RALEIGH — The Robesonian’s coverage of Hurricane Matthew was recognized Thursday during the North Carolina Press Association’s Winter Institute’s awards ceremony with a third place in Public Service.
The newspaper also garnered three individual awards.
The Robesonian’s building at 2175 Roberts Ave. was destroyed by the hurricane on Oct. 8, 2016, forcing the paper to depend on its robesonian.com website and its Facebook page to provide information while only having three staff members available to do the reporting: Editor Donnie Douglas, who worked out of a Charlotte hotel, and Managing Editor Sarah Willets and staff writer Mike Gellaty, who provided on-the-ground coverage. The Robesonian was unable to publish a print edition for seven days.
“It’s gratifying for the recognition, but no one was thinking awards when we were doing what we could with almost no staff and little resources to provide the information,” Douglas said. “One of the problems in competing for awards for our coverage was showing our work, so to speak, because the initial coverage was all on the Internet, so we struggled to show visually what we did.
“It is my most-proud moment in 35 years in journalism, what our staff did under near-impossible circumstances. Much of Robeson County was suffering, but most folks didn’t have to go to work.”
The Robesonian staff ended up displaced until June 2017, when renovations on its building were complete.
Douglas won third place for Editorials, and Rodd Baxley, the sports editor, won third-place awards in Sports Columns and Sports Features.
Douglas said he was pleased because the newspaper is at the low end in the category in which it competes, which is newspapers with circulations from 12,500 to 35,000.
“These newspapers have much larger staffs, often three and four times our size.” he said. “Another issue we had was we did not have many entries because more than half of our staff left us in the fall of 2017 for various reasons, so they were not here to submit entries for their work.”