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The Santa Maria Times and its sister publications -- the Lompoc Record and the Santa Ynez Valley News -- took first place in three categories, third place in two categories and brought home 10 awards overall in the California News Publishers Association 2017 Better Newspapers Contest.

The Santa Maria Times won first place Online General Excellence for its website santamariatimes.com, and both the Times and the Lompoc Record  were finalists in newspaper General Excellence. General Excellence is the top award in the statewide contest because it takes into account every facet of a website or newspaper.

"We are honored by the recognition," said Digital Producer Jason Anderson. "We work very hard to present local news in an attractive and accessible manner on our website, and will continue to work to bring the stories of Santa Maria and the Central Coast to our readers." 

Judges' comments about santamariatimes.com noted that the website was "very easy to navigate, full of local news, and not busy or overcomplicated."

The winners of CNPA's annual Better Newspapers Contest, the state’s largest annual journalism contest, were announced Saturday at the association's statewide meeting in Sonoma. 

“First-place recognition in both digital and reporting categories is outstanding,” said Marga Cooley, Managing Editor for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. “Our newsroom works every day to provide readers both online and in print with stories that reflect the community, and these awards recognize that effort."

Lee Central Coast Newspapers includes the Times, the biweekly Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, and the weekly Space Country Times, which serves Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Santa Maria Times took first place in the category of in-depth reporting for a five-part series titled "Green Rush in the 805?" examining the legalization of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older, and its impact on the region. Project reporters were Willis Jacobson, Mike Hodgson, Gina Kim, Mathew Burciaga and Logan Anderson. 

Reporter Willis Jacobson also received first place in the category of enterprise news story or series for three stories: "Pot of Gold;" "Shedding the Stigma;" and "Legalization changes landscape of law enforcement." Len Wood received third place in the category of artistic photo for "Sands of Mandala," illustrating the deconstruction of a mandala at Hancock College, and Logan Anderson was a finalist in the category of enterprise news story or series for "Cannabis clashes in Tepusquet provide snapshot of industry."

"I'm proud of our team and their dedication to covering local news. From daily coverage to our in-depth reporting, we strive to reflect our communities and highlight issues that matter to our readers," said News Editor Emily Slater.

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Wood and the Lompoc Record also received third place for the news photo "Retardant drop from afar."

The Santa Ynez Valley News was a finalist in three categories. Mike Hodgson was recognized for his breaking news story "Flames yards away send campers fleeing from Cachuma Lake", and in the writing category for "The trees didn't have time to catch fire and burn." Tony Martindale and Logan Anderson were recognized for video journalism, "'Bug Ology,' one bite at a time."

The Santa Maria Times was honored in the 15,000-and-under daily circulation category, the Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record in the 4,301 to 11,000 weekly division.

For the Better Newspapers Contest, judges from California and out of state compare entries from newspapers of similar size statewide against one another to determine the best in each circulation category.

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