County Star earns record number of awards

The Isanti-Chisago County Star came away with five awards for photography and writing from the recent Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual “Better Newspaper Contest.” Pictured (from left) are writer Jennifer Kotila, editor Bill Stickels III and editorial assistant Lori Zabel. Not pictured: freelance photographer Dee Ann Sibley.  

The Isanti-Chisago County Star earned a total of five awards in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest during an awards ceremony held in Brooklyn Park on Thursday, Jan. 30. The five awards is believed to be a record number received by the Star in a single year.

The Star’s strength in sports photography was again on display as, for the second time in the last three years, the Star earned two of the three places in that category. 

Dee Ann Sibley’s front page photo of a bucking horse and crawling rider in the July 18, 2019, edition of the Isanti County Star from the Isanti rodeo took first place. This is the second year in a row one of Sibley’s rodeo photos has earned an MNA BNC award. 

“This photo made me want to run. The photographer captured the adrenaline of the moment. Gave me chills,” commented one of the judges, who were members of the Hoosier State Press Association of Indiana.

Editor Bill Stickels III also took third place in the category for his photo of the North Branch hockey team celebrating their first-ever section championship that appeared on the front page of the March 7, 2019, edition of the Chisago County Star. This is Stickels’ third award in this category and fifth overall BNC award, all of which were in photography categories.

Editor’s assistant and writer Lori Zabel claimed two awards this year. Zabel placed second in “Human Interest” for her story “Grandfather’s labor of love yields 10 violins” that appeared in the April 25, 2019, edition of the Star. She also earned third place in the “Business News” category for her story “Miracle on Main Street: Chance meeting leads to collaboration, highly anticipated new eatery,” which was featured in the April 25, 2019, edition of the Star.

This is the second year in a row Zabel has won a BNC award for her writing and second and third awards overall.

Rounding out the Star’s winners was writer Jennifer Kotila, who earned third place in the “Hard News” category for her story titled “‘Predator Hunters’ video leads to criminal charges,” which was printed in the Nov. 8, 2018, edition of the Star.

Stickels said he was thrilled with the newspaper’s winnings for a number of reasons.

“Even though the MNA added another circulation size this year, we are still in the largest weekly group, going up against such publishing powerhouses like The Alexandria Echo-Press, which has repeatedly won the weekly newspaper of the year award,” Stickels said. “So for a free-distribution paper to win so many awards against bigger competition, it says a lot about our team.

“I entered the Star in a few categories that we normally don’t enter,” continued Stickels. “And we wound up winning in a couple of those. One of my ongoing goals is that we aren’t just a ‘one-trick pony’ with our great photography. This goes a long way in showing we are accomplishing that goal.”

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