Cathy Dyson

Cathy Dyson

ROANOKE — For the first time in its history, The Free Lance–Star has received the Virginia Press Association’s prestigious Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service.

The award, presented Saturday at the VPA’s annual awards ceremony in Roanoke, recognizes the newspaper’s yearlong coverage of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The FLS was also honored as the best overall medium-sized newspaper in Virginia for both news and advertising.

In addition, Jane Henshaw and Amy Van Hook won Best in Show in the medium-sized daily advertising contest for an ad for Potomac Winery.

For the Journalistic Integrity and Community Service award, The Free Lance–Star placed first among daily newspapers of all sizes in the state.

The entry included some of the 60 stories written in 2014 by reporter Cathy Dyson about fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground to loosen trapped natural gas or oil.

Stories included reports on fracking in West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, as well as citizen and government forums and interviews with landowners who leased their property to a Texas company for possible drilling.

The entry also included editorials written by Richard Amrhine, Chelyen Davis and Howard Owen and opinion pieces and letters to the editor on the topic.

“The Free Lance–Star provided the community a many-sided view of the state of natural gas exploration and how residents and landowners need to prepare for future development of hydraulic fracturing rather than to simply react when the drilling rigs arrive on-site,” said Frank Fee, who judged the competition. He is a retired member of the faculty of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Created in 1947, the award recognizes work that goes beyond the newspaper’s normal scope and demonstrates editorial leadership.

FLS Publisher Gene Carr praised Dyson and the newsroom’s editorial department for their work on the issue.

“Her research, fact-finding and stories and the paper’s editorials have made a difference in the fracking debate. I cannot underscore enough the importance we place on her in-depth reporting and the fact that this is the first time in the FLS history that we have been recognized in this area.”

Dyson’s series on fracking also won first place in in-depth or investigative reporting.

The Free Lance–Star topped five other publications in the medium-sized category to capture the overall excellence or “grand sweepstakes” awards, which are based on total points earned in the contest. It collected 104 points for writing, photography, artwork, presentation and online news categories and 40 points for advertising.

All together, the paper earned 144 points out of a possible 365, according to VPA.

Carr noted that the FLS won a total of 69 awards in the news and advertising categories, including best website for, which was redesigned last fall. He said the sweepstakes and Best in Show awards “represents the continuation of excellence of this newspaper and its employees.”

“I am so proud of the committed and dedicated professionals that have made this possible,” he said. “Being recognized as the best daily newspaper in our circulation class by VPA is an honor shared by everyone and is only made possible by the trust and support of our readers and advertisers.”


In the news competition, first-place awards went to:

Sports staff for multimedia sports report

Staff for best website

Katie Shepherd for datajournalism

Scott Julian for feature photo

Suzanne Carr Rossi for general news photo

Reza Marvashti for personality or portrait photo

Marvashti and Amanda Montag for photo illustration

Peter Cihelka for pictorial photo. He also won second in the same category and third for feature photo and online slide show or gallery.

Dave Ellis for sports feature photo. He also won second for personality or portrait photo.

Montag and Chelyen Davis for editorial pages

Katherine Shapleigh for headline writing

Montag, Shapleigh, Karen Wonsik and Jonas Beals for Life pages

Montag, Rossi and Dyson for combination picture and story

Beals for column writing

Davis for editorial writing. She also won second for column writing.

Vanessa Remmers for education writing

Amy Flowers Umble for feature story writing and feature writing portfolio. She also won third for health, science and environmental writing.

Lindley Estes for health, science and environmental writing

Keith Epps for public safety writing

Nathan Warters for sports writing portfolio

Second-place awards went to:

Rossi, Marvashti, Rhonda Vanover and Brandon Payne for online slide show or gallery

Tom Rothenberg for sports news photo

Montag and Andi Russell for front pages

Montag for page design

Russell, Shapleigh and Donya Currie for specialty pages, Healthy Life

Rob Hedelt for critical writing

Robyn Sidersky for general news writing

Epps, Umble and Portsia Smith for in-depth or investigative reporting

Kurt Rabin for personal service writing

Pamela Gould for public safety writing. She also won third for government writing.

Steve DeShazo for sports column writing and sports writing portfolio

Third-place awards went to:

Estes and Autumn Parry for multimedia news report

Wonsik, Cathy Jett and Betty Snider for business, financial or agricultural pages

Staff for general makeup

Wonsik for page design

Montag, Parry and Dyson for combination picture and story

Smith for breaking news writing

Jeff Branscome for education writing and feature writing portfolio

Jett for personal service writing

Taft Coghill Jr. for sports writing portfolio


In the advertising competition, first-place awards went to:

Jane Henshaw and Amy Van Hook for entertainment, color, Potomac Winery; also named Best in Show.

Henshaw and Beth Loveless for lifestyles, color, SSG Tactical

Stacy Rounds and Ashley Stephansky for member self-promotion, color, comic umbrella sale

Jim Solomon and Van Hook for campaign, Virginia Partners Bank

Solomon and staff for slick publications, Trail to Freedom

David Volz and Van Hook for professional/technology services, color, Virginia Partners Bank

Volz and Staci Hibner for recruitment, McLane Mid-Atlantic

Katie Yancey and Barbara Bridges for food and drug, color, Carlos O’Kelly’s

Second-place awards went to:

Henshaw and Christina Dean for fashion and personal care, color, Lancaster’s Barber

Rounds and Stephansky for member self-promotion, color, fundraising campaign

Solomon and Gail Haynes for entertainment, color, Earl Haynes

Solomon and Lindsey Sharpe for real estate, Coldwell Banker Elite

Staff for slick publications, Holidays in the Burg

Yancey and Bobby Hebert for lifestyles, color, Hampton’s Karate

Third-place awards went to:

Henshaw for member self-promotion, color, Automotive Marketplace

Henshaw and Loveless for lifestyles, color, SSG Tactical

Staff for slick publications, Garden Week

Yancey and Dean for entertainment, color, Fredericksburg Blues

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