The Santa Barbara Independent won four 1st-place awards and three 2nd-place awards at this year’s Better Newspapers Contest hosted by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) last weekend.

Judging panels of journalists and editors across the state scored The Independent in the top of its class — weekly papers with circulations above 25,000 — in the categories of Writing, Business News, Breaking News, and Education coverage.

Here are the stories that took home the gold (or, in our case, bragging rights and a few nice wall plaques):

—Writing: Ethan Stewart’s cover story on his heroic battle with pancreatic cancer. Read it here.

—Business News: Tyler Hayden’s article on Santa Barbara’s frighteningly expensive and competitive rental market. Read it here.

—Breaking News: The Independent staff’s collaborative coverage of last year’s Isla Vista massacre. Read it here.

—Education: Brandon Fastman’s feature on the dreams and struggles of undocumented students. Read it here.

The paper also took 2nd place for Paul Wellman’s photographs in the immediate aftermath of the I.V. killings (found here), Wellman’s shot of police holding a man at gunpoint on De La Vina Street (story found here and photo found below), and for its website,

See the full list of winners here.

Wellman's award-winning news photo.
Paul Wellman (file)

During Saturday’s awards luncheon at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, Attorney Kelli Sager of Los Angeles law firm Davis Wright Tremaine was presented with the CNPA’s Freedom of Information Award. Sager has spent her 30-year career fighting on behalf of journalists for access to government records. She was greeted onstage by a standing ovation.

Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez was the event’s featured speaker. He traced his career from a beer-swilling, baseball-watching community college student who started covering sports to a respected writer with stints equally rewarding and maddening at different newspapers across the country. In Los Angeles, he’s dedicated much of his column space to covering mental health issues.

Journalism is a noble and important pursuit, Lopez told the audience, and the industry’s old guard would do well to take more cues from young reporters coming up through the ranks of new media. But no matter how platforms and revenue models change, he went on, the energy and the goal of journalism has and should remain the same. “Hold the bastards accountable,” he declared. A newspaper’s duty, he said, borrowing a line from Chicago writer Finley Peter Dunne, is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”


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