The staff of the Sonoma Index-Tribune won a first place award in Public Service Journalism for its “Coverage of the Sonoma Valley fires,” on Saturday, April 14, at the annual California News Publishers Association (CNPA) awards – held this year at the Lodge at Sonoma.

“Hands down the best of the entries,” read the award notice. “The staff of the Index-Tribune took their responsibility and their commitment to the community seriously and helped walk their neighbors through the tragedy with a multi-layered approach that provided useful information but also chronicled the real human toll taken by the fires with empathy. And then they followed up with multiple stories of the aftermath... If your readers didn't know you cared about them before this, they know now.”

Three other first place awards were won by the Index-Tribune staffers, including two for editor Jason Walsh in Writing and Editorial Comment, and one by photographer Robbi Pengelly for News Photo. Several seconds, thirds and finalist entries were also noted.

“I could not be more proud of the terrific journalistic effort put forth by our newsroom staff this past year,” said Index-Tribune Publisher John Burns

“It’s gratifying to see their hard work recognized by our colleagues in the industry.”

Walsh earned the first-place award for best writing for a column headlined “Tales from Crypt 31,” about a Sonoma man’s quest to complete the inscription on the crypt at his final resting place in the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery.

“It was tightly edited, while still including historical context on the subject,” said the judges.

Walsh’s other first came in the Editorial Comment category, for “On Stars, Strips and Sonoma.”

Pengelly’s winning photo came in the News Photo category, for “Rising from the Ashes,” a photograph of a homeowner surveying the scene of devastation in the wake of the wildfire.

Other mentions included a second and a third place to Kate Williams in the Profile Story category; a third place for Arts and Entertainment coverage for the paper's Valley Life section; a second to Pengelly in the Feature Photo category and a third to Walsh in Columns.

The newspapers are entered in categories depending on their circulation. The larger Press-Democrat competed against newspapers state-wide with 35,000 to 150,000 subscribers, and won 12 first-place awards, including top awards for general excellence and its print and online breaking news coverage of the October wildfires.

The Petaluma Argus-Courier received three first-place awards for breaking news, local government coverage and artistic photo. Both the Index-Tribune and the Argus-Courier are in the 11,000 and under circulation category.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.