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Five earn top honors as News wins 18 state AP awards

Five Buffalo News staff members will receive first-place honors this evening from the New York State Associated Press Association for their columns, stories, blogs and photographs.

The newspaper also will receive 10 other writing awards on stories ranging from continuing coverage of the City Grill massacre and the spreading abuse of prescription painkillers to a book review on Mark Twain's autobiography and coverage of M&T Bank's growth into Delaware.

The News won at least one award in 11 of the 13 writing categories.

In all, The News earned 18 awards, second-most among newspapers in its circulation category, in the annual writing, graphics and photo contest.

"These awards speak to the talent and dedication of our newsroom staff -- from columnists to investigative reporters, from photographers to sports bloggers," said Margaret M. Sullivan, editor of The News. "I'm proud of the winners and of the strong journalism The News produces day in and day out."

The News competes in the largest circulation category against papers such as the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post and Newsday.

The awards will be presented at the New York State Associated Press Association's annual meeting in Rochester.

Rod Watson earned first place for column writing, the second time he has won that award. He also placed first in 1998, as well as third place or honorable mention in four other years. Watson's winning submissions included "I'm making an offer they can't refuse," his tongue-in-cheek proposal to open a waterfront lemonade stand -- provided he's given the lucrative tax breaks offered other potential developers.

In sportswriting, senior sports columnist Jerry Sullivan won first place for his retrospective on Super Bowl XXV, crafted from interviews with two dozen members of the Bills team 20 years after that thrilling, unforgettable and excruciating one-point loss.

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski won in the features category for his story "Turning tragedy to triumph: Motivated by grief, Flight 3407 families scored a victory for aviation safety."

The story chronicles how families and friends of the victims of the plane crash that killed 50 people in Clarence Center battled lobbyists and even lawmakers to enact what some called the strongest aviation safety legislation in decades.

Education reporter Mary B. Pasciak won first place for her "School Zone" blog, in which she writes on all things education-related, from the classroom to the boardroom.

Photographer James P. McCoy won first place in sports photography for his "fingertip touchdown" photo.

Other awards include:

Reporters Dan Herbeck, Patrick Lakamp, Lou Michel, T.J. Pignataro, Jay Rey and Gene Warner earned second place for continuing coverage of the City Grill massacre, including stories on the dispute that sparked the shooting, the search for the gunman and the trial in which he was convicted.

Susan Schulman, Henry L. Davis, Herbeck and Michel earned second place in the in-depth reporting category for their series "Rx for Danger," on the spreading abuse of prescription painkillers. It's Schulman's seventh award in the category since 1996, the most of any News staff member during that span.

Pasciak earned second place in the beat reporting category for her writing on education, which included the Buffalo Public Schools' costs for cosmetic surgery. It's the sixth straight year that a News staffer was honored in that category.

Keith McShea, Lauren Nicole Mariacher, Joseph Popiolkowski and Aaron Besecker placed second for the Prep Talk blog.

Business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein earned second place in business/finance reporting for his coverage of M&T Bank's purchase of banks in Delaware.

Business reporter Matt Glynn placed third in the same category for his story on how Ford Gum Co. in Akron was getting ready to begin producing Big League Chew, the shredded bubble gum sold in a pouch.

Copy editor Carol Schlau placed third in the brightest headline category for "Whoa! A deer -- a snow-white deer; Family's rare find." Her headline was for a story on a rare white fawn that was loping through the backyards of Clarence residents. Schlau is the ninth News staffer honored in the headline category since 2002.

News Arts Editor Jeff Simon earned third place for arts/entertainment writing for his review of "The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1."

Sports reporter Mike Harrington's "Inside Pitch" blog was honored as the third-best blog.

Denise Jewell Gee placed third in online content, for her video on the the Pegula family talking about buying the Buffalo Sabres.

In addition to McCoy's photo award, two other News photographers were honored. John Hickey earned second place in the sports photography category, and Robert Kirkham was third in the features category.

Graphic artist Daniel Zakroczemski earned second place in the graphic illustration category. Zakroczemski has won at least one award in the annual contest in six of the last seven years.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com