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The Sunday Challenger

A Tribute to 'The Sunday Challenger'
For more information, e-mail me at tmitsoff@hotmail.com.

Members of The Sunday Challenger editorial staff who won 30 awards in the Kentucky Press Association's editorial excellence judging for 2005 include (front, l-r) Vicki Prichard and Dan Ackley; (second row) Michael Jennings and David Hermann; (standing) Lew Moores, Jason Feldmann, Tricia Suit, Tom Mitsoff, Trina Kinstler and Molly O'Connor.

COVINGTON, Ky. -- On Sunday, February 19, 2006, a great newspaper said farewell to its readers.

The Sunday Challenger, serving Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in Northern Kentucky, USA, since July 4, 2004, published and distributed its final edition that day. Facing what appeared to be at least another couple of years of financial losses, the owners decided that enough red ink was enough, and closed the publication down.

Many will ask, well, if the newspaper was so great, why did it close? It closed, in the simplest terms, because major advertisers could not be convinced that it was in their best interests to move their advertising dollars from the competing dailies and community newspapers, all owned by the Gannett company. In that respect, we lost, fair and square.

But in reporting the news and giving Northern Kentuckians a voice, we succeeded in a blaze of glory. In less than two years of actual publication--20 months to be exact--The Sunday Challenger won 47 awards from the Kentucky Press Association for journalism and presentation excellence, including first-place general excellence in our classification for both years.

While the affirmation and validation of our efforts by other professional journalists who judged the Kentucky contests was rewarding, so was the response from our readers. We had constant feedback from readers--by email, by phone, by postal mail. Most of it good, some occasionally critical. But we knew we were being read, and that we were making a difference.

So while this will be considered by most a blip on the screen in the history of newspaper journalism in Kentucky or Greater Cincinnati, I am creating a spot on this, my personal Web site, so that The Sunday Challenger will live on, at least in memory. Once the ChallengerNKY.com Web site with more than a million page views annually has been turned off, there will still be a place--at least in cyberspace--where the Challenger's legacy will be remembered.

Let me first thank the most talented and most dedicated staff of news professionals I have ever worked with, and perhaps ever will again: editors Michael Jennings, Tricia Suit, Larry Nager and Vicki Prichard; reporters Jason Feldmann, Lew Moores, Jeanne Houck, Amanda Van Benschoten and Jeff Fichner; a true star in his profession, cartoonist Dan Ackley; columnists Brian Patrick, Andy Furman, Tom Gamble and Marilyn Harris; design gurus David Hermann, Molly O'Connor, Trina Wieland and Will Siemer; and Trina Kinstler, who performed a combination of sports reporting and web-related functions for the Challenger.

What I will remember most about our last day in the office, Friday, Feb. 17, was Donald Then, the publisher, delivering the sad news at 1 p.m. that we were closing at the end of the day, and Trina Kinstler, despite being visibly shaken after being told--like most of the rest of the staff--that that was her last day, she stayed and finished her usual Friday afternoon duties. Trina made sure all of the stories that were in the upcoming Sunday paper had been posted to the Web site for publication early Sunday morning. I even told her I'd finish up for her, but she stayed on and finished. That captured the spirit and the dedication of The Sunday Challenger staff better than anything else I could have composed here.

Donald Then, who thought he let everyone down by not being able to turn the financial fortunes of the business around, should hold his head high, knowing that he gave his all and gave a group of unemployed or underemployed newspaper professionals a chance to prove what they could do. Everyone who leaves the Challenger does so having benefitted from the experience, and Don is to thank for that.

Thanks are also due to Bill Butler, Northern Kentucky businessman and civic leader who believed as long as 20 years ago that the region should have its own newspaper. Bill was willing to put his money where his mouth was, and even though the Challenger shut down, he achieved his goal of raising the level of attention that the media pays to Northern Kentucky. By responding to the competition we posed, the existing media now all know where Northern Kentucky is on the map and why they should pay attention to it. And that will serve the region's interests for years to come.

And as for me, I know that as I sit and write this on Sunday, February 19, that I am going to miss my colleagues tremendously. I am going to miss the talent and the professionalism. Thank you all for what you have meant to Northern Kentucky, and dare I say, what you have meant to me. I hope that leaving this tribute to what we accomplished as a team on the World Wide Web will give you something to show your friends, colleagues, and maybe even future employers, about what you accomplished here.

Here are some links to coverage about The Sunday Challenger in other media:

Business Courier: Finding a new voice
March 12, 2004

CityBeat: They don't rest on Sunday (column by Ben L. Kaufman)
August 4, 2004

RuralJournalism.org: Northern Kentucky developer creating own niche with free Sunday newspaper (research project by Jessica Fisher)
Fall 2005

BluegrassReport.org: Sunday Challenger to Close Doors Immediately
Feb. 18, 2006

Challenger freelance writer Howard McEwen's personal blog: Weekend Roundup
Feb. 19, 2006

Business Courier: N. Ky. Sunday paper folds
Feb. 20, 2006

Editor and Publisher: Kentucky Sunday-Only Paper Folds After 20 Months
CityBeat: Farewell to The Challenger (column by Ben L. Kaufman)
Feb. 22, 2006

Posted February 19, 2006
Revised July 27, 2008

Posted Feb. 24, 2007

Despite being closed by its owner in early 2006, The Sunday Challenger continued to be honored for excellence in journalism by the Kentucky Press Association.

In January of 2007, the KPA bestowed 16 awards on the publication which had ceased publishing 11 months prior. For the second time in three years, the Challenger gobbled up honors despite publishing for only six months of the one-year judging period from which the other newspapers had to choose and submit entries.

I no longer live or work in Northern Kentucky, but I do want to add this list to the permanent public record of achievements by the outstanding staff of The Sunday Challenger:

Best Editorial

Third place: Michael Jennings
Entry: "Approve the Men's Recovery Center Site," published Oct. 2, 2005
Judges' Comments: "Well argued and written challenge for leaders to overcome biases and approve recovery center."

Best Editorial Page

Third place: Dan Ackley
Entry: Jan. 1, Jan. 22 and Feb. 12, 2006
Judges' Comments: "This page has it all but a local columnist. That would be a huge plus."

Best Graphic

Third place: Dan Ackley
Entry: Cartoon of horse hitting the jackpot (with section front piece on expanded gaming), Feb. 19, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Graphic added a lot to this story."

Best Headline

Second place: Tricia Suit
Entry: "Separation of Church and Sports?" published Jan. 29, 2006

Best Sports Story

Second place: Vicki Prichard and Trina Kinstler
Entry: "Leveling the Field? Or Lowering the Bar?" Story on KHSAA consideration of separating private from public high schools for postseason competition, published Oct. 23, 2005.
Judges' Comments: "Good hard news story on an ongoing controversy."


First place: Vicki Prichard
Entry: "Hush No More," published Nov. 6, 2005.
Judges' Comments: "Great opening, draws reader right into the story, good detailed story, good use of sidebars."

Second place: Howard McEwen
Entry: "While Queen City Dawdled, NKY Took Action," story on how CVG airport wound up in Boone County, published Jan. 8, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Another great lead, pulls reader right in. Good detailed history of the airport."

Feature Story

First place: Sarah Eichenberger
Entry: "Doing It His Way," profile of restaurateur Jeff Ruby, published Jan. 8, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "You painted a picture of an unconventional, brass individual and made him appealing. The first few paragraphs drew me in and made me read more."

General News

First Place: Michael Jennings
Entry: "Judge Opens Sentencing of Juveniles," published Jan. 29, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Captivating story. Great descriptions. Good use of quotes. Additional sources given to the story."


First place: Jeff Fichner
Entry: "Disputed Election Raises Questions about MainStrasse," published Dec. 4, 2005
Judges' Comments: "Good investigative coverage of a controversial issue. Disagreeing voices were clearly heard."

Third place: Michael Jennings, Vicki Prichard, Trina Kinstler, Jeff Fichner
Entry: package on Title IX in high schools, published Nov. 27 and Dec. 4, 2005
Judges' Comments: "Excellent research and detail. Amount of material was overwhelming and seemed repetitive in spots.”

Ongoing/Extended Coverage

First Place: Jason Feldmann, Vicki Prichard, Lew Moores, Michael Jennings
Entry: "NKY's Top Challenges," published Jan. 15, Jan. 2, Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "The leads of these articles were generally short and simple, often using people to draw the reader into the rest of the story. Paragraphs are generally concise and simply written, with smooth transitions."

Second place: Michael Jennings, Vicki Prichard
Entry: stories on impact of school funding (and lack of it), published Oct. 9 and Dec. 18, 2005, and Jan. 29, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Leading paragraphs present conflicts in easy-to-follow manner. Articles clearly written for easy understanding."

Third place: Jason Feldmann, Vicki Prichard, Michael Jennings
Entry: ongoing coverage of efforts to authorize casinos at racetracks, published Nov. 6 and Dec. 18, 2005, and Feb. 19, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Articles on horse racetrack industry are informative. Good wrap-up paragraphs."

Sports Feature

Third place: Jeff Fichner
Entry: "Strong Faith Keeps Alexander Grounded," published Jan. 29, 2006
Judges' Comments: "I guess that unknown running back made a name for himself and the writer does a good job of telling how he did it."

Spot News Coverage

First Place: Jeanne Houck
Entry: "A Tragedy in Newport," stories on triple murder, published Jan. 1, 2006.
Judges' Comments: "Well-done account of triple murder. Could have been more informative about two high school students shot."

Congratulations to you all. I am so proud of all of you, and proud to have worked with such an outstanding and talented staff.

Updated May 26, 2008

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