The Lake Report has again been honoured with several national awards for its journalism.
The Canadian Community Newspaper Association’s annual awards were announced Friday and The Lake Report received eight, including one each in the coveted Outstanding Reporter Initiative and Best Local Civic Journalism categories.
The paper was the only publication in Niagara Region recognized in the awards and took home the second-most number of awards in the country.
Most of the awards were in the largest circulation categories (over 10,000), pitting The Lake Report, a small, independent publisher with a full-time news staff of three, against some of the biggest chain-owned publications in Canada.
The awards competition was for stories, photos and commentary published in 2022.
“We are really proud once again that the hard work of our reporters has been recognized by our peers from across Canada,” said Richard Harley, the editor-in-chief and founder of the paper.
“None of this would happen, of course, without the people of our community, who let us into their lives to tell their stories and share them with the world,” he said.
As well, “without the advertisers who support us week in and week out, and the readers who patronize those advertisers and look to The Lake Report for comprehensive news about Niagara-on-the-Lake, we would not be able to do what we do.”
With the eight new awards The Lake Report has now won 69 provincial and national awards since 2020, when the paper first started entering industry competitions.
This year’s Lake Report winners are:
- Reporter Somer Slobodian, first place, (10,000 and over circulation), Best Local Civic Journalism, for a series of detailed stories about 51-year-old seasonal farmworker Ceto Reid, who was badly hurt when he was hit by a car last October.
He was returning from a laundromat in St. Catharines at the time, carrying his laundry while riding his bicycle back to P.G. Enns Farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was due to return home to Jamaica the day after he was struck.
Slobodian’s entry also included the results of her investigation into the confusing hodge-podge of rules around something as basic as the laundry facilities that are supposed to be available to seasonal farmworkers.
Her investigation, published last November, showed the federal and provincial policies about laundry facilities differ and that the agency handling inspections, Niagara’s public health department, follow’s Ontario’s rules, which are less stringent.
The judges in the competition said, “The Lake Report covered an impressive number of civic issues, all of which were worthy of the award.”
“However, what set this issue out was the comprehensiveness and the willingness to keep on the story. It is also truly impressive to see a newspaper champion the cause of members of the community who otherwise may not have a voice.”
- Slobodian and managing editor Kevin MacLean also earned a third-place award for Excellence in Rural Reporting (all circulation classes) for her stories about Reid and her investigation.
The award included MacLean’s Dec. 8 editorial “Do the right thing for seasonal workers,” which praised the farming community for the important role it plays in our lives, but highlighted the huge power imbalance between farm bosses and seasonal workers, who return to Canada year after year but have few rights on a wide swath of issues.
The editorial stated, “The fact (Reid) had to ride his bike some eight kilometres, each way, to find adequate laundry facilities in a very simple way illustrates how the plight seasonal workers face is an afterthought.”
The judges said, “In the farm rich area of southern Ontario, migrant workers are essential to the rural areas that grow food for sale across the country.”
“However, they are often out of sight and out of mind, but with a pair of stories and editorial, The Lake Report successfully educates readers on the struggles migrant farm workers face and provide information that could lead to improved work conditions for such workers.”
- MacLean’s “Do the right thing for seasonal workers” editorial also received a second-place award in the Best National Editorial category (10,000 and over circulation).
- Former reporter Evan Saunders won a second-place award (all circulation classes) for two his work on two major investigations: a maskless, “pod” school that opened in Virgil during the pandemic and for “Hotels-on-the-Lake,” an in-depth look at how short-term rentals turned housing into a commodity and quickly took over a large number of NOTL homes.
The pod school series began in January 2022 and took readers inside the school, which was flouting pandemic rules and guidelines. That led to a court case and a judge ordered the school shut down.
The competition judges said, “Kudos to this reporter for the initiative to report on this situation and follow it to its natural end.”
“When sources refused to speak with him following some coverage, but then one of them later changes their mind after some internal changes within the parents’ group, it shows how his initiative and dedication to finishing the story paid off.”
“Hotels-on-the-Lake” was a four-page special investigation that gave readers an interactive online map showing every legal short-term rental in Old Town. Using Town of NOTL data, it determined that 10 per cent of all homes in Old Town had become short-term rentals.
It also looked at the plight of ordinary renters in town, struggling to find an affordable place to live. As well, it included a story on the town’s new accommodation tax and concerns about how it would be handled.
- Harley’s Jan. 26, 2022, editorial on the illegal “pod” school, “Close maskless school now,” was judged the Best Local Editorial in the country in the 10,000 and over category. It was published before any official government agency had taken action against the independent school.
The judges said, “This had everything a local editorial should have. It was well-written, well-researched and called out a glaring problem in a community.”
“What was especially good was that it built on the paper’s expose and research on the issue that was in the edition. It also called out more than one body for their lack of action.”
- Jill Troyer and Don Reynolds took second place for Best Historical Story (10,000 and over circulation) for the photo-driven feature, “Hiking series explores Black history in NOTL.” The story included historical and modern images innovatively conceived and framed on the page, all packaged with vignettes outlining the historical significance of the sites around Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The judges said, “The ease with which this story explains the creation of Black history-focused hikes in NOTL is amazing. The way the photos are handled is creative and one is left wanting to travel straight to NOTL and go for a hike!”
- Harley received a second-place Best Photo Essay award (10,000 and over circulation) for “NOTL ‘spring’ in pictures,” published on March 31, 2022. Despite spring having sprung, a late March snowfall, high winds and frigid temperatures blasted the town and he told the story with some compelling photos.
- Former reporter Molly Bowron, and editors Harley and MacLean teamed up to win the third-place prize for Best Multimedia Breaking News Coverage (open circulation) for “Kai Bartel strikes gold.”
On Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, during the final weekend of the Canada Summer Games, when Niagara-on-the-Lake rower Kai Bartel was competing fortwo shots at a gold medal, we opted to give his events blanket online coverage, with breaking news updates as merited.
Our coverage began with Bowron’s set-up piece outlining the races to come and she was on-scene covering the races live. MacLean was in our newsroom helping write, edit and publish the breaking news updates.
Bartel missed a medal by seconds in the men’s pair final but three hours later scored gold in the heart-stopping men’s 8 race, just 42/100ths of a second ahead of B.C.