Mainstreet Daily News writers and photographers captured awards at the 2023 Florida Press Association Newspaper Contest, while MDN publisher J.C. Derrick was elected to the board of the organization.
Mainstreet competes in Division B of the annual statewide contest and won two awards. Correspondent Ronnie Lovler won second place in the health, medical and science reporting category, and sports director Mike Ridaught and senior editor C.J. Gish took third place in the sports column category.
To be considered for the 2023 awards, the stories had to be published in a print newspaper in 2022. Although Mainstreet has been a digital news organization for more than three years, the print version launched in mid-2022 so only Mainstreet stories published during the last half of the year were eligible for submission to the contest.
“It was gratifying to see that, even with only a partial year in print, Mainstreet’s work was recognized alongside the state’s other leading publications,” said Derrick, who picked up the awards for the news organization at the FPA conference in Sarasota. “Both stories showcased the kind of local, in-depth reporting we strive to produce every day.”
Lovler’s winning story “Confronting the caregiving crisis” was the first story in Mainstreet Daily News’ ongoing Aging Matters series. The series, which is independently reported but underwritten through Elder Options, focuses on issues that affect area seniors.
Lovler, who was a fellow in the 2022 Age Boom Academy, has published pieces in the series on such topics as aging in place, elder fraud, senior travel and volunteerism. Her monthly series continues to shine a light on the complexities of growing older.
Ridaught’s column “Learning football and life” examined the Alachua Raiders youth sports and success program that sponsors three football and three cheerleading teams at the 6 and under, 8 and under and 10 and under levels.
Although Ridaught is usually busy covering high school sports in the region, he said it is “important for the community to understand the value in youth sports.”
I enjoy youth sports as much as high school sports,” Ridaught said. “As I wrote in the article, at that age (10 and under) you’re learning the fundamentals of football but you’re also learning life lessons, teamwork, commitment, self-esteem, developing good habits, etc.”
Gish, who takes the majority of Mainstreet’s sports photographs, illustrated the column with a series of photographs.
“Coming from the perspective of someone who coached his own kids in youth sports for 16 years, I love the excitement that radiates from elementary-aged kids playing sports,” Gish said. “This is the age where children are still learning the game and having innocent fun without feeling the pressure that athletes experience at the high school, college and professional levels.”
Ridaught said he was “humbled” by the statewide award.
“It means a lot to be recognized for my work,” he said. “I got feedback locally on my work but to be praised on a state level is something that I will always remember.”
In addition to picking the news organizations’ awards, Derrick was selected for a one-year appointment to the Florida Press Association board and was confirmed by the board and a vote of the membership. More than 300 Florida journalists and executives attended this year’s conference.
“This appointment is a credit to the work of the entire Mainstreet team over the last three and a half years,” Derrick said. “The Florida Press Association is one of the most vibrant state press associations in the country, and I’m honored to join the board.”
Both Derrick and Gish said they were looking to increase the number of entries for next year’s contest since the full year’s worth of 2023 Mainstreet stories will be eligible for the next contest.
Derrick started in journalism at 18 when he got his first journalism job as a sports writer in his Texas hometown and served as a national magazine and radio journalist before joining Mainstreet as its publisher. He said he’s excited to become more involved in the FPA.
“Our move into print last year created some buzz and statewide interest in what we’re building,” Derrick said. “We’re excited to bring new ideas and energy to the discussion, but also to learn from some of the best publishers in the business.”
“Mainstreet is blessed to have tremendous writers,” Gish said. “When we go to submit articles for the next Florida Press Association contest, it will be very difficult to choose which articles to submit from the sheer volume of excellent stories they have produced.”