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Valley News Dispatch wins big in Golden Quill awards

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
This photo by VND photographer Eric Felack won best Spot News photo at the 49th annual Golden Quill Awards on Monday, May 13, 2013. Felack captured Eureka Fire-Rescue paramedics placing a neck collar on a young child who was injured along with his father by a full-sized sport-utility vehicle in Tarentum on Thursday, April 6, 2012. Felack had another nominated photo in the same category.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
This photo by VND staff photographer Eric Felack was one of two nominated for a Golden Quill award for best Spot News Photography on Monday, May 13, 2013. Felack photographed a Highland Hose firefighter scrambling to get off of a porch roof as flames leap out of the second-story windows of a house on East Ninth Avenue in Tarentum on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. Felack's other photo won the category.
Erica Hilliard Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Felix Blancarte, 6, reaches toward his mother, Jackie Hernandez, as they return to their Harrison home after shopping in Tarentum on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. The photo by VND photographer Erica Hilliard Dietz was nominated for a Golden Quill award on Monday, May 13, 2013.
Brian Rittmeyer, Valley News Dispatch staff writer
Rex Rutkoski, Valley News Dispatch staff writer
Trib Total Media
Valley News Dispatch chief photographer Eric Felack
Erica Hilliard Dietz, Valley News Dispatch staff photographer

Valley News Dispatch staff won five Golden Quill Awards on Monday from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, the most of any newspaper in its circulation category.

Nine VND articles and three photographs published in 2012 were finalists in the club's 49th annual awards program that recognizes excellence in written, photographic, illustration, broadcast and online journalism. The winners were announced Monday during a banquet at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel in Pittsburgh.

The VND received a total of 12 nominations, more than any other newspaper in its circulation division of 45,000 and under.

Managing Editor Jeff Domenick said he believes the entire staff turned in outstanding efforts last year that led to the paper's recognition.

“It's a culmination of the fine work that our staff puts in every day,” Domenick said. “We have talented and experienced reporters and photographers. Our editors recognize good stories and help refine them.

“We try to bring our readers the best local paper we can every day. I think if that's your goal, that gets recognition.”

Staff writer Mary Ann Thomas was the most recognized VND staff member with three nominations.

She won a Quill for her September story “Reason to Squawk,” about the high-flying price of chicken wings in the Food Feature category.

Her other nominations/awards were for “Curtiss Wright Strike” in the Business/Technology/Consumer Article or Series category about the summer labor negotiations at the Harmar plant; and “Nuclear Cleanup Costs Expected to Skyrocket” in the Health/Science/Environment Article or Series category about the ongoing cleanup of nuclear contamination in a Parks Township landfill.

Thomas of Etna is a University of Pittsburgh graduate who has worked for the VND and other Trib Total Media publications for more than a dozen years.

Staff writers Brian C. Rittmeyer, Rex Rutkoski and Tom Yerace each won a Quill award.

Rittmeyer won in the Spot News category for his story “Plaza Burns,” about the fire that heavily damaged Harrison's Heights Plaza Shopping Center in December.

In the History/Culture Article or Series category, he was a finalist for “From Eyesore to Treasure Chest,” a June article about the efforts of Larry and Irene Kepple to restore a decaying election house in Gilpin.

Rittmeyer, 41, of Plum is a graduate of Penn State University. He has worked for Trib Total Media since 2000 and as a VND staff writer since 2008.

Rutkoski's win in the Arts and Entertainment Article, Series or Criticism category was the tenth Golden Quill Award of his 47-year career at the VND. His November story “Nashville Dreams” was a profile of Lower Burrell native Kellie Lynne Schriver's successful progress in country music since she moved to Nashville.

Rutkoski, 65, of Freeport also was nominated for “Song In Her Heart” in the Education category. The April story was about Megan Jarrett, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Tender Care Learning Center in New Kensington who earned a national award for a music project at Tender Care.

Yerace won a Quill in the same health/science/environment reporting category in which Thomas also was a finalist. His “Neighborhood Menace” story was about the problems created by buildings that once housed clandestine methamphetamine laboratories.

Yerace also was nominated in the Feature Article or Series category for the retrospective “Social Conscience of the Valley” about former VND owner/publisher Gene Simon, who died in May.

Yerace, 61, of Lower Burrell is a graduate of Penn State University and has worked for Trib Total Media publications since 1979.

Photography awards

Two Valley News Dispatch photographers also were nominated for Quills.

Eric Felack won the Spot News Photography award for “Dad Saves Son,” which featured a young boy who was injured in a Tarentum car accident in April. The photography Quill awards are not circulation-based, meaning Felack was up against entries from all newspapers in the Press Club.

His competition included himself: his “Ninth Street Inferno” photo, which showed a firefighter scrambling off the roof of a burning Tarentum house in December, was a finalist in the same category. The third finalist in that category was former VND photographer Justin Merriman, now with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Felack, 58, of New Kensington has worked at the VND for 33 years. He has received more than 20 Golden Quill nominations in his career.

Erica Hilliard Dietz was nominated for “Winter Cold” in the Feature Photography category for her photo of a mother and child backlit by the setting sun as they walked in Tarentum in February.

Dietz, 27, of Winfield, is a first-time nominee. A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she's worked at the VND for three years.

Including the VND's five awards, Trib Total Media won a total of 13 Golden Quills.

Other Trib newspapers

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review won seven Golden Quills in the competition among daily newspapers with a circulation of more than 45,000. The weekly Sewickley Herald picked up one award in non-daily newspaper competition.

WPXI-TV, news partner of Trib Total Media, won five awards.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review investigative reporters Lou Kilzer and Andrew Conte and editor Jim Wilhelm won three awards, including the Ray Sprigle Memorial Award (best of show), for their series, “$hadow Economy.”

The investigation revealed more than $21 trillion hidden in offshore accounts, off-limits to the United States and other countries with struggling economies. The series also won a national business reporting award from Scripps Howard.

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