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BATON ROUGE — American Press staff writer Marlisa Harding won the coveted Freedom of Information Award during the annual Louisiana Press Association's Better Newspaper Competition for her articles announcing a new plant to the area would receive $2.8 billion in public subsidies over 10 years, the biggest subsidy ever approved by a state or local government. The award was among 16 total awards the American Press staff won during the competition.

"This series of stories clearly had an impact on a matter of continuing public importance and helped to educate the readers on the role of open meetings laws in ensuring transparency in government," the LPA wrote in announcing Harding's win.

"The paper discovered that, even before the vote on the subsidy, the company had purchased the land for the plant, suggesting that a huge incentive was not necessary," the news release continues. "Incredibly, the subsidy received no public attention until reporter Marlisa Harding wondered why that was and dove into the complex issue of industrial tax incentives. She and the newspaper repeatedly pointed out — in the headline of the initial story, for example — that a back-door decision of this sort violates the state's open-meetings laws. In fact, within 48 hours, more than 1,000 citizens had signed a petition challenging the way the decision had been made. One of many other reactions: The parish has capped exemptions at a lower amount."

Harding also received second place in the investigative reporting division for the same series.

American Press photographer Rick Hickman won six awards in the competition, including three firsts. He won first and second place in best news photo category; first and second place in best photo package; first place in best feature photo; and second place in best sports photo.

Digital content coordinator Heather Mulkey won first place in the best website category, an award the newspaper has now received two consecutive years, and second place in the best web project category for the Top Pick Prep Awards package.

Sports editor Scooter Hobbs won first place for best sports column and sports writer David Berry, who covers McNeese State University, received second place for best sports story on the Cowboys deploying two quarterbacks.

Retired editor Jim Beam received second place in the regular column category and the American Press advertising staff received second place in the special section category for their Rodeo Days preview.

Design editor Donna Price received third place in the layout and design category and third place in feature photo.

The American Press competes in Division I against The Advocate (Baton Rouge), Daily Advertiser (Lafayette), News Star (Monroe), The New Orleans Advocate, The Times-Picayne (New Orleans) and The Times (Shreveport.) This year's entries were judged by volunteers with the Nebraska Press Association.

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