Downing took top honors in the News Story--Long Form category for papers less than 50,000 circulation (the Weekly came in at 49,823, according to the December 2004 audit used for categorization) for "Cancer Wars" (Feb. 12, 2004), a piece examining the Sierra Vista child leukemia cluster. This is the second big award for Downing and "Cancer Wars"; it also finished first in the Explanatory Reporting category (which included all major papers in Arizona) in the latest Arizona Press Club awards contest.
The AAN judges heaped praise on "Cancer Wars" and Downing. "Downing "takes a story we basically have heard before--the cancer cluster--and makes it fresh by exploring both the human side and the fuzziness of the decimal point and distribution curve," final judge Geoff Shandler said.
Margaret Regan won third place in the Arts Feature category for "Artistic Warning" (May 13, 2004). That piece discussed the work of artists at the Arizona-Mexico border designed to make a statement about border-crossing deaths. One of the preliminary-round judges, Lawrence Toppman, noted: "I read end to end with pleasure and curiosity; the storytelling is fluid, without a hint of overwriting, stridency or showiness."
This was the second AAN award won by Regan; two years ago, she finished first in the smaller-paper Arts Criticism category.
Finally, Tom Danehy took home honorable mention in the Column category for his set of three columns: "If a kid doesn't go to high school ..." (June 3, 2004), "May Ronald Reagan rest in peace ..." (June 10, 2004) and "Don't believe what some idiot lawyers say ..." (Dec. 30, 2004). Final-round judge Randy Kennedy praised the writing and reporting in the June 3 home-school athletes column, and preliminary round judge Jeffrey Zaslow said Danehy covered "compelling topics" that were "sharply argued" using "a voice that is unafraid."
It's also worth noting that another Weekly regular won an award: John Backderf, who pens syndicated cartoon "The City," won first place for Cartoon in the five or more publications category.
Of the 97 Association of Alternative Newsweekly (AAN) papers that entered the contest, only seven won more awards than the Tucson Weekly. L.A. Weekly by far won the most, taking home 10 awards, including four first-place finishes. Three smaller-size papers won six: Folio Weekly of Jacksonville, Fla.; Independent Weekly of Durham, N.C.; and The Texas Observer. The Orlando Weekly won five, and City Newspaper of Rochester, N.Y., won four, as did the Houston Press.
Dan Savage, the editor of Seattle's The Stranger and author of Savage Love, was the host at the June 17 ceremony, a regular part of the annual AAN convention, held this year in San Diego. He gave the representative of each newspaper a piece of wedding cake, joking about rumors that the two largest alternative newsweekly chains--Village Voice Media and Phoenix-based New Times--are preparing to merge.
According to AAN, Best AltWeekly Writing and Design, a book featuring all of this year's first-place winners, will be published in July.