Des Moines Register wins Iowa Better Newspaper awards, including for writing, photography and investigations

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The Des Moines Register and its staff won 40 awards in the annual Iowa Better Newspaper Contests, the Iowa Newspaper Association announced at a banquet Thursday evening.

The Register, which competes against other news outlets of its circulation class, swept the Harrison "Skip" Weber Investigative Reporting Awards category, with investigative projects winning first, second and third places.

In the winning investigation, with the headline "An inmate who was COVID-19 positive died in prison by suicide, the state says. His family is still searching for answers.", reporters Eric Ferkenhoff and Andrea Sahouri explored the death of inmate Christopher Rios.

A series of pieces about the shielding of police officers who have complaints against them, from Andrea Sahouri and former Register reporter Jason Clayworth, won second place in the investigative category. "Unemployed workers turned to state for help in pandemic — and now must repay thousands" from reporter Tyler Jett won third place.

Courtney Crowder, the Register's Iowa columnist, won the Ken Fuson Best Writing Award for "Inside COVID's Siege", a masterpiece of journalism rooted in Mary Greeley Medical Center, which allowed Register journalists inside the hospital halls to tell stories of dedication, sacrifice, exhaustion, loss, pain and joy.

"Superbly written," the judges wrote. "You can tell the care that has gone into telling these stories of patients and doctors and staff. That's what sent this entry to the top in a very competitive category."

Register staff photographer Zach Boyden-Holmes also won the Iowa newspaper award for Best Photographer; Best Sports Photo and Best Photo Story for work on how COVID tore through an Iowa family, part of the "Inside COVID's Siege" project.

More: Photos: How COVID claimed the matriarch of one Iowa family

"A powerful story which unfortunately many of us have experienced since this pandemic began. Compelling images that will be an important part of history," the judges wrote of that series of photographs.

Inside COVID's Siege has also won a national Headliner Award and is a finalist for a 2022 Dart Award.

The Register also swept the Best Photographer category with photographers Bryon Houlgrave and Kelsey Kremer winning second and third place, respectively.

Judges also awarded first place to the Register's Iowa Mourns series, which told the stories of those lost to the coronavirus. That series won top honors for both Best Special Section-Editorial and Community Leadership.

Matthew Bain, the Register's deputy sports editor and a former sports reporter, was given the Genevieve Mauck Stoufer Outstanding Young Iowa Journalists Award.

The Register newsroom's other first-place awards include:

The newsroom's second-place awards include:

  • Coverage of Agriculture with work from reporters Donnelle Eller, Kim Norvell and Tyler Jett

  • Best Use of Graphics with work from Karla Brown-Garcia and Tim Webber

  • Best Newspaper Website

  • Best Podcast for reporter Cody Goodwin's "In the Room"

  • Best Breaking News Photo by Boyden-Holmes

  • Best News Feature Photo by Powers

  • Best Photo Story by Powers

  • Best News Story for a series on Iowa's bottle bill by Lee Rood

  • Best Breaking News Story about Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds amping up masking requirements from Nick Coltrain, Ian Richardson, Tony Leys and Brianne Pfannenstiel

  • Best Personality Feature Story about how T.J. Sebolt built a vaunted wrestling academy by Goodwin

  • Excellence in Editorial Writing for Lucas Grundmeier

More: Pro wrestlers with Black Wrestlers Matter put on a show in Des Moines

The newsroom's other third place awards include:

  • Best Special Section-Editorial for Iowa Endures

  • Best Use of Social Media

  • Best News Photo by Kremer

  • Best Photo Story by Powers and Boyden-Holmes

  • Excellence in Editorial Writing for Andie Dominick

Orange hues paint the sky duing the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox near the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.
Orange hues paint the sky duing the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox near the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021.

Iowa's other Gannett newspapers also won high honors for their work. The Ames Tribune won 23 awards; Burlington Hawkeye reporter Laigha Anderson's work on courts and crime placed third and the Iowa City Press-Citizen's work was recognized in 12 award categories.


"We are honored when our work is recognized by journalism organizations," said Register News Director Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "but we are inspired by the service we can provide in holding the powerful accountable and by introducing members of our community to places and to people they could not otherwise visit."

You can read more about the Better Newspaper Awards on the Iowa Newspaper Association's website.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines Register won dozens of Iowa Newspaper Association awards