The Isanti-Chisago County Star recently earned a trio of awards during the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s annual “Better Newspaper Contest” as part of the MNA’s convention held in Bloomington Jan. 24-25.

“This is the most awards we’ve earned in a single year in a long time,” Star editor Bill Stickels III said. “Considering we are in the largest circulation size for weekly newspapers for this contest (all weeklies over 5,000), we are thrilled to see our hard work being recognized.”

Star editor’s assistant Lori Zabel picked up a third place in the “Human Interest Story” category for her first-person account of spending a night in the new Chisago County Jail as part of their trial run.

“Lori is our hidden gem,” Stickels said. “She has an incredible writing style that is so fun to read, no matter what the subject is. This story was all hers. She pitched the idea, volunteered to take part herself and enthusiastically participated in the dry run. And her enthusiasm really showed through in the final story. And obviously, the judges noticed this.”

The next award was in a category that is very familiar to the Star, in having won several awards previously – sports photography. This year, Dee Ann Sibley’s bull riding photo that appeared on the front page of the July 12 edition captured second place in that category.

“Dee Ann is an extremely talented photographer, especially when it comes to her rodeo photos,” Stickels said. “Her availability for us is limited, so we have to just take advantage of her skills any chance we can.”

The final award was a second place in the “Photo Story” category that went to Stickels himself for his extensive series of photos of last July’s “Tough Mudder” fundraiser at Cambridge’s New Hope Community Church. 

“This was a fun, but challenging shoot,” Stickels said. “I went into it not exactly knowing what it entailed. But once I arrived, there were so many great photo opportunities, I just ‘fired away.’ The hardest part was actually narrowing down which photos to use.”

Stickels was especially pleased with not only the number of awards earned, but in the categories they were earned in.

“We are recognized for our photography, so it was great to win in a writing category this time,” Stickels said. “And while winning again in sports photography will always be a source of pride, I’ve had my eye on the photo story category every year now, because it recognizes getting a quantity of quality photos. Winning it reinforces our goals of consistently delivering as many high-quality photos as possible.” 

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