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Last weekend the Casa Grande Dispatch was honored with the General Excellence prize for daily newspapers in Arizona with a circulation under 25,000.

So what makes a news organization excellent in this day and age? There is the usual checklist of items that were covered by the award categories the Dispatch earned:

  • There needs to be quality news writing (second place, Reporting & Newswriting Excellence).
  • There should be quality editing (first place, Departmental News & Copywriting Excellence).
  • The newspaper should look good (third place, Page Design Excellence).
  • There needs to be a commitment to serving the public’s right to know (first among newspapers for Investigative Reporting).
  • And the newspaper needs to have a strong presence online. (first place for Best Newspaper Website).

But what truly makes a community news organization excellent is its mission. And this can be found in the hearts of the employees and ownership who care about the community they serve.

Casa Grande Valley Newspapers Inc. and PinalCentral took home more than 50 individual and group awards from the ANA annual convention held Saturday at Wild Horse Pass. But the one award that best reflects our mission was the first place we won for Community Service.

Our goal is to cover stories and issues that Pinal County residents care about, and through our coverage bring about positive change in the communities we serve.

The Dispatch, with its companion weekly newspapers and website, covers Pinal County thoroughly. Pinal County, with a population nearing 500,000 and spread out between the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas, has grown rapidly.

The contest judges were impressed with our extensive coverage of the Johnson Utilities case before the Arizona Corporation Commission as well as the bribery trial involving one of the ACC’s former members.

Our daily coverage over a period of months showed the problems at the water and wastewater utility were much more severe than most people thought.

“Company officials could or would not explain where much of the revenue has gone, and there seems to be a connection to serious lack of infrastructure improvements that has led to frequent sewage spills, foul odors and billing irregularities,” Co-publisher Donovan Kramer Jr. told the judges in our entry letter.

The judges also evaluated our coverage of the proposed incorporation of San Tan Valley and the county’s formation of a transportation authority and a half-cent sales tax proposal to fund road improvements.

It is fitting that this is National Newspaper Week. Combined with the awards, it serves as a wonderful reminder of the importance and strength of community journalism.

It is a tough time to be a reporter, but our role is more important now than ever. Journalists serve as public watchdogs, holding government and other powerful officials accountable for their actions.

Reporters such as Bethany Blundell, Heather Smathers and Rofida Khairalla are prime examples of that mission. The PinalCentral journalists each won individual awards in their circulation categories for investigative reporting.

Even in tough economic times for newspapers, facing challenges from new competitive platforms as well as charges of “fake news” from politicians, reporters have persevered.

I am proud to work with such a bunch in the heart of Pinal County.


You can reach Andy Howell at 520-423-8614 or

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