The Vineyard Gazette won 27 awards in the annual New England Better Newspaper Contest this year, including general excellence, the top prize awarded in the winter contest for small newspapers for 2011. “An outstanding, fascinating weekly newspaper. Superb newspaper writing. It should be studied in journalism classes on community newspapers,” judges wrote.

The awards were presented at the winter convention of the New England Newspaper and Press Association held in Boston last weekend. The Gazette won 12 first-place awards, six in editorial and six in advertising.

“The judges that really matter are our readers and advertisers, who understand that the Gazette holds itself to high standards,” said publisher Jane Seagrave. “But it’s gratifying to have outsiders recognize and honor the consistently fine work of our staff on both the editorial and business sides. We’re delighted by this affirmation.”

In addition to the general excellence award, first place awards in the editorial categories went to the newspaper staff for a general news story for its May 2011 package about the U.S. Census and changing population trends; reporter Peter Brannen took first place in government reporting for his stories last year on the Oak Bluffs financial crisis; reporter Ivy Ashe took first place in sports writing for her story last spring about the boys’ high school tennis team; correspondent Rachel Rohr won first place in the history category for her story about Tiffany Smalley’s graduation from Harvard; and first place went to Stephen Durkee, the newspaper’s director of graphics and design, for editorial and commentary page.

In promotion and advertising, the newspaper won first place in six separate categories: ad sales incentive program; digital promotion, for the Gazette’s summer web video contest; local black and white ad, for a Vineyard Decorators advertisement; special section promotion, for a Vineyard Homes color supplement; specialty publication, for a series of newspaper ads promoting Martha’s Vineyard Magazine; and subscription campaign, for an ad campaign that highlighted the benefits of subscribing to the paper, including the offer of a Peter Simon calendar for multi-year subscribers. “Classic and uncluttered,” the judges wrote in one entry about the Gazette ads.

Other editorial awards included: second place in environmental reporting; second place in health reporting; third place in racial and ethnic reporting; third place for a food page; and second place in the special award category for the story about the sale of the Gazette to new owners.

Other promotion and advertising awards included second place for an ad campaign, second place for an ad supplement, second place for audience building promotion, third place for a color ad, and third place for a newspaper-sponsored event.

Gazette photographers won four awards for their work: Peter Simon took third place in the feature photo category for a picture of a child and a wreath taken at Christmastime; Mark Lovewell took third place in the photo series category for his pictures of the fishing veterans in the derby; Sam Low took third place in the spot news category for his picture of a small plane making an emergency landing on Beach Road last winter; and Albert Fischer took second place in the pictorial category for a picture of a bird on scallop shells that ran on the front page last year.

There were nearly 3,000 entries in the contest from small weekly and daily newspapers in the six-state New England region.