The Wilton Bulletin wins various New England press awards

Wilton Bulletin reporter James Passeri was named 2012 Rookie of the Year at the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) conference last weekend, and editor Jeannette Ross won first place in the Human Interest Feature Story in the weekly class of newspapers with 6,000 or fewer subscribers. Additionally, Bulletin photographer and design director Bryan Haeffele won third place for Spot News Photo.

The annual NENPA conference and award ceremony was held last weekend, Feb. 8 and 9, in Boston, Mass. About 25 staffers from The Bulletin and its sister publications at Hersam Acorn Newspapers braved what some have called the “Blizzard of the Century” to attend.

Mr. Passeri joined The Bulletin last July, but his award was based on reporting at his previous position as editor of The Bulletin’s sister paper The Fairfield Sun. In congratulating Mr. Passeri on his achievement, Hersam Acorn Newspapers publisher Thomas Nash said, “We knew you were good and we’re very proud of you.”

Ms. Ross said, “This is a wonderful achievement for James and he is very deserving of the honor. The Bulletin is very fortunate to have him as part of its editorial team.”

In acknowledging his honor, Mr. Passeri said, “I really hope the recognition reflects well on Hersam Acorn in general, our parent company, and I owe special thanks to my managing editor at The Fairfield Sun, Nancy Doniger. While I worked at The Sun as editor, she was particularly helpful in navigating me through complex subjects by suggesting sources and providing various contact information, particularly on political stories like the state redistricting process.

“In fact, one story I submitted for the award involved a protest along the Fairfield-Bridgeport line during the redistricting process,” Mr. Passeri said. “I ran over there to take photos and give some contextual coverage. Ms. Doniger, who was then also editing The Bridgeport News, provided me with invaluable reporting information and contact for a local NAACP chapter, whose voice was crucial for the story.”

Ms. Doniger is currently the editor of The Easton Courier, also a sister paper to The Bulletin.

The other stories Mr. Passeri submitted for the award were one covering the proposed construction of a new Metro-North station in Fairfield, and the replacement of station employees by ticket-vending machines; the capture of a red-shouldered hawk; and a local feature on an accomplished lifeguard and swim instructor with Down syndrome.

Mr. Passeri earned a third-place award at NENPA last year in the transportation reporting category. He is a graduate of Fordham University with an economics degree.

Ms. Ross’s award was for a feature story — “‘The jungle blew up’ Vietnam vet escapes with his life” — on Vietnam veteran Dennis Sutton, who was the keynote speaker at last year’s Memorial Day ceremonies in Wilton. The story focused on Mr. Sutton’s experiences as a marine in Vietnam, where he was shot in the head, his subsequent recovery, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, and his ultimate, unexpected, reunion with his unit. The story ran in The Bulletin’s Memorial Day supplement on Thursday, May 24.

Ms. Ross joined The Bulletin in November 2009. She came in second last year in the same category for her story “Paramedic saves a ‘mom’” on heart attack victim Nancy Capelle’s experiences and reunion with Mike Szumigala, the paramedic who cared for her during her ambulance ride to the hospital.

Mr. Haeffele, who grew up in Wilton and has worked at Hersam Acorn Newspapers since 1998, was recognized for a photo he took shortly after Tropical Storm Irene. Judges said the photo, of a girl wading through a flooded area, offered “an interesting perspective on floodwaters.”

Mr. Haeffele designs The Bulletin’s front page every week.

Including The Bulletin’s  awards, Hersam Acorn Newspapers took home a total of 15 awards:

New Canaan Advertiser, first place, Overall Website.

The Redding Pilot, Kaitlin Bradshaw, second place, Human Interest Feature Story.

The Weston Forum, second place, Local Election Coverage.

The Ridgefield Press, Macklin Reid, second place, Editorial Writing.

The Easton Courier, Liz Skalka, second place, Social Issues Feature.

The Ridgefield Press, second place, Advertising Supplement/Special Section.

The Darien Times, David DesRoches, third place, Crime and Courts Reporting.

The Easton Courier, Liz Skalka, third place, Local Election Coverage.

New Canaan Advertiser, Dave Stewart, third place (Weekly Class 2), Sports Page or Section.

Greenwich Post, Paul Silverfarb, third place (Weekly Class 1), Sports Page or Section.

The Ridgefield Press, Tim Murphy, third place, Sports Column.

New Canaan Advertiser, Julie Butler, third place, Special Section.