The Fort Mill Times took home 10 awards from Saturday’s S.C. Press Association annual news contest awards presentation held at the Westin Poinsett in Greenville.
The Times, competing in the highest circulation category among the state’s weekly newspapers, earned three first-place awards: Best Website, Best Facebook page and Best Special Section Magazine for the annual Focus on Fort Mill Township newcomers guide.
In contests in which the Times competed against every daily and weekly newspaper in the state, the newspaper won two awards for last year’s live, streaming candidates debate organized in conjunction with Nation Ford High School’s NaFo News team. Those entries won a second place award for Innovative Concept and a third place for Online News Project.
Reporter Jenny Overman took home a third-place award for her series on the Fort Mill High School Band that chronicled decades of directors leading up to a reunion event held as a fundraiser for the band’s recent trip to Ireland to perform in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Reporter John Marks won a third place award for best Unpublished Photo, Marks, who also reports for the Times’ sister paper, the Lake Wylie Pilot, earned a first-place for a series called “Child fighting cancer” that also ran in the Fort Mill Times.
Independent journalists who are regular contributors to the Fort Mill Times also won awards in the contest. Mac Banks, the paper’s former longtime sports editor, won a third place for Spot Sports News for his story about the Fort Mill High School boys soccer team’s state championship win. Stephanie Marks Martell, a former intern at the Fort Mill Times while attending Fort Mill High School in the early 1990s, won third place in the Sports Feature Photo category for her shot of Indian Land High fans cheering at a home football game.
The Fort Mill Times also won third place for Best Use of Twitter.
The Times’ sister daily, The Herald brought home 22 awards, including one for best website, and another sister weekly, the Enquirer-Herald, won a second place for in the Faith Reporting category.
Fort Mill Times Editor Michael Harrison praised the efforts of staff and the newspaper’s network of contributors for helping the paper achieve success in the annual contest.
“We don’t work for awards, but it’s gratifying when your peers recognize that you’re doing a good job and our reporters and contributors certainly give it their all,” Harrison said. “Fort Mill Township, including Indian Land and Tega Cay, is a vast coverage area and as everyone who lives here knows, it’s still growing, so we have our challenges ahead and look forward to it.”
Harrison also wanted to single out the paper’s partners at Nation Ford High School for making the online forum, held the week before last November’s elections, a success. The forum was notable for its use of social media.
“We went to journalism teacher Chuck Walker and he didn’t hesitate to participate. I think his first words were, ‘just tell us what you need.’ From there he turned it over to NaFo News Producer Eliza Larkin, staffer Forrest Holloman and the rest of the crew and from our first meeting it felt like we were dealing with professionals, not just high-achieving high school students,” Harrison said.
“What was really cool about the forum, in my opinion, is our concept of promoting it through social media and encouraging our Facebook and Twitter followers to submit the questions. We were worried about getting enough questions and I had a backup list ready but never had to use it. Once people started to tune in to the broadcast, the questions were coming in fast and furious from both Facebook and Twitter. I think we broke some new ground here and you’ll see other newspapers doing something similar on a regular basis.”
He added, “This particular project was interesting because the primary goal was filling a void; No other forums were scheduled and it was getting close to Election Day so we thought we needed pull something together. There was no template to go by and neither Jenny Overman, who did more behind the scenes work on this than anyone will ever know, nor myself, have TV broadcast experience, so we had to wing it. Thanks to Chuck Walker, Eliza and her staff, school IT folks like Brian Spittle and Chuck Wallace and especially Thomas Wingard at PlayOn Sports, who made the live stream possible, it was a success.
“We also have to thank Principal Beverley Bowman and the school district for allowing us to use the TV studio and for letting us work with the NaFo News staff.”
The Fort Mill Times’ website, which now requires a nominally-priced subscription for full digital access, won its third SCPA award in five years, including two first place honors.
Contest judges noted that fortmilltimes.com, “has a very inviting look with lots of information that is well-organized, particularly with the tabs at the top.” The judges also commented that “the entry says the goal of the site is to be a daily newspaper with a weekly print product and it succeeds.”