BOSTON — The Forecaster received seven awards Feb. 12 when the New England Newspaper & Press Association announced its annual Better Newspaper Contest award winners.

A panel of 24 judges reviewed nearly 3,000 entries produced by staffers at daily, weekly and monthly publications in the six-state region for the 2010 contest.

The Forecaster’s winners were:

• Emily Parkhurst, first-place awards for Education Reporting and Social Issues Feature Story, for her stories on physical restraint of students in Maine public schools.

The judges said Parkhurst’s stories “struck a passionate chord with parents, produced action by administrators, and provided a well-needed vehicle for policy change.”

• Steve Mistler, first place for Investigative Reporting, for his series on the failed attempt by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to help Oxford Aviation establish a new business at the redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station.

“Mistler’s carefully reported and beautifully written series on the unsavory readiness of high-ranking Maine officials to reward a well-connected business is investigative reporting at its best,” the judges said. “His reporting at heart is an expose of corruption, whether or not the behavior he documented is indictable. This is what newspapers do when they are doing their job. Mistler deserves this award for work that tops the investigative reporting category in all classes this year, and he deserves the applause of every reporter, editor and publisher within the NENPA arena.”

• Mo Mehlsak, first place for Editorial Writing, for editorials about Oxford Aviation, School Board procedures in South Portland, and school officials’ refusal to cooperate with Parkhurst’s investigation into the use of physical restraints.

Judges said “the entries show a consistent effort to hold government accountable in a wide range of situations. The writing takes the reader through fairly complicated situations in relatively short order with clarity.”

The Forecaster also received a second-place award for its Editorial Page, and third-place honors for its Right-to-Know coverage and for reporting on local government by Randy Billings.

Approximately 500 people attended the NENPA awards banquet at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where General Excellence awards were presented to the Ellsworth American, Cape Cod Times, Foster’s Daily Democrat, North East Independent, The Stowe Reporter, Addison County Independent and The Catholic Transcript.

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