Indie Register founders rack up awards

Independent Register c0-founders Corey Friedman and William R. Toler brought home a combined 10 awards from statewide journalism contestsawards in Chapel Hill Thursday night.

The two, who currently work for the Richmond County Daily Journal in Rockingham, N.C., won seven from the North Carolina Press Association’s 2015 Editorial Contest and picked up three honorable-mention certificates in the N.C. Associated Press’ 2016 News Excellence Contest.

From the Daily Journal article:

Reporter William R. Toler received the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2015 Media and the Law Award of Excellence for a daily newspaper article, which recognizes “insightful coverage of law-related topics that foster greater public understanding of the legal system and the role of lawyers in today’s society.”

Toler’s award-winning story chronicled murder convict Derrick McRae’s appeal for a new trial in the 1995 killing of Jerry Rankin. Attorneys with Duke University’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic volunteered to represent McRae, arguing there was no physical evidence to link him to the crime and that the defendant had an alibi.

Superior Court Judge W. David Lee denied McRae’s motion for appropriate relief in the case last February, ruling there wasn’t enough evidence to throw out the 1998 conviction. Duke attorneys said they would continue to push for a retrial in the case.

Attorneys on the N.C. Bar Association’s communications committee judged the open-division contest. Toler competed against all daily newspapers in the state for the single-story award.

“At my previous job, coworkers used to tell me I should be a lawyer,” Toler said. “This is probably as close as I’ll get.”

Toler received first place for election and political reporting from the NCPA for a series of stories on Rockingham veteran Perry Parks’ quest for legalization of medical marijuana in North Carolina.

Parks is executive director of the N.C. Cannabis Patients’ Network, an advocacy group that says marijuana should be available for treatment of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. A retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Parks says the cannabis plant alleviated his PTSD.

“Nice job of in-depth reporting and making a personal connection to a hot-button issue,” the contest judge wrote.

Toler also received a first-place award for best lede, recognizing the most creative and compelling lead paragraphs in a reporter’s stories. Included in the three ledes that comprised Toler’s entry was the unorthodox opening sentence of “Hamlet or Whoville,” written in the style of a Dr. Seuss poem.

The story dealt with unevenly trimmed trees around power lines. Hamlet resident Tim Brown said they looked like “Dr. Seuss trees,” which prompted the rhyming introduction.

Toler was honored with a second-place NCPA award for headline writing and a third-place award for general news reporting. The latter entry focused on Outreach for Jesus’ Dream Center after a resident was accused of biting off a man’s ear and fingers.

Friedman received a first-place award in the feature writing category for coverage of lawnmower racing at the Ellerbe Lions Club. He also took first place in headline writing.

Toler took home an honorable mention for the Associated Press’ O. Henry Award, which recognizes outstanding writing in daily newspapers with circulation below 10,000. His story profiled Flukie Hawkins, a Richmond County mechanic and a former stock-car racer.

Toler was also named runner-up for the AP’s Walter Spearman Award for outstanding writing by a reporter with less than two years’ experience on the staff of a daily newspaper. His entry delved into a local biker’s push to repeal North Carolina’s motorcycle helmet law.

Friedman received a runner-up certificate for the AP’s Senator Sam Open Government Award. He wrote a series of editorials on public records and government accountability issues, including one criticizing a state Senate bill that sought to limit records access to North Carolina residents.

Two other Daily Journal staffers — Matt Harrelson and former Sports Editor Shawn Stinson, who is now managing editor of the Sanford Herald — also placed, bringing the paper’s total number of awards to 12, doubling last year’s accomplishment.

In the previous contest, Toler received an honorable mention for the Spearman award. In his first two years of competition, he has won a total of eight awards.

Friedman, who has been competing since working at the Havelock news following the dissolution of the Independent Register in 2006, is now up to 23.

He became editor of the Daily Journal in May 2014, bringing Toler on board a month later.

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