Yancey County is located in the mountainous western stretch of North Carolina, about 45 minutes from Asheville. The county’s population is less than 18,000, and yet it has two local papers to serve it: the Yancey Common Times Journal, which has been in publication more than a hundred years, and the “other” newspaper, the Yancey County News, founded in 2011. The paper’s masthead lists only two people—husband and wife Jonathan and Susan Austin—but nevertheless, its first year out, the Yancey County News has won two major journalism awards, the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism.
The prizes were both awarded for stories reporting on corruption in the county’s official channels. In one series, the paper revealed that the county’s deputy-sheriff had pawned county-owned firearms for personal gain; another series uncovered absentee ballot fraud, voter coercion, and voter anonymity rights violations in the county. Juries for both awards recognized not only the quality of the reporting, but the extraordinary efforts necessary to get such reporting done in a paper’s first year of existence.
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