El Defensor Chieftain won the General Excellence award for Class 2 weekly papers in the 2021 NMPA Better Newspaper Contest.

El Defensor Chieftain staff also earned top honors in feature writing, business writing and classified advertising.

“This truly is a wonderful achievement for our staff at El Defensor Chieftain,” said Wanda Moeller, Vice-President of Advertising at Albuquerque Publishing Company who oversees the newspaper. “The past year has been a difficult one for community newspapers across the country, including New Mexico’s oldest weekly newspaper. Yet despite limited resources our team at the Chieftain was able to produce a high-quality newspaper that is the envy of community newspapers across the state of New Mexico. Cathy Cook, John Larson, Denise Ortega, Stephanie McFadden and Greg Byrd pour their hearts and souls into the newspaper you welcome into your homes each and every week. More importantly, thank you to our readers and advertisers for your support during the pandemic. It has been greatly appreciated.”

Awards were distributed Saturday at the annual New Mexico Press Association convention in Santa Fe. The Chieftain took first place in seven categories in the contest, which is sponsored by the NMPA. The contest was judged by the Utah Press Association.

Editor Cathy Cook won first in feature writing for her story on Thelma Reynolds celebrating her centennial and second place in feature writing for her story on 9-year-old Janeah Angel’s slime making business.

Cook also took first in environmental and agricultural writing for her coverage of the drought’s impact on local farmers.

“This piece was well reported and important to the entire region. Drought affects the entire Southwest. The reporter did a great job reporting from many angles: the experts and famers; the cost to crops and the cost of pumping to the land,” wrote the judges.

Former editor Caitie Ihrig won first place for business writing for her coverage of local restaurants struggling during the pandemic.

“I think we all wrote this story last year. You did a good job! I enjoyed reading it,” wrote the judges.

Irhig took second place in the columns category for her January column “Be Smart, stay home” advocating for people to take COVID precautions seriously.

Staff reporter John Larson won second place in news writing.

Denise Ortega and Stephanie McFadden won first place for classified advertising section.

McFadden won first and second place for shared/signature page.

Ortega and Ihrig took first for obituary page.