prize competition.

Second-place honors went to editorial staff members at two Florida dailies: The Daytona Beach News-Journal and The Lakeland Ledger.

The awards were presented by Lissa Walls Vahldiek, vice president and chief operating officer of Southern Newspapers, Inc., Houston, Texas.  Vahldiek is the daughter of the late Benjamin Carmage Walls, for whom this award is named. 

Walls, whose newspaper career spanned seven decades, primarily owned community newspapers and advocated strong, courageous and positive editorial page leadership.

Taylor Batten
In the over 50,000 circulation category, Batten wrote about negotiations between Charlotte and the NFL's Carolina Panthers over public financing for stadium improvements.  "Not every community possesses a major sports franchise, and not every reader is a sports fan," judges said, "but when a writer with Taylor Batten's skill tackles the topic of public financing for stadium improvements, it doesn't matter. His engaging writing drew in the judges."

"He did a really good job of making me want to read more," one judge, who is not a sports fan, remarked. Batten made clear that larger issues of public finances and the local economy were at play. Most important for purposes of the Carmage Walls prize, he got results.

Read his entry:

Keith Magill
In the under 50,000 circulation bracket, Keith Magill's writing about Hurricane Isaac struck a chord in the community and with judges. This was Magill's third first-place win in this contest.  He previously won in 2005 and 2010. 

 "It gave me chills," one judge remarked. Good investigative journalism does not have to take down a corrupt public official to be effective.  Judges were particularly impressed with Magill's unusually clear explanations of a complex situation that hit close to home for readers. They said his entry was an effective use of an editor's column to provide information and comment on an issue affecting everyone in the community – just plain well done and well written.

Read his four-part entry about hurricanes and hurricane protection:

Mac Thrower
Glenn Marston
Second-place honors were awarded to:

  • The Lakeland Ledger (under 50,000 circulation) – Glenn Marston, editorial page editor.  When looking for impact and results, almost nothing beats a grand jury investigation, judges said.  His writing about open government in Polk County, Fla., got judges' blood boiling far away. They said, "He showed courage confronting a local police chief and achieved results in public opinion and measurable changes. The editorials were relentless, hammering away until they had the attention of public officials. Clear, strong arguments for the importance of open meetings and public records sealed the deal." Read his six-part entry:
  • The Daytona Beach News-Journal (over 50,000 circulation) – Mac Thrower, opinion page editor. Contest judges said Thrower stood out for achieving positive results through strong, persuasive writing. They commented: "He demonstrated passion for the beachside and for the local community served by the News-Journal. He successfully weaved a tapestry that made a case to public officials and business leaders for action and also explained to average readers why the issues and the beachside matter to them in ways that are not always obvious. He offers a positive vision for the future without losing track of a sometimes-troubled past."

Two honorable mentions also were awarded by contest judges:

In the over 50,000 circulation bracket:

Tod Robberson, The Dallas Morning News
Tod Robberson's ongoing writing on the economic disparities between parts of Dallas offer what one judge called "a textbook example of how to write about larger issues in a way that doesn't look like you are stuck at 35,000 feet." Robberson engages readers so that it never seems like you are reading a sociology text. He also evades the trap of becoming mean, of pointing fingers and calling names. Rather, his excellent sense of what is going on in the city and his lively writing allowed him to report challenges and offer solutions in a way that readers can understand. Read his six-part entry.

In the under 50,000 bracket:

Bob Davis, The Anniston Star, Anniston, Ala.
Bob Davis' wonderful writing shines. This well-planned series brought a local focus to a statewide and national issue, that of voter ID. Davis made excellent use of analogies and the historic record in a compelling presentation. Particularly striking in his entry was how well he struck a balance between repetition and variety across the multiple pieces. Repetition drove the point home, and variety kept it fresh.

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