The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram were awarded the top prizes for general excellence and two of their staff members were named journalist and advertising person of the year at the annual Maine Press Association awards Saturday evening.

The newspapers won 39 awards, including first place in several photo, advertising, news and opinion categories.

Randy Billings

Randy Billings, who covers Portland City Hall for the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, was named the association’s Journalist of the Year. Billings was lauded for his persistent watch-dog reporting on city politics and policies, housing and restaurant safety, homelessness and the travails of asylum seekers reaching Maine, among many other stories.

Billing’s February story that explained the web of secrecy around law enforcement’s use of advanced monitoring technology that sparked legislation for more transparency won first place in the analysis category. During the fraught early days of the pandemic last spring, Billings reported on racial disparity in COVID-19 cases and the causes of delays and headaches for Mainers trying to access the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“Maine and especially Portland is lucky to have Randy Billings watching,” said Press Herald Metro Editor John Richardson.

Joanne Alfiero, an advertising account executive at the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, won the association’s Advertising Person of the Year award. Alfiero is an undaunted worker who goes above and beyond to help the company, her clients and her colleagues, said Director of Advertising DJ Martin.

“If there is something in the office or someone who needs help, tonight’s winner is the first to assist,” Martin said.

First place photo prizes were awarded to Press Herald/Sunday Telegram photographers Ben McCanna and Gregory Rec. The newspapers’ reporters racked up five first place awards for their journalism, including Rob Wolfe for his story about the treacherous journey asylum seekers from central Africa take to reach Maine, Eric Russell for his reporting on how state agencies nearly took a sick young boy away from his family, and business reporter Penelope Overton’s story about the growth of cannabis retailers on Route 1.

Centralmaine.com won first place for best daily newspaper website in the state.

The Maine Press Association, established in 1864, holds an annual conference and awards ceremony. This year the event was held virtually because large gatherings pose unacceptable health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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