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Advocate-Messenger places second in Ky. at annual newspaper awards

The Advocate-Messenger has been named the second-best mid-sized daily newspaper in the state by the Kentucky Press Association.

The paper’s staff received the award Friday at the annual KPA awards banquet, held at the Hilton in downtown Lexington.

The Advocate-Messenger came in second to The State Journal in Frankfort in the overall general excellence category. The Commonwealth Journal in Somerset placed third in the division.

“As one of the smaller dailies in the mid-sized division, I think placing among the top three in the state speaks to how hard the Advocate’s staff works to cover everything — and cover it well — in Danville and Boyle County,” Editor Ben Kleppinger said. “This award was truly a team effort and we wouldn’t have earned it without each and every person who contributed in our newsroom for the past year.”

Among the paper’s 12 individual awards were a pair of first-place honors. One was for coverage of the fatal pipeline explosion that rocked the Moreland community near the Boyle-Lincoln county line on Aug. 1.

The front page of The Advocate-Messenger from Aug. 2, 2019, featured multiple stories about a pipeline explosion the day before. The coverage earned reporters Robin Hart and Bobbie Curd a first-place award for Best Breaking News Coverage from the Kentucky Press Association. (Advocate-Messenger archives)

Reporters Bobbie Curd and Robin Hart won first place in the Best Breaking News Coverage category for the numerous stories they wrote the day of the explosion, detailing everything from the moments after the explosion and what was being done to assist victims to how authorities reacted and what the next steps in an investigation would be.

“Very thorough coverage of the tragedy,” the judges wrote. “No question that the amount of work done on this story earned its top placement.”

Hart, Curd and Nancy Leedy, editor of the Advocate’s sister publication The Interior Journal, also won second place in the Best On-Going/Extended Coverage Story category for their numerous reports on the fallout from the pipeline explosion over the following months.

“This series beautifully captures the damage the explosion did to individuals and the community,” the judges wrote. “The stress that the displacement of families whose homes were destroyed or damaged placed on area service organizations was excellently portrayed, as was the reaction of officials at the company that owned the pipeline.”

Former Advocate-Messenger Sports Editor Matt Overing claimed the paper’s other first-place honor in the Best Sports Feature Story category. Overing won for his feature in late November 2018 on Chuck Smith and his son, Brandon Smith, who were both coaching undefeated high-school football teams into the playoffs that year.

The judges were impressed by the Smiths’ achievements and wrote that Overing’s feature was a “great tribute to their ability to coach high-school kids and do a remarkable job at it.”

Other awards earned by The Advocate-Messenger were:

  • Second place — Bobbie Curd, Best Feature Story, for her coverage of a funeral for 10-year-old Bradlee Aguilar-Moreno, who died from an aggressive form of brain cancer in 2018. Bradlee was given a ride in a monster truck before his death by the group of monster-truck drivers “Childhood Cancer Crushers,” and the group also drove three of their trucks to Bradlee’s funeral. The judges wrote, “A tearjerking story! This well-organized piece has excellent flow and honors both the boy who passed and the people who wanted to make his life the best it could be.”
  • Second place — Bobbie Curd, Best Enterprise or Analytical Story, for her report on Roger Fox, a local man who couldn’t vote because of his criminal record and his efforts to regain his right to vote through a lawsuit. Fox has since had his voting rights restored, though the lawsuit has not been resolved. “This story nicely weaves together the personal, the political and the legal,” the judges wrote. “It also uses data from other states, but always comes back to the felon who’s turned his life around and still can’t vote. That is what makes it compelling.”
  • Second place — Ben Kleppinger, Best Investigative Story or Series, for his reporting on non-financial bonds and their changing use in the local criminal justice system. “Reporter Kleppinger takes a deep dive and detailed look at efforts to change sentencing policy and ease jail-crowding issues,” the judges wrote. “Great detailed reporting with clear and explanatory writing.”
  • Second place — Matt Overing, Best Sports Picture Essay.
  • Second place — Ben Kleppinger, Best Front Page.
  • Third place — Ben Kleppinger, Best Enterprise or Analytical Story, for his reporting on the experiences of Brian Snyder, who was an inmate at the Boyle County Detention Center and recovered from surgery to save his life while sleeping on the floor of a jail cell. “This is an unusual and interesting way to write about a report that calls for a new jail due to overcrowding and the lack of medical care,” the judges wrote. “The inmate’s story makes real the problems in the facility that readers, many of whom may have had similar health problems, can relate to and understand.”
  • Third place — Bobbie Curd, Best Breaking News Coverage, for her story about a fire that destroyed the long-time home of the Henson family, proprietors of Pioneer Playhouse. “Thorough report on a fire with good description of the details,” the judges wrote.
  • Third place — Ben Kleppinger, Best Investigative Story or Series, for his reporting on a Boyle County inmate who was jailed for multiple days incorrectly due to a paperwork mixup, and how officials reacted to fix the situation. “Investigations don’t always have to be exhaustive to be important,” the judges wrote. “Kleppinger shines a light with this report highlighting how a paperwork snafu left one poor soul sitting naked in a jail holding cell for three days. I bet officials took quick notice and hopefully steps to be more careful in the future. This is laudable watchdog reporting.”
  • Third place — Matt Overing, Best Sports Picture Essay.

One of The Advocate-Messenger’s sister papers, The Interior Journal in Stanford, claimed second place overall in the small weekly division; another sister publication, The Winchester Sun, earned first place overall in the small daily division.