Sawyer Loftus earned the Bob Drake Young Writer’s Award, while the BDN won several first-place honors for content produced between April 2021 and March 2022.
BDN reporter Sawyer Loftus won the Bob Drake Young Writer’s Award in the Maine Press Association's 2022 Better Newspaper Contest. Credit: File / BDN

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Bangor Daily News won the statewide award for print excellence in the daily newspaper category, and a reporter received the top honor for young journalists Saturday during the Maine Press Association’s annual conference.

Members of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, who judged the contest,  praised the BDN for its focus on Maine news presented consistently well.

“What impressed us most were the all-local front pages, all-local bylines and stories that not only report the news, but give readers insight, and context,” contest judges wrote of the Bangor Daily News. “The Daily News series ‘Unguarded’ on Maine Army National Guard and sexual misconduct was well sourced, detailed and compelling.”

Mike Dowd, the BDN’s director of print operations, accepted the award during the banquet at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Event Center.

“A lot of hard-working reporters, editors, photographers, page designers and advertising representatives earned this recognition,” Dowd said. “It’s a tribute to the great journalism produced by managing editor Dan MacLeod’s newsroom team and the design talents of our Print Desk led by Travis Gass.”

Sawyer Loftus, who covers the University of Maine System and regional news in the Bangor area, earned the Bob Drake Young Writer’s Award, which recognizes journalists with three years of professional experience or less.

The BDN also took home several first-place honors for stories, photos and videos its news staff produced from April 2021 through March 2022, as well as several advertising and opinion awards. The Maine Focus team won top investigative report for its 2021 series with the Portland Press Herald about misconduct in the Maine State Police. Judy Harrison was honored for her review of Monmouth theater’s “Sofonisba.” Troy R. Bennett won awards for two videos: a profile of the state’s only official Cowboy Action Shooting club, and an Old Orchard Beach Christmas tree bonfire. Photographer Linda Coan O’Kresik won for a photo she made during the coverage of the funeral of Hancock County Deputy Luke Gross.

Loftus, who joined the BDN in 2021 after graduating from the University of Vermont, took home the honor for his coverage of the University of Maine System and the business dealings of a Bangor-area man who became the first Mainer accused of defrauding a federal pandemic-era business loan program.

Loftus was the first Maine journalist to report that Michael Laliberte, who had been hired to lead the University of Maine at Augusta, had been the subject of a no-confidence vote from professors at the New York institution he was leaving.

He also revealed that the system trustee leading the UMA search had withheld information about the no-confidence vote from fellow committee members, in violation of a code of ethics he signed.

The revelations were instrumental in prompting votes of no confidence against University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy and Laliberte’s withdrawal from the UMA presidency.

Loftus’ work over the past year has also unraveled the business empire of Nathan Reardon, which includes dozens of companies, a trail of debt to nearly 100 former employees and $100,000 in fines for labor violations. Reardon pleaded guilty in July to defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Loftus’ reporting also exposed that Reardon sought federal rent relief funds as a landlord when his bail conditions prohibited him from doing so. Reardon was arrested on a bail violation the day after that report.

“His work has made a difference in people’s lives, held public officials and institutions accountable, and ensured that more government operations take place in the open,” Matthew Stone, the BDN’s city editor, said in nominating Loftus for the honor. “Sawyer’s work exemplifies why local reporting is so important.”

Before joining the BDN, Loftus worked at Vermont Public Radio, the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press and VTDigger. He also served as editor-in-chief of the University of Vermont student newspaper, the Vermont Cynic.

“We’re so proud of our hard-working and talented journalists, who are devoted to telling the stories of Mainers and uncovering crucial information that would otherwise stay hidden,” said MacLeod, the BDN’s managing editor. “Sawyer’s exemplary work has been a highlight of a tremendous year of local journalism from our statewide staff.”