Maui News staffers took five first-place honors and won finalist awards in seven categories Friday in the Society of Professional Journalism Hawaii Chapter's annual excellence in journalism contest for work done in 2011.
Photographer Matthew Thayer won three first-place awards and took finalist awards in two categories, including one for writing.
Thayer received top honors in the Feature Photography and Photo Essay categories for "Faces of Sugar," a Nov. 13 photo essay published in the Currents Section and featuring pictures of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. workers at the end of the 2011 harvest season.
Maui News staff members honored
Judges said: "This piece required real digging and shoe-leather. The pay-off was stunning shots like the 4 a.m. picture of the crane operator checking his watch, the orange sky blazing in the background. Kudos to the photographer for taking the time to capture the faces of hardworking people who otherwise toil in anonymity. This is what journalism is all about."
Thayer also was honored in the Feature Writing/Short Form category with a finalist award in writing for a story that accompanied "Faces of Sugar."
In addition, Thayer took first place and received the finalist award in the Sports Photography category. He won for "Three for the show," a Jan. 9, 2011, photo that judges said showed a "strong, emotional reaction" when professional golfer Robert Garrigus celebrated his eagle on the 18th hole during the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Thayer's finalist honor in the Sports Photography category came from "Champions Skins," Jan. 31, 2011, photos of golfers Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson during the Champions Skins Game at the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course.
In the Spot News Reporting category, Staff Writers Lila Fujimoto, Melissa Tanji and Chris Hamilton won first place for "Goal peaceful resolve; negotiations ongoing" for Aug. 12 reporting on the second day of standoff between police and fugitive Josiah Okudara, which eventually led to his surrender and arrest after 50 hours of keeping police at bay in a Kahului neighborhood.
A judge said: "Reporter Lila Fujimoto took me right along with her as she covered this breaking news story. She established the severity of the situation, then interviewed neighbors, a shelter worker and others and added her own keen observations. Her descriptive details made me feel like I was tagging along."
Staff Writer Robert Collias earned a finalist award in the Sports Reporting category for his "End of an Era," the Jan. 9, 2011, story about the retirement of Gary Planos, longtime head of professional golf tournaments at the Kapalua Resort.
Judges said Collias' story was a "nice job of profiling an important figure in the community who established a sporting event that has grown - and now may be in decline."
In the Public Service Reporting category, former Staff Writer Ilima Loomis was recognized with a finalist award for her April 17, 2011, story, "Nonprofit's 'frugal' ways questioned by residents," a story focusing on the financial management of the Wailuku Main Street Association, which had accumulated $374,000 in unspent county grants.
Judges said: "Compelling set-up, even full of numbers. Strong narrative; allowed for details to be absorbed. Got a little heavy on the charity's point of view, but reasonable considering they are under question. Packed a lot into the piece."
Loomis also was recognized for "Air Force investigation," which did not get an award but was mentioned by judges as a solid piece of journalism that highlighted a major problem. The June 5, 2011, story reported on how civilian police officers employed by the U.S. Air Force at Haleakala had filed complaints over what they judged were unsafe working conditions
Loomis took finalist honors in the General News/Enterprise Reporting category for " 'Old School' - Treacherous trek a walk back in time," a May 22, 2011, story about a visit to the Maui County-operated Waikamoi Flume, a leaking wooden channel that gathers water from the rain forest above Haiku and Keanae.
In the Feature Writing/Long Form category, former Staff Writer Harry Eagar won for "Nepal: Mission trip transforming for patients and teenagers." The March 27, 2011, story featured Dr. Peter Galpin's work with an Aloha Medical Mission to Nepal.
The judges said they were "pleasantly surprised; stories about people going overseas on medical assistance missions are local news staples, but this brought the characters and context alive. Particularly strong writing at the open."
In the same category, former Features Editor Rick Chatenever received a finalist award for "A few words with W.S. Merwin," a Feb. 20, 2011, story on the then-U.S. poet laureate who resides on Maui.
A judge called it a "lovely portrait of a person I am now glad to know about. Enjoyed the narrative, excellent pacing."
And, in the same category, Food Editor Carla Tracy won a finalist award for her July 24 story "What do Maui's hoteliers do for fun on and off their jobs?"
In the Business Reporting category, Eagar won a finalist award for his Dec. 2 story "A&B Inc. announces split." A judge called it a "terrific job on a breaking news story."
The contest winners were announced Friday night in Honolulu.