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News staffers win top awards in statewide contest

Six Buffalo News staffers won first-place awards for writing, photography, news presentation and graphics in the annual New York State Associated Press competition. The awards will be presented tonight in Syracuse.

News staffers also captured three seconds, six thirds and four honorable mentions in competition with other large-circulation newspapers, including the New York Times, Newsday and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

"It's worth noting that every department of our newsroom was recognized in these awards, from sports to opinion to features, and many others," said News Editor Margaret Sullivan. "That speaks to the overall talent and dedication of the News staff."

The first-place winners were Donn Esmonde for columns, Kevin Walter for editorial writing, Anthony Violanti for arts and entertainment writing, Bill Wippert for photo illustration, Daniel Zakroczemski for graphics illustration and John Davis for news presentation.

Esmonde was awarded first place for three columns, one dealing with the poor performance of the administration of Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, as shown by the squandered millions in federal money; one on the serious illness of his 89-year-old father and his successful battle to survive; and a third on the retirement of T.C. Smith, a legendary Buffalo street cop, which touched upon the tragic saga of his teenage son, who several years ago fled to Kansas and killed a police officer before being shot dead himself.

Walter won his third first-place award for editorial writing in five years for a series of editorials on New York's special education program. Walter spent four months researching and writing, and his work culminated in a five-part editorial series and an in-depth cover story in the Viewpoints section.

Walter pointed out that while the program does some wonderful things, it also is guilty of drawing in students who don't need special education and failing to prepare the students who do belong there for success in college.

Violanti, a News feature writer, won first place in the arts and entertainment writing category for his moving profile in First Sunday magazine on Buffalo native Harold Arlen. In addition to writing the music for such classics as "Stormy Weather," "The Man That Got Away" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," Arlen composed the music for "Over the Rainbow," which not only won an Academy Award, but was voted the No. 1 song of the 20th Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001.

Wippert won first place in the photo illustration category for his work accompanying a Link cover story about high-speed Internet access for gamers.

In the graphics illustration category, Zakroczemski, a News graphic artist, took first place for illustrating a Viewpoints cover story about protecting the public's right to know and government efforts to prevent the press from shining its light on government secrets.

And in the news-presentation category for non-spot news, John Davis, the News design director, won first place for his work in a special tribute section printed after the death of Pope John Paul II.

Three News staffers also won second-place awards.

James Heaney won for a series of articles on how Buffalo has squandered much of the half-billion dollars in federal aid it received over the past 30 years to revitalize its downtown and neighborhoods.

Copy editor Ben Chee was cited for his headline, "For a tireless rights activist, eternal rest," which ran over a story on the entombment of Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and the first black person to run for president. News critic Jeff Simon took runner-up honors for arts/entertainment criticism.

Six News staffers took third-place honors. The winners and the categories are: Derek Gee, photography, portraits and personalties; Bob DiCesare, sports column; Neville Harvey, graphics; Fred Williams and Matt Glynn, business/finance writing; Burt Erickson Nelson, brightest headline; and Jeff Miers, arts/entertainment criticism.

In addition, four News staffers received honorable mentions: Davis and Zakroczemski, graphics, non-spot news presentation; Rod Watson, columns; Jerry Sullivan, sports writing; and Charles Anzalone, First Sunday editor, feature writing.

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