Pine Knot MNA Awards


February 5, 2021

Here is a look at the 33 awards the Pine Knot News received last week from the Minnesota Newspaper Association. The annual contest run by MNA pits papers of comparable size against each other. Awards honoring overall work by a newspaper come from a look at issues chosen at random under contest rules. Entries by individuals are chosen by newspaper staff from a year’s worth of work. There are about 285 newspapers in the state that are part of the association. About 260 of those papers are weeklies with circulation in the hundreds to several thousand. The contest covered the period from the fall of 2019 and through the summer of 2020. Judges had to pick the top three entries in each category.


General excellence

The Pine Knot won this prestigious award for the second year in a row. Judge comments: "What an excellent small-town newspaper. The clear winner for General Excellence. Stunning, above-the-fold, front-page visuals. Serious, in-depth news coverage with clear and urgent relevance to the local community. On-point, timely, and authoritative editorials. Comprehensive local sports coverage. Strong design, robust advertising. Worth so much more than $1.25 per week. Great job, Pine Knot team."

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Government/public affairs reporting

This is the top award for reporting in the annual contest because judges look at work from all non-daily newspapers in the state. Last year, Mike Creger picked up a third place award in this category. This year, he and Jana Peterson won top honors for continuous coverage of the Carlton and Wrenshall school district consolidation saga. Judge comment: "Very informative and did a great job giving outsiders a look into a complex issue."

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Design portfolio

Mike Creger won the top award among all non-daily newspapers in the state for his design of Pine Knot pages. Judge comment: "Typography, photos, spot color and white space all come together on these pages to create imaginative, appealing designs. Clean is the word here. Well conceived and executed, Mike's pages stood above the rest."

The Pine Knot as a whole was deemed second in typography and design, according to the judge: "Very aesthetically pleasing and professional looking. Nice balance of text and images."

General reporting

The Pine Knot has been judged first in this category the past two years among papers its size. Judge comment: "This paper was a pleasure to read with clear news focus, strong edits, good art, and a clean layout. Stories about Covid in prison, spring sports, everything about it is extra, including the paper itself. Bravo."

Local breaking news

The Pine Knot was honored with a first place for coverage in March as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of life in the county. It was less a story than a whole issue dedicated to keeping readers aware and healthy. Judge comment: "This piece was very thorough and organized in a way that made it easy to read."

Hard news

Jana Peterson was honored for her story last year on the community trying to heal after the killing of a pregnant Jackie DeFoe and her 20-month-old child, packaged with a story on the violent history of her alleged killer. Judge comment: "More detail than most stories like this, which is nice. Good job."


Arts and entertainment story

Mike Creger's story on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Northern Pacific rail line in Carlton won top honors in this category. Judge comment: "Great historical story with good research and writing, and a solid layout. ... Overall, the best package in the category."

Human interest feature story

Mike Creger won top honors for his story on Leah Boedigheimer connecting with a sister she never knew she had after both were adopted in China. Judge comment: "Great job recreating scenes, specifically the time when the family picked up Leah. ... This is an excellent human-interest story."

Headline writing

The Pine Knot won the top award for an often overlooked but important part of any newspaper, the poetry of headlines that draws readers into a story. Judge comments: " 'Everything has changed,' regarding the pandemic was obvious and profound at the same time. 'How a Barnum hockey player ended up with a hockey team in Alaska' made me want to know more. 'With similar afflictions, they found affection' on blind couple story [had a] nice use of similar sounding words. Other winning headlines: 'Farmers cool their carrots,' 'Art tour goes on a Roundabout,' 'Facelift for a queen.' "

Use of photography

The Pine Knot won the top award for how it uses photos throughout the paper. Judge comment: "Nice candid photos from events, with good variety and often used in packages pushed this paper to the top. Good sports action photos, too."

News photo

Mike Creger had the somber task of covering the first Esko football game in October of 2019 without Jackson Pfister, who had collapsed on the field the week before and later died. The photo that grabbed the judge in this category was of the student section pausing for a moment of silence to honor their schoolmate. Judge comment: "This is a simple but powerful example of what a news photograph can be. The more you look at this photo the more emotions come to the surface. An incredible capture by the photographer."

Sports photo

Photographer Matthew Moses impressed the judge with the front page photo last year of a ski jumper at Pine Valley.

Portrait/personality photo

Karli Ammesmaki made the photo and Pine Knot editor Jana Peterson captured it. Ammesmaki gnawed on a candy cane at a holiday open house at the Pine Knot office in 2019 and it was deemed the top photo in this category. Judge comment: "Such a cute moment. The photographer did a great job capturing this child's expression, and with such a tight crop the viewer is really able to absorb said expression. Great capture."

Institutional advertisement

Pine Knot ad designer Rose Kuhlman got the top award for an full-page ad for Sappi congratulating the Pine Knot on its anniversary. "Institutional" refers to the large businesses advertising in the paper such as Sappi or a bank, hospital or school.

Self promotion, house advertisement

The Pine Knot tooted its own horn with an ad about winning awards in last year's contest. Lo and behold, the ad itself won first this year in the category that honors self-promotional ads. Judge comment: "Bragging about the accomplishments of your staff is always good practice."


Local breaking news

Jana Peterson's coverage of a shooting at a funeral was second in this news category. Judge comment: "Another thorough piece that did a good job of clarifying rumors and incorporating many different voices."

Local breaking news

The Pine Knot used one of its most powerful resources to report on a big winter storm in late 2019 - readers. Stories from the community made the story sing and it was judged the third best story in this category, making it a clean sweep for the Pine Knot in all three places. Judge comments: "I read this series of stories with a smile on my face. What a great way to use reader submissions."

Investigative reporting

Jana Peterson's story on a civil lawsuit filed against a former Cloquet police officer won second in this category. Peterson has won several awards in the past few years for her coverage of the department. Judge comment: "This is an important topic. Kudos to you for taking on the challenge."


Steve Korby nabbed a second place in a very competitive category for his writing about the past and the people who he remembers. Judge comment: "The writer really does a great job of shining light on the newspaper pages from the archives. It is a real art to be able to take 50-year information and make it relevant and newsworthy once again. Well written, good style."

Human interest feature story

Mike Creger was second only to the other story (above) he submitted in this category. His story on Jack Thornton and Joyce Campbell, a once-celebrated blind couple, placed second. Judge comment: "This couple certainly has a fascinating story."

Social issues story

Mike Creger was second for a story about a George Floyd-inspired vigil in Cloquet. Freelance writer Holly Henry got third place for a story about the revival of the St. Louis River.

Sports feature story

Kerry Rodd and Mike Creger placed second with a story on the death of longtime Cloquet coach and teacher Bill Kennedy. Judge comment: "It's always difficult to write about a popular figure dying, but you did a good job with your article. Just the right amount of balance."

Business story

Timothy Soden-Groves was second for his story on Dustin Anderson, the "Apple Tree Guy."

Arts and entertainment story

Timothy Soden-Groves was third for a feature on local singer Don Brown. Judge comment: "The writing was outstanding."

Hard news

Mike Creger was third for a story on a fast and furious storm that pelted Carlton County last summer. Judge comment: "Good job covering such a terrible storm. Photography was excellent."

Sports photo

Amber Nichols got a second for her photo of last year's start of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race. Dan Saletel was third for his photo of the Cromwell-Wright girls basketball team celebrating with a section title trophy last season.

Feature photo

Dan Saletel got a second for his photo of Carlton/Wrenshall Raptors football mascots buzzing around a referee in the fall of 2019. Jana Peterson got a third for a group celebrating a win at the Blue Jean Ball.

Use of color in an ad

Rose Kuhlman got a second-place award for designing the "Meat and Greet" ad for Grace Church. Judge comment: "The strategic use of color and color choice creates an eye-catching ad that can't go unnoticed. Well done."

Kuhlman also won a third place for a Pine Knot News ad thanking readers. Judge comment: "A strong and simple message, good design and a nice graphic reminder of the work the paper does."


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