Jeff Morris named top reporter in Ontario, story on human remains of South Carleton student found at construction site named best news story.
MARKHAM — In a ballroom in Markham filled with Ontario’s top community newspaper publishers, journalists, photographers and designers, it was the Manotick Messenger and its sister publication, the Barrhaven Independent, that came away as the big winners.
The publications won three Ontario Community Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Competition awards and placed second in a fourth category. The awards were given out at the annual OCNA Awards Gala, held in Markham Friday, April 20.
“We are a small, family business with only two full time employees and a handful of part time employees and contributors,” said Jeff Morris, the editor and publisher of the Independent and the Messenger. “The incredible support from the community and our readers enables us to produce a newspaper that is on par with some of the biggest and best publications in Ontario.”
Morris won the 2017 Stephen Shaw Award as the province’s Reporter of the Year. He had previously won the award in 2008 and was a finalist in 2010. Todd Vandonk of Peterborough This Week was second, while Kim Zarzour of the Richmond Hill/Thornhill Liberal was third. Morris said his award was a reflection of the community support he mentioned.
“It’s presented as an individual award, but it really is a community award,” he said. “We get a lot of tips and direction from our readers. In 2017, we had a few incredible stories that were presented to us. There is a lot of luck involved.”
A Messenger story on workers at a new home near Prince of Wales and Bankfield who unearthed human remains while building a deck won the award for the province’s best news story. Morris wanted a fresh angle on the story, and tied it to a South Carleton High School student who went missing in the area in 1994. When he questioned the police on scene, they were unaware of the teenager who had been missing for more than two decades. Forensic tests confirmed that the remains did, in fact, belong to the missing student.
“That is an example of how we get tips and input from the community,” said Morris. “Chris Napior called me and told me that someone had found human remains there, and then Jim Stewart called and told me that it was probably the boy who went missing in 1994, and that we should follow up on that.”
A story on how MPP Lisa MacLeod’s Private Members Bill on funding for exceptional situations will help a local family with two children fighting unrelated cases of cancer was selected out of 73 stories as the best health and wellness story in the province.
In addition to the three first place awards, the Manotick Messenger earned a second place award for best arts and entertainment story in Ontario for a feature on Manotick dancer Deirdre Barnes. She is part of Britney Spears’ Las Vegas Show, and was also a dancer on the Justin Bieber “Believe” Tour and has been on Dancing With the Stars. She took a week off to return home to Manotick and help the young dancers at the Denise Smith School of Dance, where she grew up learning to dance.
The Minden Times also won three provincial first place awards, while the Burks Falls Almaguin News, Mississauga News and New Hamburg Independent won two each.
The Messenger, published every two weeks, began distributing its publication to every home in Richmond in January.