The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists recognized Andrew Graham (left) and Dustin Bleizeffer (right) for a series on coal-industry layoffs in Gillette. It recognized reporter Angus Thuermer (center) for news feature writing about the death of a Jackson alpinist.

The Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized three WyoFile reporters with awards in its annual Top of the Rockies competition.

Judges awarded first place in investigative/enterprise reporting to Andrew Graham and Dustin Bleizeffer for a series on coal-industry layoffs in Gillette. It recognized reporter Angus Thuermer with a first-place award for news feature writing for a story about the death of Jackson alpinist Kim Schmitz.

The awards illustrate the important role WyoFile plays in the state and region said Anne MacKinnon, president of WyoFile’s board of directors.

“The recognitions demonstrate our nonprofit’s commitment to covering important issues in depth across the Equality State,” she said. “They also highlight reporters’ talents and remind us that we owe our readers and supporters top-notch work.”

The contest was open to journalists in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, regardless of their affiliation with the society. It grew from a Colorado-only contest in 2009 to ensure a more competitive field and now accepts a range of entries in print and magazines, online journalism, radio and television.

Graham and Bleizeffer’s work won in a category that called for work on one topic “that demonstrates exceptional enterprise or investigative effort.” WyoFile stationed Graham in Gillette for three months to report on the challenges the city faced after coal mines announced layoffs last spring.

“Embedding a reporter in a town pays off with thoughtful, in-depth reports from people at all levels of the town, and the mix of national and state data with how it will impact this local area is effective due to the strong reporting and writing,” judges wrote. WyoFile competed in the print category, as opposed to broadcast news, in a circulation class of less than 10,000, based on its free newsletter subscriptions.

Thuermer’s story, titled “The last hours of a legendary Wyoming alpinist,” won in a category that included profiles, analysis, and other news stories written in a feature format.

Kim Schmitz is seen before his last wilderness adventure while in a bush plane during a flight to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. He died on the banks of the Salmon River a few days later. (Bruce Hayse)

“The writer gives readers a strong enough feel for Kim Schmitz that we know what a tough person he was, and how even his last hours reflected the tenacity of his active life,” Judges said. “From a [lead] that draws us right in to showing the man’s grit in the whitewater adventure, the writer displays an adept use of details and narrative to give us a comprehensive look at this fascinating life. We focus on that, and not necessarily his death, which he’s also able to connect to a consistency in how he lived.”

Below are links to the Graham and Bleizeffer’s stories about Gillette and the coal collapse.


Bleizeffer: Black Thursday: Layoffs hit 500 Wyoming coal miners

Graham: Six months after Black Thursday, Gillette bent not broken

Graham: For Wyoming’s coal future, a Gillette senator looks to the past

Graham: Gillette hopes Trump puts coal in Christmas stockings

Graham: Energy markets make Trump’s promise a challenge

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  1. Congratulations to Mr. Graham, Mr. Bleizeffer, and Mr. Thuermer, and thank you to everyone at WyoFile for bringing world-class reporting to us in Wyoming! Thank you, Ms. MacKinnon for your vision and dedication to excellence in regional journalism in our challenging times. We agree that WyoFile plays a crucial role in sustaining democracy in the Equality State!