After recently winning second place in General Excellence in their division in the Kentucky Press Association's 2020 Excellence in Kentucky Newspapers competition, staff at The Sentinel-Echo were named winners once again, this time claiming two top spots in this year’s Best of CNHI competition.
CNHI, LLC is an American publisher of newspapers and advertising-related publications with more than 90 newspapers in 22 states. Each year, the company hosts a Best of competition recognizing those reporters, photographers, and staff who work tirelessly bringing news to their communities.
This year, Sentinel-Echo reporter Nita Johnson and sports writer Les Dixon were named Reporter of the Year and Photographer of the Year respectively.
“Receiving this award is a surprise and shock, as our newspaper competes against numerous other company-owned newspapers in several states,” Johnson said. “With so much negativity toward the media in recent years, it is always rewarding to be recognized and this is especially meaningful. It is truly an honor to be selected for such an award.”
Johnson, a 17 year veteran at the paper, first started with The Sentinel-Echo in January 1995. In 1998, she left to join the Laurel News Leader, who later that year merged with The Sentinel-Echo.
“I went back to the same desk I had left,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Johnson stayed with the newly formed Sentinel-Echo team until December 2001, before leaving again. She made her way back to her hometown paper on Jan. 27, 2010, the same day of her daughter’s birthday, and has been reporting on London and Laurel County news ever since.
"Being able to tell the stories of my hometown in the hometown newspaper that I grew up reading is a privilege,” Johnson added. “I have always been proud of being from London, Kentucky and being a part of the events and people who have made this community what it has become is truly a privilege that I cherish."
Sentinel-Echo Editor Erin Cox said 2020 was a hard year for everyone and that the newspaper took a hit, as well.
“We had to change the way we worked and had to furlough staff members,” explained Cox. “Nita became our only reporter at the Sentinel and a lot more work fell on her shoulders, but she has done it. To also come away with the CNHI Reporter of the Year Award, especially for her work in a year like last year, is such a great accomplishment.”
“Nita is one of the most passionate reporters on our team. Her love for London and Laurel County shines and I am so happy that she was recognized for her work in this company wide contest so others are aware of her excellent work as well,” Cox said.
Les Dixon is no stranger to those who follow Laurel County sports. He started working for the Sentinel-Echo as a stringer back in 1992, helping former sports editor, and friend, Jim McAlister “with whatever he needed me to do,” Dixon said.
“It was mostly small-type coverage jobs, but I didn’t mind at all,” added Dixon. “The one thing that I had to do each week, and has always remained with me, was having to re-type Earl Cox’s column which was sent in by mail and then needed to be re-typed. Needless to say, I did dread to do that each week, but hey, you gotta start somewhere,” Dixon joked.
Dixon left The Sentinel-Echo in 1996 and moved to The Times-Tribune as sports editor. In 1998, Dixon moved on to the London News Journal (now defunct) and stayed until 2005, when he made his way back to The Times-Tribune. He also took on sports duties at The Sentinel-Echo in 2018, and has been covering local sports news across the Tri-County region for both papers ever since.
“I was totally shocked when I found out I had won the award,’ Dixon said. “Seriously, it came out of left field. In no way, shape or form did I expect to win this award. I’ve won plenty of awards during my career but this one is really special. I take pride in what I do, and I’m very humbled to have been able to capture this award.”
“Les is one of the hardest workers I have ever met and he gives a platform to local athletes and coaches to be recognized for their accomplishments daily,” Cox said on Dixon. “He has a huge coverage area, with six high schools and manages to highlight elementary athletes as well while most sports reporters cover less than half that number of high schools. And there are top teams across that whole area. As the only sports reporter on staff for The Sentinel-Echo and The Times-Tribune, he is more than deserving of the awards he receives.”
Dixon thanked the athletes and coaches he has photographed during games.
"You’re only as good as the product you’re taking a picture of. They’re the ones that give you the opportunity to capture something special,” he said.
"The Sentinel-Echo is the only newspaper in London and we work hard to provide the coverage the area deserves with content updated daily on our websites and as much content as we can get into our weekly newspaper,” commented Cox. “I hope that readers and residents in London appreciate that we have such hard working, committed and award-winning reporters and photographers."
Dixon and Johnson won in the Division III category, competing against newspaper in the company of similar size and circulation.
The judges for the 2020 Best of CNHI were Dennis Lyons, national editor and editor of The Daily Item in Sunbury; Jim Zachary, director of training and development and editor-in-chief of the Valdosta Daily Times; Amy Henderson, editor of the Cullman Times and regional Alabama editor; John Smith, editor of the Cumberland Times-News; Heather Mullinix, editor of the Crossville Chronicle; Andy Ostmeyer, editor of the Joplin Globe and regional editor for some of Oklahoma, and Scott Underwood, editor of The Herald Bulletin in Anderson and regional editor for Indiana. CNHI's Senior Vice President of News William Ketter served as chair of the judging panel.