Gazette cleans up awards

Photographer Stewart Chambers' award-winning photo of Alex Exposito being hugged by his neighbour in the aftermath of the Bunyip Complex fires in March.

The Pakenham-Berwick Gazette has dominated the Victorian Country Press Association media awards, coming away from the annual conference at Rydges in Melbourne with a haul six major accolades.

The Gazette received the award for Overall Newspaper Excellence above 6000 circulation, with judge Alan Pont noting that the $1 cover price represented real value for the reader.

It also won awards for Best News Story, Best Sports Story, Best News Photo, Best Community Campaign and Best House Advertisement.

Mr Pont was impressed with the quality of front pages in the three editions sent for judging and also at the depth of sport coverage and that the space was given to a wide range of sports.

Sports editor Russell Bennett took the award for Best Sports Story for his piece on the history of the Lang Lang Football Club.

Judge Patrick Elliget said the Gazette’s fabulous historic presentation is what separated it from the competition.

“Attention to detail is evident here, with small flourishes such as the tattered corners on the main photograph making this a page worth framing. Copy is clean and lively, with multiple interviews and some very engaging anecdotes that tell a fascinating story everyone will enjoy – whether they’re a sports fan or not.”

Editor Garry Howe won the award for Best News Story for a piece on Kay Morland connecting with the driver of a car that hit and killed her husband Mick, a long-time Casey councillor and former mayor.

Judge Angela Carey said the engaging piece was one of very few articles that had the “wow factor” – with the ability to both surprise and move the reader.

“Garry Howe’s story of a widow who reached out to the young man whose car struck and killed her husband tugged at the heart strings. It was sensitively written, and conveyed for the reader the depth of emotion involved for both the widow and the young man.

“It is hard to imagine a reader not making it through to the end of this piece. More often than not, the best stories in newspapers are about people. This one is another fine example of that.”

The Best Community Campaign Award went to the Gazette’s partnership in Cardinia Shire’s groundbreaking Together We Can campaign against family violence, which judge Lynne Smith described as “civic journalism at its best – a news organisation partnering with government and community to affect social change.”

Photographer Stewart Chambers picked up the award for Best News Photo for his image in the aftermath of the Bunyip Complex fires in March of an impromptu hug of gratitude for Alex Exposito, who risked his life to stay behind to save neighbourhood properties threatened by a the bushfire.

Judge Bob Mackie said the photo showed Mr Exposito, who battled the fire with nothing but a shovel and blanket, being hugged by neighbour “Emma”.

“The photo is well framed, recording the hug of gratitude in the foreground with the blackened trees in the background illustrating how close the fire came to the properties. Nicely done…”

The award for Best House Advertisement was for a call to action for readers to subscribe to the paper’s digital edition, which judge Janine Buesnel described as “attention grabbing, not just due to its positioning – wrapped around an edition – but by the use of bold, clear content”.

“The audience would not be confused with the message – the Gazette was wanting readers to subscribe to their online edition. The offer was generous and well-presented without being overwhelming.”

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