The Chicago Crusader and Gary Crusader earned five national Merit Awards at the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) annual convention in Houston June 23, capping a year of changes and achievements at the parent company Crusader Newspaper Group. The 70-year-old Merit Awards are the oldest and most prestigious honor given to Black newspapers for journalism excellence. The awards are bestowed each year as Black publishers from across the country attend the NNPA annual convention to discuss trends and goals in the print industry.
The flagship publication of the Crusader Newspaper Group, the 76-year-old Chicago Crusader captured first place for Best Feature story and third place for Best News Story, Best Use of Photographs (Tabloid) and Best Special Edition. The sister newspaper, the Gary Crusader, which recently celebrated its 55th anniversary, placed third in the Best Layout and Design category.
The win was a record haul for the Chicago Crusader, which earned three merit awards in 2011 and two in 2012. The Chicago Crusader earned more awards than any Black newspaper in Chicago and Illinois. The Final Call captured first place in the Best Use of Photographs competition and the Windy City Word won second place in the same category.
“This is truly an honor and recognition of the hard work from our staff who have invested so much time and effort to make the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspapers outstanding publications,” said Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell.
In the Best Feature Story category, the Chicago Crusader’s Erick Johnson captured first place for his story about Nancy Green, the original pancake archetype Aunt Jemima. She was buried in an unmarked grave at Oak Woods Cemetery for nearly 100 years, but after a 15-year search, her grave was finally located in 2015 by Sherri Williams, president of the Bronzeville Historical Society. The story drew interest from local radio stations while dozens of Black newspapers from around the country ran the story in their print and online publications. The Chicago Tribune ran the story on its online
website, Chicago Magazine.
In another Chicago Crusader exclusive, Reporter J. Coyden Palmer captured third place with his investigative story about the highly publicized murder of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee. The boy
was killed in 2015 as part of a string of retaliatory murders between rival gangs in the Gresham neighborhood. Palmer’s detailed story about events that led to the murder gained national attention and a quarter of a million hits on the newspaper’s website. In addition to being the first media outlet to break the news, the story implicated several suspects long
before they were arrested and charged with murder by Chicago police.
From the Tyshawn Lee story, the Chicago Crusader’s Production and Design Artist, Marissa Bullock, captured third place for Best Use of Photographs. Another Production staff member, Karen Ysaguirre, captured third place in the Best Special Edition category for her work on the Chicago Crusader’s elaborate 75th Anniversary pullout section.
The achievement capped a year of editorial and design changes at the Chicago Crusader and Gary Crusader. The mastheads at both publications were redesigned with a modern and colorful look. In January, a new website was unveiled with bigger fonts, more photographs and colorful graphics.
The changes, along with unique stories in the Chicago Crusader have drawn praise and interest from radio stations and many readers–young and old.
The NNPA Merit Awards were sponsored by the NNPA Foundation, which received numerous entries from Black newspapers across the country. Some 200 Black newspapers are members of the NNPA.
Among other winners, the St. Louis American was named Best Black Newspaper for the fifth consecutive year. After capturing first place honors in Best Layout and Design (broadsheet), Best Special Edition, Best Business Section and Best Entertainment Section, the St. Louis American took home the biggest prize of the evening. The newspaper received the organization’s two highest honors, The John B. Russwurm & John H. Sengstacke Award for General Excellence and Samuel Cornish Publisher of the Year for Dr. Donald Suggs.
There were other newspapers that received multiple awards during the convention. They included The Houston Forward Times, The Houston Defender, The Winston-Salem Chronicle, The Philadelphia Tribune, Minneapolis Insight News, and The Indianapolis Recorder.