SCHENECTADY — Three Daily Gazette journalists have been honored by the New York Press Association for their work in 2020:
- Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney was cited for the editorials he writes for the newspaper’s opinion page and webpage.
- Reporter Zachary Matson was recognized for his body of work covering the region’s schools and the issues that affect them.
- Erica Miller was named photographer of the year.
The honors in NYPA’s 2020 Better Newspaper Contest were announced Thursday and Friday. Those honored were chosen from 2,440 entries submitted by 151 newspaper statewide.
Erica Miller has been a Gazette photographer the past five years after stints at The Saratogian newspaper, the state Assembly and the Plattsburgh Press Republican.
“I was in shock,” she said Monday. “This is one of the biggest awards I’ve ever won. I didn’t expect to win it.”
Miller is a Saratoga Springs native and SUNY Plattsburgh graduate now living in Milton. At 36 she’s young enough that most of her professional career has been digital but old enough that she started out with black-and-white film that she processed and printed in the darkroom.
“When I was in high school I started doing photography with my mom’s super-old Olympus camera,” she said. “I miss the darkroom smell,” she added, though the number of photo assignments she shoots each day would be untenable without digital technology.
After shooting professionally for more than 40 hours a week for more than a decade, Miller has lost interest in photography as a hobby, but she retains her love of photojournalism as a profession.
“I just love my job,” she said. “I love that every day is a different day.”
Aside from being there on time and producing sharp images that tell the story, there are a few other principles she follows. The contest judges wouldn’t have known about them but likely saw them reflected in Erica’s work. They are:
“Do things that make you uncomfortable — it’s those moments that make you more confident.”
“Try to make a different angle than straight-on.”
“When in doubt, climb on something.”
Zachary Matson received a third-place award in education coverage from NYPA.
The Kansas native and now Corinth resident has been covering education for The Daily Gazette since he joined the staff in 2015. He previously had covered schools and education for other newspapers but this was his first full-time focus on the important subject.
“I always liked the education beat because it gives a lot of variety in the stories you do,” Matson said. That can range from profiles of students with interesting stories or projects to the nuts and bolts of policy and funding that dozens of Capital Region districts wrestle with to make their schools run.
This sustained focus has allowed Matson, more than some other news reporters at The Gazette, to build a high degree of understanding of the process and issues that shape what he’s writing about.
“There’s such a steep learning curve that it’s important to have that knowledge,” he said.
The past year has been remarkable on all levels, not least for schools. They’ve had to make what would have been a years-long evolution in a few weeks when they switched to remote learning in the spring of 2020.
The pandemic, Matson said, has “just had such an extraordinary impact on school and what that looks like.”
Mark Mahoney received a first-place award for editorials.
He is a longtime and relentless crusader for transparent government, previously honored with a Pulitzer Prize for his work on the subject with the Post-Star newspaper in Glens Falls.
Mahoney has had his own share of pandemic-related changes in the topics he writes about, as government entities shut out the public from some meetings and made decisions under emergency rules.
But he said: “The mission always stays the same: Inform readers, give perspective and reason to take action, hold government accountable.”
He says the public will lose if governments backslide on transparency when the COVID crisis ends.
“We had to do the limited access to meetings because of the pandemic,” Mahoney said. “When people are there in person there’s a different dynamic. I don’t think attendance is quite as high in the online meeting as it is when there’s an opportunity to show up in person.”
“It’s gratifying to be honored along with all of the other outstanding award winners from across the state,” Gazette Editor Miles Reed said Monday.
“Erica, Mark and Zach represent the best of what we do here. So it’s fitting to see them recognized for their great work.
“We’re especially proud of Erica’s honor. She’s so deserving. Day in and day out, she’s out there in the community and hustling for news. Nobody works harder or with more passion than Erica — and it shows in her photos. She’s a storyteller with her camera.
“The breadth of her skills is phenomenal. She can do it all — breaking news, features, portraits. You name it and she can shoot it.”
Also in the Capital Region, the Albany Business Review, the Altamont Enterprise, Saratoga Today, Spotlight newspapers and the Times Union were honored for their work in 2020.