Niagara Gazette — Two prestigious news organizations have recognized the work of a pair of Niagara Gazette newsroom staffers with top awards.
Both reporter Rick Pfeiffer and photographer James Neiss will receive first-place honors on Wednesday from the New York State Associated Press Association.
Pfeiffer was cited for his work in uncovering mismanagement at the SPCA of Niagara while Neiss was recognized for his photo detailing an icy rescue at Hyde Park Lake.
In addition, Neiss’ photo was awarded top honors in the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2012 photo contest. The Gazette is published by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., based in Montgomery, Ala.
“The awards speak to the quality of our newsroom staff,” said Gazette Publisher Peter Mio. “It's great to see them recognized by their peers.”
Neiss was recognized with first-place honors in the spot news category, as well as the overall grand prize for a photo depicting the efforts of Falls emergency responders who tried to rescue a man who fell through the icy waters and died trying to rescue one of his dogs. Judges commented on the tension shown in the expressions of the rescuers, as well as on the presence of the dead man's dog, which was holding the man's gloves in his mouth.
Judges said of this photo: "The dramatic scene unfolding in its simplicity is poignant and draws the reader's attention to details that make this a great news photograph. The stretched out firefighter, the owner's glove in the mouth of a sad dog, even the body language of the rescue team itself, with water splashing in the foreground and police looking on, make this a very complicated and three-dimensional photo."
Another judge said: "The spot news photo is No. 1. Hands down! The glove in the one dog's mouth — that just broke my heart."
Gazette Managing Editor Matt Winterhalter isn't surprised by the photo’s reaction.
“We knew it was a special photo when Jim came back from the rescue,” Winterhalter said. “The dog waiting by the water's edge with the man's glove in his mouth is an amazing image. The image took on added significance later when we found out the man had not survived the ordeal.”
Pfeiffer began investigating allegations of mismanagement and maltreatment of the animals at the SPCA of Niagara back in October of 2011.
He broke the story on Jan. 1 of this year and it ignited a firestorm in the community. The series of stories eventually led to an investigation by the Erie County SPCA, which released a scathing report on the Niagara facility. Former Executive Director John Faso was fired and the entire board of directors was later replaced.
Operations at the SPCA of Niagara have now improved with a new board and new Executive Director Amy Lewis.
“It's great to see Rick Pfeiffer recognized for his hard work and dedication,” said Winterhalter, “but I think he'd tell you, and all of us at the Gazette agree, that having a hand in getting the SPCA of Niagara back on track is the real reward here.”
With mugs of Rick Pfeiffer and James Neiss