On Friday, the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA) announced the winners of their 53rd annual Better Newspaper Contest for 2021.

Among those recognized was Wabash Plain Dealer Editor Rob Burgess, who won awards in four separate categories in Division 1, which includes non-dailies with a circulation of less than 1,500.

Burgess’ first-place entry in the Best Business or Economic News Coverage category included three stories on Wabash County family farms, including one about Bowman Family Farms during the 2019 Purdue University Indiana Farm Management Tour, one about 120 years of agricultural history on John Hartsough’s family farm in North Manchester and one about local farmers assisting Dean Stouffer to harvest his fields after he fell ill with COVID-19.

Burgess’ second-place entry in the Headline Writing category included “‘The Bible Memory Man’ cometh,” “Family Video in Wabash checking out” and “Fowl at the fair.”

Burgess’ third-place entry in the Best Profile Feature category was a story about David Crosby before his performance at the Honeywell Center.

Burgess’ third-place entry in the Best Feature Photo category was for “Bringing out the ‘big check,’” which showed Charity Lane being surprised with $50,000 from Publishers Clearing House.

HSPA executive director and general counsel Steve Key said each year HSPA presents hundreds of awards to newspapers and journalists across the state. There were 1,635 entries for this year’s contest from 61 newspapers. The Kansas State Press Association provided judging for this year’s contest.

The coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of an in-person awards event last year and this year. The 2021 awards were presented on a webpage with opening and closing remarks from Key. For more information, visit www.hspa.com.

“I wish I was standing before you in a packed room but life has changed over the last 17 months,” Key said in his video greeting. “The trial we all endured has illustrated once again the importance of strong, local journalism.”

Key’s opening remarks are followed by the announcement of the HSPA’s special honors and hundreds of individual and organizational awards divided up by the four circulation divisions.

“Your work under these circumstances makes me proud to be a part of the Hoosier State Press Association,” said Key.

Key said the pandemic caused a pause in normal award protocols for the last two years “but not in the quality of work being honored.”

“Newsrooms across the state rose to the occasion producing stories not only about the pandemic but a host of other issues impacting Hoosiers,” Key said. “Your work under these circumstances makes me proud to be a part of the Hoosier State Press Association.”

In June, the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced the winners of their 2020 Best in Indiana Journalism Contest. Among those recognized was Burgess, who won awards in three separate categories for publications with circulation below 30,000.

Burgess’ second-place entry in the Personality Profile category was a story about local DivorceCare group leader Janet Quillen.

Burgess’ third-place entry in the Criminal Justice Reporting category included two stories about overcrowding in the Wabash County Jail, two stories about the murder of Nakota “Fergie” Kelly and a story about the opening of the baby box at Wabash Fire Station 1.

Burgess’ third-place entry in the Environmental Reporting category included a story about 120 years of history at John Hartsough’s family farm in North Manchester; and stories about Teen Indiana Master Naturalists, Salamonie Preschool, a monarch butterfly Senior Luncheon presentation and women landowners, all meeting at Salamonie Lake.

In May 2020, during the SPJ’s 2019 Best in Indiana Journalism Contest, Burgess also won third place for Arts and Entertainment Writing for publications with circulation below 30,000. Burgess’ winning entry from last year included five stories published in 2019. These stories included interviews with Amy Grant, David Crosby, Buck Trent of “Hee Haw,” Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys and Patrick Myers of Killer Queen before their respective performances at the Honeywell Center.

Burgess has been Wabash Plain Dealer editor since June 2019.

Last year’s SPJ awards banquet was originally scheduled for this April 2020, but the chapter announced that they would be announcing the winners online instead due to safety concerns around COVID-19. Similarly, this year’s awards ceremony was presented in an online video presentation, rather than in person.

The Best in Indiana Journalism contest is Indiana’s only open journalism contest. This was the 42nd year that journalists from around the state competed in dozens of print, broadcast and online categories.