The Mammoth Times won five first-place awards in the 2013 “Better Newspapers Contest,” the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) announced earlier this month.
The Times also won two second-place awards, and two Blue Ribbon Finalist awards.
It was the largest haul for the newspaper in its 26-year history. The awards ranged from reporting and sportswriting to editorial writing and photography.
Split into categories and based on certified circulation among weeklies, the CNPA announced the awards May 3 in San Jose at the association’s annual conference awards banquet.
“I am incredibly proud of the team at the Mammoth Times,” said Publisher and Editor Aleksandra Gajewski.
“With only a handful of employees, we work hard every day to produce quality journalism for our community and beyond. Being recognized for that work by our peers throughout California is a huge accomplishment.”
The Times won first-place awards in writing, sportswriting, editorial comment, and two others in artistic photography and feature photography.
Its second-place awards were for agricultural reporting and for special sections.
The Mammoth Times also received a Blue Ribbon Finalist award in the artistic photography category, as well as the general excellence category.
Only one weekly newspaper in California won more first-place awards than the Times: The Palo Alto Weekly, which won six.
Journalism from all of the staff members of the Times was cited by the CNPA.
In the writing category, staff writer Wendilyn Grasseschi’s first-person account of her experiences as a Hotshot firefighter won first place.
Her story came in the wake of the June 30, 2013, Yarnell Fire catastrophe  in Arizona.
The fire, near Prescott, killed 19 Hotshot firefighters in the deadliest U.S. wildland fire since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles, which took 29 lives. It was the sixth deadliest American firefighter disaster overall and the deadliest wildfire ever in Arizona.
Grasseschi served as a Hotshot crew member with the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Arrowhead Hotshots in the late 1980s, after three years serving on several “regular” U.S. Forest Service firefighting crews.
In her July 4, P. 1 account, which appeared under the headline “Touched by fire,”  Grasseschi wrote about what it was like to be on the fire line in this excerpt:
“In Idaho’s Salmon River canyons, I watched a six-foot-diameter Ponderosa pine explode in a screaming fireball that rocketed 20,000 feet into the air.
“I watched fires fly up the mountain faster than a truck could drive. During the day, the roar of the fire was like the ocean in a storm; during the night, the sky was bright as day.
“I ran sidewise across a mountainside so steep the sheep wouldn’t touch it, a fire lapping at my feet.”
In the sportswriting category, George Shirk won first place for his account of downhill skier Stacey Cook’s first two podium finishes on the World Cup circuit.
Cook’s performances at the races, at Lake Louise in December at the start of the of the 2012-13 ski racing season, solidified her place on the U.S. Ski Team and made her a familiar presence leading into the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
His Dec. 7, 2012, P. 1 story, under the headline “Downhiller Stacey Cook comes up big in World Cup ,” put her performance in historical perspective in this excerpt:
“Wearing a purple Mammoth Mountain knit hat with the U.S. Ski Team logo stitched below the Mammoth logo, Cook bounded to the podium as if there were no gravity at all.
“She held her skis above her head in a moment of triumph and tears glistened at the corners of her eyes.
“For Cook, her podium finishes were a combination of experience, both as a veteran racer as well as a racer on that particular mountain.”
The Times’ first-place award in editorial writing was for an “Our View” editorial that appeared on July 2, 2013, under the headline “Priorities .”
The editorial was in advance of the Mammoth Town Council’s two special sessions to place priorities on council policy for the upcoming year.
“The Mammoth Town Council, in a stroke of uncharacteristic wisdom, declared earlier this week a pair of ‘strategic planning’ meetings, designed to put the disparate, argumentative, and disgruntled citizenry on the same page with the town government,” the editorial began.
“It’s about time.
“For years around here, the tail has wagged the dog; that is, crises, contingencies, and exigencies have been the basis of longstanding town policies.
“Now is the time to command the dog to wag the tail, for a change.”
The editorial—as are all the newspaper’s editorials—was a team effort by the Times’ editorial staff. All editorials ultimately are approved by Gajewski.
In photography, Times photographer Jesse Barlet took first-place awards in both the artistic and feature categories.
His winning artistic photograph was of the Milky Way as it hovered over ancient Bristlecone pine trees from White Mountain. Barlet’s first-place award in feature photography was for an image of a Sierra Wave cloud formation over Mono Lake. Both images appeared in an issue of the Times’ Mammoth Sierra Magazine.
Lyra Pierotti, meanwhile, won a second-place award for agricultural reporting for a P. 1 story under the headline, “Bighorn problems: Domestic sheep pass deadly pathogens to bighorn herds .”
Pierotti’s story appeared on Oct. 24.
“People don’t tend to think of agriculture when they think of our area, but it’s a very important aspect to life in Mono County,” Gajewski said.
“We were delighted to hear that our reporting of the deadly interaction between bighorn and domestic sheep herds landed a place on the journalism podium, so to speak. Lyra fashioned a wonderful—and important—piece of journalism and I’m delighted for her to be recognized for her work.”
In the Special Sections category, the Times earned second place for its re-tooled, re-designed and re-written “Sierra Menus” restaurant guide.
“The annual CNPA contest is a wonderful measuring tool to gauge the growth and success of the work we do at the Mammoth Times,” Gajewski said.
“We will continue to uphold our journalistic integrity as we move forward. Our aim has been—and will continue to be—to reflect the Eastern Sierra as it is, as our readers know it, and as they like it—reliably and entertainingly.”