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Barker named Journalist of the Year

NLJ Staff

The News Letter Journal’s Alexis Barker was named the 2022 Wyoming Journalist of the Year this past weekend at the 124th Annual Wyoming Press Association Convention in Cheyenne. The Newcastle native has been with the paper for more than eight years and is the news editor.
“Alexis has come an incredibly long way over the years, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the job she does for the community,” News Letter Journal Publisher Bob Bonnar said after presenting the award to Barker, who is also his daughter-in-law.
“She really does exemplify what community journalism is all about in the 21st century,” Bonnar continued. “She has to do a little bit of everything for us — writing and photography, running our website and social media, and helping lead the other writers and contributors who help us put the paper together every week. Somehow she does all of that while raising two kids and helping out at the school district by working sporting events at the middle school and high school. It’s really pretty damn impressive when you think about it, and I can’t think of anybody more deserving of the honor after the year she has had and the stories she has covered for her community.”
A willingness to tackle tough subjects also earned Barker her first state editorial award, as she brought home second place in the small weeklies category for editorial excellence. 
“Poignant, timely, and well-written. Sharp critiques of local government on transparency, definitely having the reader’s point-of-view in mind, with details to flesh out the process for readers,” the judge said of Barker’s editorials. “The ongoing work of the News Letter Journal to better local government transparency epitomizes the newspaper mission. Great to highlight the successful impact it made.”
Barker wasn’t the only News Letter Journal staff member to snag a major award. Photographer and videographer Walter Sprague was recognized as Photographer of the Year (small weeklies) for the second year in a row, and his work helped the paper secure second place in photographic excellence in the small weekly category too. 
The judge said Sprague’s work combined superb storytelling with excellent composition, and he was also credited for providing a great variety of images covering a broad number of subjects — from sports to features and editorials. 
“I am proud of the work our small NLJ team does every week to produce a top-notch newspaper for our community. To bring home 12 Pacemaker awards along with four major awards from the 124th Wyoming Press Association convention is outstanding. I’m very proud of Alexis Barker for receiving Journalist of the Year and Walter Sprague for being awarded Photographer of the Year for the second year in a row,” said Kim Dean, managing editor. 
The Pacemaker awards hauled in by the newspaper were in various categories, ranging from general news accounts to a first place recognition for a photo story submitted by Barker. 
Longtime News Letter Journal correspondent Hannah Gross was honored at the convention for the first time, but broke through in a big way by receiving three Pacemaker awards. She was recognized for her reporting on the backyard chicken discussion in Newcastle, with a second-place ribbon in general news reporting. 
“Never has there been a more contested issue. Bravo to Hannah Gross for following the issue through the process. It might seem trite to many, but this is a prime example of reporting on what is important to the community,” the judge said. 
Gross was also recognized with a first-place award in agriculture reporting for her stories on local small farms and a first-place ribbon in the arts-entertainment-culture reporting category for her “The Heart of Worship” story series. 
The worship series highlighted various church musicians throughout the community, for which the judge commended her for a series that is typically left for column coverage. For the agriculture series, the judge commented on the way Gross brought out the unique personalities and operations of each subject with authenticity and humor. 
Another longtime News Letter Journal correspondent, KateLynn Slaamot, captured first place in the news-feature story category for her piece on a family wedding dress. 
“The article is very well written. It immediately engages the reader, by tying the present to the past in a relatable way,” the judge said. “Newspapers are all about documenting history — this story is an excellent example, wrapped up in a pretty silk bow.”

Bonnar also expressed pride over the accomplishments of Gross and Slaamot, both of whom began working for the News Letter Journal as interns in high school.
“Hannah and KateLynn carry on a long tradition of interns who have gone on to do well, not just in the journalism profession but in all walks of life. They join a long line of interns and former interns who have received state and national awards, and that doesn’t happen at other newspapers. It makes me proud that the NLJ is still taking an active role in mentoring young people in the community. It’s exciting to be able to provide opportunities for them to learn and excel in a professional field,” he said.
In addition to the major awards, Barker brought home a second-place ribbon in government issue reporting for her story on concerns brought up about the Weston County Clerk, as well as an honorable mention in outdoors-environmental reporting for her series on drought and snow and for best website. 
Barker also brought home the paper’s only individual photography Pacemaker for her photo story on the Newcastle Stingray’s home meet of 2022. 
“This was a perfect blend of sports story and feature story. The photos of the swimmers at work set the stage for the overall package, the medals were a great detail and the long shot of the girls waiting to enter the water put it all in perspective,” the judge said. 
Designer Amy Menerey was recognized for her use of color in an ad, with an honorable mention for her spring concerts ad, and the newspaper staff also received two Pacemakers. They NLJ earned a second place in best use of photos and an honorable mention in the special section category for the Western Heritage publication, which is designed by Menerey. 
“I am blessed to have such a great team that supports one another and works together. I’d like to give credit to all of our behind-the-scenes support team, including Penny Bonnar for editing and Amy Menerey for designing and selecting many of these entries. It takes a village to make a newspaper, and special thanks goes to this community for sharing your stories, trusting us with your advertising needs and for being loyal subscribers,” Dean said. 

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