Independent wins six state press association awards
MONTPELIER — Longtime Addison Independent reporter John Flowers was elected president of the Vermont Press Association at the organization’s annual meeting in Montpelier this past Thursday.
Also at the event, the Independent was honored with a half-dozen awards, reporters and editors discussed their approaches to education and police reporting, and the organization presented Ken Squier and WDEV radio in Waterbury with the Matthew Lyon Award, an award presented to a non-newspaper person who has fought for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know the truth in Vermont.
The VPA represents the 11 daily and more than four dozen non-daily newspapers that circulate in Vermont.
Flowers, along with Independent staffers Trent Campbell and Andy Kirkaldy received awards for their work over the past year.
Flowers, 51, is senior reporter at the Addison Independent, where he has worked since 1990.
His beats include the Vermont Legislature, human services, health care, features, crime, Addison Central Supervisory Union schools, and coverage of the proposed Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Pipeline project.
Prior to arriving at the Independent, he worked for the Community Newspapers Group in Newton, Mass., covering the municipalities of Newton and Wellesley.
Flowers is a graduate of Northeastern University, earning a B.A. in journalism in 1984. He has won numerous New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) and VPA awards during his 23 years as a journalist in Vermont. He and his wife, Dottie, live in Bristol and have two grown children, Diane and Mark.
“I am humbled by my selection as the new president of the VPA, and will do my best to represent the interests of journalists throughout this great state,” Flowers said. “I thank my predecessor, Maria Archangelo, for doing such a great job and setting the bar so high.”
Flowers, only the second reporter to hold the president’s job (the others were editors and publishers), said his goals will include advocating for state laws that protect and expand media access to information, continuing discussions with Vermont State Police to maximize details on crime incidents, cultivating new VPA memberships, and establishing a website for the organization.
Flowers succeeds Archangelo, the former executive editor and publisher of the Stowe Reporter, as VPA president. Members also elected officers to other positions.
Scores of reporters, photographers and editors from newspapers across the state attended the VPA meeting, held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier.
In the awards portion of the program, Flowers took home awards in the non-daily category. He won third place in the best state story category, second place for feature writing, and third place for best local story.
Kirkaldy claimed second place in the sports writing category. Campbell took second in the feature photo category and third in sports photo.
The event also included two workshops, on education reporting and working with police.
The panel discussing education included Ken Page of the Vermont Principals’ Association, Jeff Francis of the Vermont Superintendents Association, and Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards association.
Topics discussed included the complexity of school budgets and the necessity of explaining them accurately to the public, and the importance of articulating to readers the role and structure of the state’s 46 supervisory unions as changes in that structure are explored by policymakers.
During the police reporting workshop, journalists discussed how to establish relationships with local law enforcement officials, how to work with departments who do not publish press releases in a timely manner, and the importance of knowing the chain of command in order to contact the most appropriate official.
The keynote speaker of the event was Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn, who spoke with conferees about ways to improve the working relationship between law enforcement officials and journalists.
Flynn, a former state’s attorney for Orleans County and Vermont state trooper, praised the work Vermont media outlets have done in reporting on crime.
A point of contention arose over whether police and prosecutors should make public results of blood alcohol tests in driving under the influence cases.
Veteran Burlington Free Press reporter Mike Donoghue, who is also VPA executive director, argued that these tests should be released, likening it to the release of radar results for prosecuting speeding offenses.
Flynn demurred, saying it was imperative to strike a balance between the right of the public to know and defending the rights of the accused.
The commissioner also said that some state’s attorneys believe that releasing blood alcohol test results is prejudicial.
Donoghue pointed out that when asked, law enforcement officials cannot point to an instance where a drunk driving case was thrown out because of the release of the blood alcohol content test result. Flynn himself did not offer any instances of that happening.
When asked about Vermont’s war on drugs, Flynn stated that current approaches to tackling the state’s drug problem are not working.
“Vermont is not going to arrest our way out of our drug problem,” Flynn said.
Flynn argued that getting the public involved is key to combatting the drug problem facing Vermont.
“We need to make the community aware of the scope of the problem. Awareness is the first step in getting community response.”
Flynn told the reporters that the public needs to be educated about the drug problem in the state, and he decried the number of deaths in traffic accidents attributed to drunk driving. He did not reconcile that outrage with the state police policy to withhold the blood alcohol content test information.
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