THE South Gippsland Sentinel-Times has taken out the Victorian Country Press Association’s ‘Overall Newspaper Excellence Award for COVID-19 Coverage’ in the over 4000 circulation category.

The newspaper submitted several pages from its editions in March to June, including a front-page story by journalist Shelby Brooks titled ‘Hospital braces for coronavirus’, as well as a two-page ‘We’re Open’ feature which was “well-presented and well-supported”, judge Patrick Elligett said. The feature was designed by Sentinel-Times production manager Anna Carson.

“The Sentinel-Times’ submission was notable for its first-class editorial content,” Mr Elligett said.

“It was informative, creative and told readers things they could only find out from a team of local reporters fossicking for new information.

“In addition to conveying the necessary essential information on coronavirus restrictions to readers, the Sentinel-Times continued to serve up a great mix of stories despite the considerable newsgathering challenges of the pandemic.

“Its coverage spanned several different sectors of the community, creating an appealing proposition for a broad demographic.

“The heavier stuff was written for maximum impact, but there was plenty of light to go with the shade.

“It is worth mentioning here that like most of the top entries in this category, the Sentinel-Times’ content was not entirely about COVID-19. While that is something readers have craved throughout lockdown, it’s difficult to achieve and requires a deliberate effort from the newsroom.

“This publication was quick to implement a great local advertising campaign to allow businesses to let the public know they were open for business, albeit under unusual circumstances.

“The ‘We’re Open’ feature for the hair and beauty industry was both well-presented and well-supported, demonstrating the paper had identified a genuine need in the market. The standard of photography was high, yet no picture bylines were added, suggesting reporting staff have been well trained in multimedia journalism. Advertising support appeared strong in the samples offered.

“Innovation was also evident with the addition of digital tactics to ensure the newspaper could continue to reach readers in its traditional form,” he said of the newspaper’s digital edition, which was inititated by advertising manager Holly McMaster.

“A modern rethink of layout and design should be considered to better showcase some of the newspaper’s excellent editorial and photographic work and draw attention to advertisements.

“Overall, readers of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times have been well served by an excellent local newspaper throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Elligett said.