The Observer and LIVE Lee Magazine brought home 33 awards in the annual Alabama Press Association Media Awards contest. 

For the second year in a row, The Observer earned top honors by earning the Division D General Excellence award and the Most Improved award. 

“I am just blown away by these awards,” said Michelle Key, owner and publisher of The Observer. “The talent of the individuals that work here is just incredible. I am blessed to have the honor to work alongside them every day. God has blessed me with a great staff and I am thankful for them every day.”

There are three components to the contest: editorial, advertising and magazine. The Observer and LIVE Lee brought home first-place awards in all three categories for a total of 14. Additionally, the two publications earned 19 second- and third-place awards. Magazine — which is only three years old — earned five awards, and the newly-launched podcast, The Lee County Listener, brought home one. Sam DiChiara, one of the podcast hosts, was in attendance at the ceremony representing both The Observer and LIVE Lee. 

“Attending the APA awards ceremony was an honor, and a blast,” DiChiara said. “I got to meet journalists from all over the state and soak in the excitement in the room. Seeing the results of the competitions announced was fun, especially since The Observer won so many. It made me even more proud of all the people I work with to see the prestige our paper projects in Alabama.”

Key Media’s staff photographer, Robert Noles, had several photographs that were used in award-winning entries. He also won the Best News Photo for his photograph taken during the memorial event for the March 3, 2019, tornado victims. 

“It is an honor to be recognized by my peers for my photography work,” Noles said. “It is a greater honor to serve the people of Lee County, and thank you to everyone that allows me to photograph their events and the courtesy they give me and The Observer in recording and covering their stories.”

John Hillsman, one of the photographers that often takes photographs for The Observer, said that he was shocked that his photos had won an award.

“To say that I was shocked when I received the telephone call from Michelle that my photos, taken during multiple performances of the East Alabama Community Ballet’s 2022 production of the Nutcracker that she assembled into a photo essay, had been awarded a first place honor from the Alabama Press Association for the second consecutive year is an understatement,” Hillsman said. “I am most humbled to have my work receive this prestigious recognition. Most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to have my photos published in both [The] Observer and LIVE Lee Magazine. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to be a small part of the outstanding and enduring accomplishments being made by all facets of the Key Media team.”

Staff writer Kendyl Hollingsworth had two magazine features that won first-place awards. 

“I was so excited to learn that two of my magazine pieces earned first-place awards,” Hollingsworth said. “I have had so much fun sharing these stories with our readers, and to receive statewide recognition for them was just the cherry on top.”

Key also said she recognizes that it is the people within the organization that make these awards possible. 

“I feel like we are well-rounded in the awards that we won,” Key said. “We placed well in almost all aspects of the contest, winning awards for our editorial pieces, our photography, our advertising, the podcast, the use of social media, our website and our design and layout work. We compete against some really great newspapers in our division and it is truly a team effort, and without the people within our organization working hard and bringing their best to the table every day, these awards would not happen. 

“It was unexpected but I was excited to win the Most Improved award again this year; it means that my staff is continuing to look for ways to make The Observer better year after year.”

First-place awards: Editorial 

• General Excellence

• Most Improved

• Best Website

• Best Layout and Design

• Best Editorial for “Tenacious Wise Men” by Greg Markley

• Best Humorous Column for “Turkey is Dead, Santa is too Skinny” by Wendy Hodge

• Best Sports News In-depth Coverage for “Media Days” by Wil Crews, Harrison Tarr, Jake Gonzales and Justin Trausch

• Best Local Sports Column for “One Night in Pearlville” by Harrision Tarr

• Best News Photo for “We Remember” by Robert Noles

• Best Photo Essay for “Dancers Dazzle” by John Hillsman

• Best Use of Graphics or Illustration for “Election Undetermined” by Michelle Key

First-place awards: Magazine 

Best Personality Profile “Merry and Bright” by Kendyl Hollingsworth

• Best Travel Feature for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Kendyl Hollingsworth

First-place awards: Advertising

Best Classified Display Ad for “Hanwha’s Hiring” by Michelle Key

Second-place awards: Editorial

• Best Lifestyle /Famly Pages

• Most Humorous Column for “Intervention” by Wendy Hodge

• Best Human Interest Column for “My Mother’s Hands” by Wendy Hodge

• Best Editorial Column for “Heart Surgery and Lewis Grizzard” by Greg Markley

• Best Sports News In-depth Coverage for “Spring Sports” by Wil Crews and staff

• Best Use of Graphics or Illustrations for “Sno*Pelika” by Michelle Key and Robert Noles

• Best Creative Use of Multi-media for “Ali Rauch from Chamber of Commerce Sits Down with The Lee County Listener”

• Best Use of Social Media

Second-place awards: Magazine

Best Advertising Campagin for “Glynn Smith Chevrolet” by Michelle Key

Second-place awards: Advertising

• Best One-time Special Section for “OHS Awards” by Michelle Key

Third-place awards: Editorial

• Best Local Economic Coverage

• Best Use of Photographs and Editorial Content

• Best Spot News Photo for “March to Stop Child Abuse” by Robert Noles

• Best Photo Essay for “Auburn Keeps Rollin” by Michelle Key and Alex Newell

• Best Use of Graphics or Illustration for “OPD Spreads Love” by Michelle Key and Robert Noles

• Best Use of Video – Longer than two minutes for “OMS Threats Press Conference” by Kendyl Hollingsworth

• Best Production and Printing 

Third-place awards: Magazine

• Best Single Feature Story “Crafting Something Good” by Hannah Goldfinger

• Best Cover Photo for “A Year to Remember” by John Pyles, Hannah Goldfinger and Michelle Key.  

This photo, taken by Robert Noles at a memorial service honoring the March 2019 tornado victims, won a first-place award for Best News Photo in this year’s APA contest.  Pictured  in the center, lighting a candle, is one of the tornado survivors, Kayla Grimes.