The Vineyard Gazette was named Weekly Newspaper of the Year for 2001, the highest honor given to weekly newspapers by the New England Press Association (NEPA). Also known as the George A. Speers Award, the coveted honor is given out to just three newspapers each year: one small daily, one weekly, and one alternative weekly. The Gazette has won the award six times since 1990.

"The Vineyard Gazette doesn't use color photographs or graphics in its pages. But its writing just brims with colorful imagery that makes a reader feel that she's on site," the judges wrote. "At the Vineyard Gazette, evocative writing is still considered high art, and nearly every story shines with the joy of a simple tale told well. That's what makes the Vineyard Gazette 'Newspaper of the Year' for 2001."

At the annual NEPA awards dinner held Feb. 9 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, the Gazette captured 17 awards for excellence in journalism, including 10 first-place awards that spanned a wide range of categories in both editorial and advertising. Among other things, the newspaper won first-place honors for general excellence, best editorial page, best editorial writer and best advertising campaign.

In the comments accompanying the general excellence award, judges wrote: "Great cover pictures and diversity of news. The front page tells you clearly where you are. An excellent connection to the community. Editorials are strong, fierce and lyrical. Beautiful, easy to read ads. An excellent looking paper."

Gazette staff writer Chris Burrell won special accolades from the judges, who gave him first place honors for three stories and an honorable mention for a fourth. Mr. Burrell won first place for health reporting for his series of stories on tularemia last year; he won first place in investigative reporting for a series of stories about a tragic car crash that killed a high-school senior; and he won first place in education reporting for a series of stories on teen behavior at the high school.

About Mr. Burrell's investigative series, one judge wrote: "Textbook example of how to follow up on a story; even a basic car crash. Reporter's inquiries, in my mind, probably contributed to the intensity of the police investigation. Great series!"

About the series on teens, judges wrote: "In compelling-written stories backed by editorials, Chris Burrell engaged readers in a way that made the problems and efforts to solve them part of a wide-ranging discussion."

Mr. Burrell also won honorable mention in the human interest feature story category for a story he wrote about Jimmy Burgoff.

Gazette news editor Nis Kildegaard captured a first-place award in the category of best editorial writer. This award is given not for an individual editorial, but for a selection of work over the span of the year.

"The farmers/poets edit is a welcome, Cassandra-like voice in a climate that values the 'quick buck' above all. Lovely writing," the judges wrote.

In the comments accompanying the first-place award for best editorial page, the judges wrote: "These editorial pages are classic. We get a broad variety, nice photo, cartoon, signed pieces and good community involvement in letters. Strong editorial gives the paper oomph!"

In other editorial awards, Gazette senior writer Julia Wells won second place in transportation reporting for a series of stories about the Steamship Authority task force hearings last year. Gazette reporter Mandy Locke won honorable mention in reporting on religious issues for a story about an emerging Brazilian church on the Vineyard. "A congregation looking for a new home for its church, a simple story beautifully done," the judges wrote.

The Gazette also won a second-place award for a special section it published last spring with comprehensive coverage of Census 2000, and the paper won honorable mention for its web site.

The judges gave special recognition to the Gazette for excellence in advertising, including first place for an advertising campaign sponsored by The Nature Conservancy intended to promote conservation awareness. The Gazette won first place in the business directory category for a health and fitness directory the paper launched last spring. The paper also won first and second place in the self-promotional category for two circulation promotion ads, and it won second place for general excellence in advertising.

"Great ads. No matter how large or small, each one is distinctive and demanding. Wonderful use of graphics and typography, white space and clever headlines. Ads become an integral part of the newspaper and serve the readers well. Bravo! P.S. Dynamic house ads," the judges wrote.

Gazette editor Richard Reston said this week: "To be named once again the best community newspaper in New England is an honor and a tribute to the Gazette staff's commitment to journalistic excellence. The prizes this year cover every area of Gazette operations, from news reporting to editorial pages to advertising. A good newspaper reflects the community it serves, and these awards thus are shared equally by the Vineyard public."

The Martha's Vineyard Times, a weekly newspaper that is published in Vineyard Haven and circulated free, also won a number of awards this year, including two awards for sports writing, one award for environmental reporting, five awards for photography and illustration, one award for editorial writing, one award for editorial page and two advertising awards.

The NEPA convention includes two days of seminars for journalists. It is the largest regional press convention in the country. This year there were more than 5,000 entries from some 300 newspapers in the annual newspaper competition. Judging was done by the New York Newspaper Association.

The late George A. Speers was an English professor who developed the journalism program at Northeastern University. Mr. Speers was the first executive director of NEPA when it was founded in 1950.