The Portland Press Herald won the general excellence award for daily papers in the 2011 Maine Press Association Better Newspaper Contest on Saturday.

The news staff of The Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram won 50 other awards, including 20 first-place honors, at the association’s fall conference.

“We’re flattered and honored that the judges thought we were the best daily newspaper in the state, and that they recognized so many of our writers, photographers, artists and editors with awards,” said Vice President and Executive Editor Scott Wasser. “But — and I’ve said this before — I’ve known all along how much talent we have at The Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and as nice as it is to be recognized by your peers, it’s even more rewarding to work with those people every day.”

The honors came after MaineToday Media, the owner of the papers, announced layoffs due to the poor economy and declining advertising revenue.

“It is difficult to celebrate awards of any kind a day after announcing layoffs at our newspapers but we are proud of our journalists, our journalism and all of those who support that journalism — our ad staff, production co-workers, our pressmen, and finally those who deliver online and our print products,” said Richard L. Connor, MaineToday Media CEO and the papers’ editor and publisher.

First-place awards went to Trevor Maxwell for weekend investigative reporting; John Richardson for analysis and weekend health story; Tux Turkel for weekend business reporting; Kelley Bouchard for weekend education reporting; Richard L. Connor for weekend column; Bill Nemitz for daily column; Bob Keyes for weekend critic’s award; Brian Robitaille for weekend front page design; Bill Thompson for weekend editorial; Steve Solloway for weekend sports column; Rachel Lenzi for weekend sports feature; Michael Fisher for illustration; John Patriquin for daily/weekend scenic photo; Gregory Rec for daily/weekend feature photo; and Suzi Piker for online project. The papers also won first place for weekend feature section, daily feature section, weekend editorial page, and weekend sports section.

The papers won second-place honors for daily investigative reporting; analysis; weekend business reporting; weekend health story; daily column; weekend critic’s award; weekend feature story; daily feature; weekend front page design; weekend editorial; weekend sports feature; daily/weekend picture story; online project and multi-media presentation.

Third-place awards were for daily investigative reporting; daily news story; weekend business reporting; continuing story; daily arts/lifestyle feature; weekend critic’s award; weekend feature headline; daily specialty page design; daily editorial; weekend sports feature; weekend graphic; daily/weekend news photo; daily/weekend feature photo; daily/weekend people photo and website.