Russell Huffman and Denise Ortega

Socorro’s El Defensor Chieftain came away from the New Mexico Press Association’s 2023 Better Newspaper Contest in Albuquerque with 15 awards on Oct. 28, including recognition for first places in breaking news, sports coverage, business and writing education.

Eleven of the 15 recognitions from the NMPA were first-place awards and included senior reporter John Larson’s Memorial Day column Some We Knew, Some we never got to know.

“This was totally unexpected, but I do appreciate the recognition. I’m humbled to learn that my little musing and digressions are appreciated,” Larson said.

Former editor (now at the Albuquerque Journal) Cathy Cook was awarded first places in Business Writing, Education Writing (also won 2nd), Best Series and Best Ongoing Coverage. Cook’s education features included Students get hands-on with hydroponics and Tech Professor builds drone program.

El Defensor Chieftain’s Best Ongoing/Continuing Coverage first-award was for the efforts of Cook, Larson, Russell Huffman and Jay Ann Cox for coverage of Socorro County senior centers closed, path to reopening.

The Chieftain’s officer manager Denise Ortega’s classified advertising section was another first-winner. Ortega also pulled down another first for her work on a Shared/Signature page for Pet Parade.

Advertising executive Tamara Lombardi was recognized for the top Best Rate Card or Marketing Kit and a second-place award for a Shared/Signature page.

Huffman, who serves as the Chieftain’s assistant editor and heads sports coverage, took down first-place awards for Breaking News, Best Sports Coverage, Best Sports Photo, Best Series and Best Ongoing Coverage. Huffman also won second place for Sports Columns and Business Writing.

“I’m humbled to be chosen because we have excellent people covering high school sports in New Mexico. Best Sports Coverage isn’t an individual award, and it should go to our entire sports community here in Socorro County,” Huffman said. “We have remarkable athletes, and our coaches do their best in offering me their insight. That kind of cooperation allows me to provide exciting and thoughtful sports coverage for our readers.”

Perhaps most notable was the NMPA recognized every member of El Defensor Chieftain’s staff, a fact not lost on publisher Wanda Moeller.

“I’m honored to be associated with such a talented staff at El Defensor Chieftain. As the oldest weekly newspaper in the state, our communities should feel fortunate they have a strong voice to tell and share their stories. Every staff member won an individual award … which should tell our readers how empowered we are to be a part of the greater Socorro County community. Rural New Mexico communities need strong community newspapers, like El Defensor Chieftain, to make certain democracy does not die in darkness,” Moeller said.