‘Standard’ journalists win record number of awards

Wins for arts, health, sports, columns, editorials and photography


Speaking on the record can wrack the nerves, whether it puts the source in a good or bad light.

Journalists aren’t numb to this nervousness despite conducting numerous interviews themselves. But sometimes journalists are themselves the story, like the six Cortland Standard writers who won 10 awards between the Syracuse Press Club and New York Press Association – a company best.

Arts and education reporter Lily Byrne, a first-time winner, didn’t think studying musical theater would serve a journalism career. Well, it did. Byrne won honorable mention from the Syracuse Press Club for their critique of Cortland Repertory Theatre’s production of “Xanadu!”, the first Standard reporter to win a review. Byrne’s arts coverage earned second place from the New York Press Association, a beat reporting award.

“I didn’t expect to place for a general award, just because I’m so new to the field,” Bryne said. “I didn’t study journalism. I figured it out as I went.”

Byrne said writing reviews allows them to use an advanced level of skill they always knew they had.

“They came out so well, they came out so me,” Byrne said. “They were my thoughts, there were so many Lily phrases.”

Byrne’s favorite among their submissions was about a September short film festival at the Ake Gallery in Cortland.

“That was the pinnacle of something an arts reporter would be interested in, there were so many people from around the world as well as local kids,” Byrne said.

Byrne’s critique adds to categories the Standard has won, which this year included beat reporting, government accountability, arts, health and photojournalism.

Managing editor Todd R. McAdam said he was most impressed by how many ways the newsroom he oversees won. McAdam himself won for his photo essay documenting an opioid addiction vigil in Cortland.

McAdam is quick to say he isn’t a photographer. He points. He shoots – this time he scored.

It was exciting so many of the winning ideas came from reporters, McAdam said.

Approaching stories unconventionally can help yield recognition, but it isn’t absolutely necessary, McAdam said. Good stories are those that help people make informed decisions, that give insights they’re glad to get.

City Editor Kevin Conlon won for both editorial work and reportage, with the Syracuse Press Club honoring his humor column, and was a contributor to the Standard’s winning second place in the New York Press Association’s Freedom of Information category.

Conlon said he’s a more natural reporter than a columnist. News writing requires detachment, a skill that, over time, becomes involuntary. Column writing, on the other hand, is entirely produced from the self.

“That took some getting used to,” Conlon said.

Health reporter Margaret Mellott’s coverage of nursing home deficiencies, homelessness and flavored tobacco helped her win second place awards from both contests, with the New York Press Association saying she wrote with as sensitively as she did thoroughly.

Mellott knows how to frame health care issues, the association said.

“Coming out of COVID-19 as a new health reporter is a little daunting,” Mellott said. The pandemic emphasized how crucial health coverage is, she said.

“Health can be a hard topic,” Mellott said, describing a recent report on Cortland County babies born with withdrawal symptoms – as hard to write as it was important to tell.

But health can be an uplifting beat, too, she said. Mellott was brought to tears writing a story about a student creating a piece of art to honor her mother, a breast cancer survivor.

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve learned a lot,” she said.