By Mark Scheer, Mark.email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — As the hometown newspaper, the Niagara Gazette takes its share of shots from critics in the community.
From time to time, our staff reminds everyone that this newspaper is still capable of doing some pretty good work.
A couple of years ago, I couldn't have been more proud to learn that our own Nick Mattera (now living in Las Vegas), was named rookie-of-the-year reporter by the New York State Associated Press.
This year, I'm equally proud to tell everyone that the Niagara Gazette has earned two more top AP prizes — one for news coverage and another for photography.
Reporter Rick Pfeiffer earned a first place award in the Continuing Coverage category for his work on the inner workings of the SPCA of Niagara.
While he's not often credited in local media circles, Rick wrote the first two stories alluding to potential trouble inside the local SPCA. It wasn't long before other media outlets started to pick up on the story that eventually led to sweeping changes inside the organization following a scathing review of internal operations by the Erie County SPCA.
Today, there's a new director and a new board running the Lockport Road animal shelter.
The organization is moving in a different, and hopefully better, direction.
There's no doubt, Rick's work played a role in the changes.
He also showed a good deal of dedication on this one.
Rick reported on and wrote those first two stories on the SPCA of Niagara on the weekend leading into New Year's Day. He turned some strong tips into a pair of strong stories and did so when he should have been enjoying some time off.
He did a good job overall of sticking with the various twists and turns of the story as it continued through much of the first part of this year.
Overall, his work is appreciated and his honor is well deserved.
In the photography category, our longtime staff photographer Jim Neiss earned first place accolades as well.
His award, unfortunately, resulted from his on-the-spot coverage of a tragedy.
It was a chilly afternoon in February when a man walking with his dogs in Hyde Park attempted to coral one of his dogs who had wandered onto the ice-covered Hyde Park Lake. The ice didn't hold and the man fell in.
Jim happened to be just around the corner when he heard the rescue call come over the police scanner.
He arrived on the scene as a group of Niagara Falls firefighters — led by Battalion Chief Dan Boland and fire Capt. Jason Zona — were attempting to pull the victim, 70-year-old Pascal Scrufari, to safety.
As is the case with any outstanding photo, Jim's front-page shot captured the full range of emotions surrounding the dramatic scene.
To be clear: In acknowledging Jim's accomplishment we in no way mean to diminish the loss of Scrufari's life or its impact on his family.
Jim had no idea of knowing as he took the pictures whether or not the rescue effort would be successful.
He did what he's paid to do: Capture the event as it unfolded.
In this case, he was acknowledged by his peers in the state for doing so in a memorable way.
With mugs of Rick Pfeiffer and James Niess - no explainers
Mark Scheer is the city editor at the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at 282-2311, ext. 2250.