RALEIGH — The Richmond Observer continues to be one of the top online publications in the state winning 11 awards the N.C. Press Association’s 2023 Editorial and Photojournalism Contest.
The RO placed first in both Community Coverage and Sports Coverage — marking the first time for the former and the third straight year for the latter — as well as General Excellence in the Online Division.
“I am personally very proud of this team,” said RO co-publisher Charlie Melvin. “The general excellence awards are among the highest honors we could receive from our colleagues in the newstelling industry and the honor is enhanced by the quality of our colleagues who also placed.”
The RO competes in the Online Division, which comprises similar community publications, as well as statewide outlets. Coming in second and third for the General Excellence award were NC Health News and Axios Charlotte, respectively.
“Our team should be very proud to be recognized with this award in particular and the 10 other awards we received last night,” Charlie Melvin said. “I am, and I think the team is, energized by this validation and I look forward to another great year of growth and excellence.”
Most of the awards earned by the RO this year were in sports categories.
“These sports writers were definitely busy,” read the judge’s comments for the Sports Coverage category. “I work for a weekly with duties outside sports, so I admire the work here!”
The entries for that category were a combination of coverage of various high school sports and the MB Drift series, from a two-day period.
For the second consecutive year, the Pillar-Toler team swept the Sports News Reporting category, with Toler taking first and Pillar placing second and third.
Toler’s winning story was about Rockingham Speedway being selected as the kick-off location for the state’s Moonshine and Motorsports Trail.
“I was very impressed with the research and history that went into this article,” the judge wrote.
Pillar and contributor Zachary Pessagno placed second and third, respectively in Sports Feature Writing, and Pillar placed first in Use of Social Media for RO Sports, second in Photo Page or Essay for his piece on the Richmond Senior High School soccer practice field.
“What we’ve always tried to do with the RO sports department is build a platform which provides our community and readers the best possible coverage across the county in all facets,” Pillar said. “We’ve proven that the past three years and I’m humbled by our most recent accomplishments.
“I take a lot of joy connecting with the student-athletes and fans of Richmond County, and telling their stories is what it’s all about. I’m grateful for our team of contributors and look forward to providing more award-winning sports coverage for many years to come.”
Pillar has won 22 awards in the past four contests since the RO joined the N.C. Press Association.
Toler also placed third, as “Staff,” in Breaking News Coverage for his reporting on the newborn who was found on the railroad tracks in East Rockingham.
“Heartbreaking, but very indicative of the somber tasks journalists sometimes have to take on,” wrote the judge.
Toler has won more than 30 press awards in two divisions writing about Richmond County since moving here in 2014.
“I’ll admit to being a little disappointed with not winning more individual awards, but being a part of taking the top spot in Community Coverage, Sports Coverage and General Excellence really means a lot,” Toler said. “To be recognized as the state’s best online publication, competing against 16 other outlets, is quite an accomplishment.
“These awards are a testament to our dedication to Richmond County.”
Toler also acknowledged the work of contributors like Chris McDonald and Betty Gallo McIntyre, columnist Helen Cox, and Live at 5 Producer Russell Parker to the RO’s success.
The RO was founded in 2017 by Kenny Melvin and Lance Jenkins as a locally owned news source for Richmond County.
“I am grateful to work with award winning journalists who take what we do seriously,” Kenny Melvin said. “Last night was a testament to that, with the 10 press awards and the General Excellence plaque received by our staff. Join me in congratulating those that have made this possible year after year.
“Being awarded first place in General Excellence is testament to how far the RO team has come in our six years of publishing,” Charlie Melvin added. “I think it validates the hard work that we have all put into this newspaper.”
Richmond County native Thomasi McDonald also earned a second-place nod in City, County Government reporting as a journalist with the Durham-based Indy Week. McDonald previously spent two decades at the Raleigh News & Observer.
In addition to the publications, state Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, was honored with the William C. Lassiter Award for his efforts to keep public notices in newspapers.
This year’s contest — with more than 3,500 entries from 125 member publications — was judged by the Alabama Press Association.