AUBURN — The Portland Press Herald was named the best daily newspaper in Maine and the Maine Sunday Telegram was named the best weekend newspaper at the annual Maine Press Association conference and awards banquet Saturday night.

The Sun Journal won second place in both daily and weekend categories.

The Kennebec Journal placed third for daily newspapers and the Central Maine Morning Sentinel placed third in the weekend category.

The Press Herald/Telegram received top honors for their websites, with the Kennebec Journal placing second and the Bangor Daily News third.

For the 15th consecutive year, the Maine Press Association awarded the Sun Journal with a Freedom of Information Award, honoring the newspaper’s strength in fighting for public access.

“We have made it our special mission at the Sun Journal to make sure the public’s right to know is respected at all levels of government,” Executive Editor Rex Rhoades said.

A significant portion of the Sun Journal’s public access work during the past year was its investigation into whether Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention officials shredded financial documents to evade a Freedom of Access Act request from the newspaper.

“We know the law,” Rhoades said of Maine’s public access statute, “and we expect government and government agencies to observe it with the same diligence as we do all laws.”

The entry also included a narrative of Staff Writer Douglas McIntire’s investigation into the cause of the April 26, 2013 emergency landing of a Maine Warden Service plane on the Maine Turnpike near Sabattus.

After the incident, the Warden Service declined any explanation of the cause except to say it was due to “mechanical difficulties.” McIntire sought access to the maintenance records of the plane, learning the Federal Aviation Administration determined there had been no mechanical failure and the plane had simply run out of gas.

The entry also detailed efforts the Sun Journal made to access juvenile court records in the arson fires set in Lewiston in April and May last year, and repeated objections the newspaper made after selectmen in New Gloucester convened an executive session on a personnel issue without inviting the employee to be discussed to that meeting, in violation of state law. Selectmen later rescinded the action they took during that meeting.

“That we have won this award 15 years in a row is a tribute to our staff and to the diligence of Judy Meyer, our managing editor/days, who has become an authority on Maine’s FOAA laws and is a vocal champion of the public’s right to know.”

The Sun Journal also was awarded 12 first-place awards for photography, writing and design, including the top breaking news award for the newspaper’s aggressive coverage of the arson fires in Lewiston.

Other first-place awards went to:

• Chief Photographer Russ Dillingham, breaking news photo of boaters Arlene and Paul Duclos and their friends, Ron and Lorraine Locke, trapped at the crest of the Great Falls in May 2013 when their boat failed during a twilight cruise.

• Photographer Daryn Slover, sports photo, for capturing the image of Rangeley soccer player Michael Haley’s distorted face as it connects with a ball during a game in Buckfield.

• Senior Designer Heather McCarthy, specialty page, for her illustration of the nightmare of teaching teens how to drive.

• McCarthy and designer Susan Broadbent, feature section, for a Sunday B-Plus section anchored with a look at the decline of cursive writing.

• News Editor Mark Mogensen, headline writing, for “Buried pleasure,” topping a feature story about people who use metal detectors for fun.

• Staff Writer Lindsay Tice shared the top health award with Bangor Daily News reporter Jackie Farwell for their combined work on a multi-part consumer-friendly package titled “Affordable Care Act 101.”

• Sports Editor Justin Pelletier, in a new category for live game story, for his Feb. 2 report titled “Pirates’ slide continues” in the midst of the team’s losing season.

• The newspaper’s anonymous Shopping Siren and Bag Lady writing team, local column writing, for their sometimes-wacky take on shopping in Maine.

• Executive Editor Rex Rhoades, editorial writing, for the Aug. 7, 2013, “Toy pistol incident says a lot about guns,” commenting on the nervous reaction in Farmington upon seeing a 20-year-old walking around the downtown with a toy gun.

• Editorial cartoonist C. Ernie Anderson, for “Endless source of renewable energy.”

• Opinion columnist Elliott Epstein, who writes the Rearview Mirror column for the Perspective section.

The newspaper also won 20 second-place awards and 12 third-place awards for writing, photography, design and advertising. A full list of all winners will be available on the Maine Press Association site at later this week.

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