The Mississippi Press Association on Friday honored The Meridian Star’s newsroom with 28 awards, including three top honors for The Star’s reporting on the September 2019 death of a 5-year-old child.
For a report called “No One Noticed," The Star’s newsroom won the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism for Daily Newspapers, first place for Community Service and first place for Investigative or In Depth Reporting.
The report documented the case of Jakie Toole, who went missing in April 2019. The child was found dead five months later, his body wrapped in a bag in the basement of a house in Meridian.
The package was edited by Editor Dave Bohrer and News Editor Bill Graham and designed by Helen Reynolds.
An accompanying editorial by Bohrer called for rule changes to allow for better communication between community agencies.
"Outstanding effort by this paper to bring to light the circumstances surrounding the death of a child," judges wrote. "(The) editorial calling for policy changes that can help prevent this from happening again, together with news stories about (the victim) is a newspaper doing their best for their community and all of the defenseless children who need to be noticed."
The newspaper's recognition was bittersweet for Bohrer.
“We wish we never had to tell the story of Jakie Toole and how he slipped through the cracks when no one noticed abuse or his disappearance, but we’re glad to have the journalists who were up to telling this important story of flaws in the system,” Bohrer said. “We are fortunate to have news reporters Erin Kelly and Bianca Moorman to investigate deeply and tell his story.”
The Meridian Star also received first place in the General Excellence category for its circulation class.
Other first place awards include:
Sports News Story: Matt Case for “High Risk Horse Racing,” which focused on a horse jockey's death after an accident at the Neshoba County Fair.
Case also won first place in the sports feature category for “A Good Man.”
Business News Story: Whitney Downard for “Lauderdale County's changing population,” a report on population loss in Meridian.
Feature photograph: Paula Merritt for “Faithful Friends.”
Front page design: Reynolds.
Sport Column: Kerekes.
General news story, third place: Downard for “Jim Henson Exhibit.”
Planned series, second place: “Our Volunteers”, a staff project.
Business news, second place: Graham for “Location, Location, Location.”
Sports feature, second place: Kerekes, for “Servant Leadership.”
Game story, second place: Case, for “Defense makes crucial stops.”
Feature story, third place: Owens for “Faithful Friendship.”
General news photograph, second place: Merritt.
Sports action photograph, third place: Merritt.
Pictorial series, second place: Merritt.
Editorials, second place: Bohrer.
Sports page or section, second place: staff.
Special section, third place: staff.
Magazine, second place: Ida Brown, Reynolds, Merritt.
Magazine story, second place: Monique Harrison-Henderson for “Stronger Together.”
Design, second place: Reynolds.
"We are very proud of all the winners and for the excellent work they did on behalf of their communities in 2019," said MPA President Kevin Cooper, senior vice president of Boone Newspapers, Inc. "The excellence in reporting, photojournalism, new media, and service categories proves that newspapers even in these challenging times continue to be the leading source of information for towns and cities across Mississippi."
The 2019 Better Newspaper Contest was judged this spring by volunteers from the Alabama Press Association. Thirty-one newspapers submitted a total of 1,768 entries.
Now in its 154th year, MPA is trade association representing Mississippi newspaper media.