Sumter Item wins 25 awards in 2020 South Carolina Press Association contest


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We spent the last year covering a global pandemic, an election and national calls for racial justice, and we told stories in each of those realms that wouldn't have been told anywhere else, whether that was reporting first-hand knowledge of what's happening in front of the city's police department, delving into who are the candidates seeking your vote for local office or telling you where you can get tested for COVID-19 or memorializing our family and friends the community has lost.

The Sumter Item was recognized on a state level for its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic among 25 awards the newsroom earned from the S.C. Press Association's annual news contest for work done in 2020.

Awards earned this year, which were publicly released in March, spanned the newsroom from sports to news writing, from print design and photography to video, from individual to staff recognitions.

"Two of the recognitions we received involved the entire newsroom: our COVID-19 coverage and the general excellence category, which earned second place and looks at the entire newspaper that was produced on two specified days. Also, every person who submitted an individual piece for the contest earned recognition," said Kayla Green, executive editor. "To me, that speaks to the strength of our entire newsroom and our ability to work together to bring our readers the best. In a small, family owned business like The Sumter Item, which has been around for 126 years, every person plays a crucial role, and I'm so proud of the dedication our newsroom has shown day after day during such a hard year where reliable, local news is so important."

The Item's first-place win for its coverage of the pandemic considered all platforms and all content published involving COVID-19. The staff submission included articles from every reporter on every beat; how the newspaper was designed to present information and tell stories; video coverage; photography; and social media.

Also included in the submission was a special magazine The Item published in August 2020 called "Community & COVID-19" that included information people could use to make decisions for themselves and their family as well as features on and a photo story of people in the community to share their experiences. It was mailed to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

The Item's continued COVID-19 coverage can be found centralized in one place on our website at

Bruce Mills was recognized for the second year in a row for his education reporting. After winning the reporting in-depth category last year for his coverage of Sumter School District's former financial crisis, he was awarded first place for the education beat this year, with specific articles discussing the district's reopening plan, a look into a hybrid classroom and the process of Brewington Academy's move to the Crosswell community.

Shelbie Goulding, in her second year as a reporter with The Item and after being recognized in her first as well, won two awards this year: first place for her coverage of the local government beat with articles detailing mayoral candidates' public records, potential election result scenarios and the legality of live-streamed government meetings based on the Freedom of Information Act.

Goulding won second place for her police beat reporting with articles discussing the sheriff's office's push for salary increases, telling the story of a former state corrections officer who was shot in an attempted inmate-orchestrated hit and a look back at a fatal Halloween shooting that changed the nation's view of trick-or-treating.

Melanie Smith won second and third place for front page design featuring 2020 U.S. Census information and the Sumter Opera House's 125-year anniversary.

Micah Green earned six individual awards, including first place in spot news for a photo of a mother and her two children, one wearing a firefighter's helmet, looking on as firefighters exit their home after putting out a fire.

Green's second-place awards were for a portrait of a respiratory therapist at Prisma Health preparing to conduct a pulmonary function test outside a mobile health unit in COVID-19 personal protection equipment and for a pictorial shot of two swans forming a heart shape at Swan Lake-Iris Gardens.

His third-place awards were in spot news for a photo of a man guiding two women in a canoe from NHC-Sumter after rain from Hurricane Sally flooded their parking lot; for a sports feature photo of Sumter High School's Justus Boone in their 5A state playoff loss to Gaffney; and for a photo story of Cpl. Andrew Gillette of Sumter County Sheriff's Office being remembered and laid to rest after being killed in the line of duty.

Sumter Today, produced and created by Ty Cornett and Micah Green and hosted by Kayla Green, won five awards, including first place for news video of a Prisma Health community testing site and second place for news video of a community march against racism led by local pastors and law enforcement.

The daily online video news show also earned second in feature video for showing how people found ways to celebrate from a distance; second in sports video for a feature on two former Crestwood High School students' trip to the NFL; and third in sports for high school football players' #WeWantToPlay practice.

The three also won third place for a video called Community Conversations, which brought together a panel to talk about racism and being Black in Sumter and America.

In sports, Dennis Brunson won first place for his column writing on USC and Clemson football, and Tim Leible earned second place for sports page design.

Kayla Green earned first and second place for obituaries honoring Gillette and Kelvin Cooper, a Sumter native who died in April 2020 from COVID-19. She also received second place in profile feature writing and arts and entertainment writing for a profile on Selena Smith's journey to becoming the Sumter Fire Department's first Black woman to be promoted to lieutenant and Miyah LaGrant being the first dancer in a decade from Sumter to be cast as the lead in Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker.

Item staffers who also contributed to staff awards include Rhonda Barrick, Ryan Galloway, Sandra Holbert, Vince Johnson, Janel Strieter and Kareem Wilson.

The SCPA's annual meeting and awards presentation is scheduled for October after being postponed from this spring due to COVID-19.