May 04, 2004

Bloomington reporter wins feature writing contest

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A stirring series of newspaper stories chronicling the homeless men and women of Bloomington-Normal took top honors in the 2004 Polly Robinson Feature Writing Contest.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale's School of Journalism sponsors the annual competition.

Reporter Mary Ann Ford, of The Pantagraph in Bloomington, penned the compelling first-place package, "Among the Shadows." She entered three full-length cover stories chronicling the lives of folks who still harbored hope for better lives even though they'd ended up on the streets.

The stories played as centerpieces on separate Sundays -- Oct. 26, Nov. 30 and Dec. 28 -- in 2003. First prize is $150. Three additional stories in the series appeared in the paper during the first quarter of 2004. And readers were invited to log onto the paper's Web site to view more photographs and audio segments of the stories subjects, who openly talked about their situations.

The contest is a tribute to the late Polly Robinson, a young reporter who loved feature writing. An SIUC alumna, she was a staffer at Tazewell Publications when she died in 1972. Her parents, the late Warren and Doris Robinson, established the contest through the University's School of Journalism.

Second place, $75, goes to Marie-Anne Hogarth, a reporter for The Beacon News in Aurora. Her piece, "Connor: He will find his way," followed a captivating but severely deformed four-year-old boy learning to get along without arms and with foreshortened legs. The piece garnered three-pages in the paper's Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003 edition.

Theresa Churchill of the Herald & Review in Decatur took third place, $50, for "Living with Dying: Support of friends and family helps art council executive director deal with life and death." The story, which appeared on page one of the paper's Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004, issue, chronicled how a 54-year-old woman dealt with a third bout of cancer that threatened her life.

Two reporters won honorable mentions.

Kate Arthur, of The Pantagraph, submitted the notable "Tales from an Old Sole," which appeared Tuesday, April 15, 2003.

Stephanie Abbajay of the Jersey County Journal (Jerseyville) was recognized for "Community rallies around its superstar," which appeared Nov. 19, 2003.