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Paynesville Press - Sept, 25,2002

Press' series wins national award

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

That the Paynesville Press's four-part series chronicling their daughter's death after a 12-year eating disorder has won another award thrills Bill and Kris Henderson.

"I think this is awesome," said Kris, whose daughter, Heather, died in September 2000 after a 12-year struggle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Despite the pain, the Henderson family decided immediately to use her death to fight the very disease that had killed her.

Her story has been told in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in the Duluth News-Tribune, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and in the Paynesville Press, her hometown newspaper, where Heather interned for two summers during college.

The series - written by editor Michael Jacobson, who went to high school and worked with Henderson as a cub reporter - was awarded third place in the National Newspaper Association's (NNA) Better Newspaper Contest in the category of best investigative or in-depth series in the non-daily division, circulation under 6,000.

The award was presented at the NNA's national conference in Portland, Oregon, in September.

"The series wouldn't have been possible without the support and cooperation of Heather's family." said Jacobson. Their decision to share details of their ordeal and to use her death to continue her fight against eating disorders made the series possible. Not everyone would have the the courage to share the details of such a hard-fought and tragic struggle."

"I feel lucky that I was the messenger of Heather's story," he added. When he found out in August that the series had won, the only people he called to tell were Kris and Bill.

"I'm glad Michael's getting recognition for putting Heather's story into words," said Kris. She also thinks the timing is good for remembering Heather, since Friday (Sept. 27) is the second anniversary of her death.

"Mike cared about Heather and our work," said Kris.

Since Heather's death, Kris and Bill have been vocal proponents for better health care for victims of eating disorders and have become very active in Dads and Daughters, an organization that encourages strong bonds between fathers and their daughters and helps fathers promote healthy body images in their daughters. Heather, who was an original employee of Dads and Daughters, worked tirelessly to get the organization going.

It is the Press's first national award since 1983, when the paper earned honorable mentions in two categories. It matches the Press's highest award ever in a national competition. The Press earned a third place award in typography in 1982, along with another honorable mention.

The Press's four-part series, which was published in January and February 2001, had previously won first place in the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Conference in the category of best human interest story.

Although Jacobson was pleased with the state award, he had hoped the series might be recognized for the social issues it addressed. He submitted the series to the NNA for the contest last spring,

Jacobson said he doesn't usually submit material for contests unless he thinks they're really good. "I knew this was good because I've gotten more comments about this story than any other in my six years at the Press," he said. "It's satisfying to be recognized for writing one of the best series in the nation. Heather was a dear friend. I used extra care to make her story come to life."

Publisher Lynne Jacobson said she encouraged Michael to enter the series in the contest. Interest in the series is still high, she added. She still gets Internet requests for the stories from all over the country.

The contest was judged by NNA members nationwide with expertise in the subject area they judged, said an NNA representative. There were a total of 2,847 entries from more than 300 newspapers in the country. This year, only ten newspapers from Minnesota won national awards.

In the category of investigative or in-depth series, there were 30 entries. First place in the category was Julie Webb of the Jasper Newsboy in Jasper, Texas. Second place was Beth Young, Pamela Thiele, and Jonathan Peters of the Sag Harbor Express in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

There were also three honorable mentions awarded in the category, which indicated a high level of competition, said publisher Peter Jacobson. "We competed with newspapers with circulation of up to 6,000. Some of those papers are in towns of 10,000 or more," he added. "I'm proud of Mike and the work he did, and I'm proud we could win in such a large venue."

Heather's story is still available online at Dads and Daughters has also made the series available at

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