EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram was honored Friday with 24 awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation’s annual Better Newspaper Contest, including 11 first place finishes and honors for general excellence.

The haul was an increase on last year’s already impressive 20 awards. The Leader-Telegram competes in Group B for daily newspapers, the category for circulations above 6,000 but below 15,000, and took the award for the best paper in the category.

Publisher Randy Rickman said the general excellence nod in particular pointed to the success of multiple departments and teams within the Leader-Telegram pulling together to produce a strong newspaper, an effort that meant overcoming disruptions and the crisis of a worldwide pandemic.

“This team stuck together, provided relevant content and information to our print and digital audiences, all produced, manufactured and delivered on time. It’s quite a feat in normal circumstances, even more impressive this past year,” he said.

Assistant Editor Liam Marlaire took first place for editorial writing for the second consecutive year for pieces that questioned proposals to defund police departments and criticizing political candidates for failing to acknowledge what Americans have in common. The paper’s opinion pages also brought home a second-place award.

Longtime photographer Dan Reiland continued the L-T’s tradition of strong photography, placing in seven categories. The wins included three first place and two second place awards. Reiland’s work covering tornado cleanup efforts, a care facility visit during COVID lockdown and a stunning image of the International Space Station transiting the sun all took top honors.

Eric Lindquist led the reporting staff with five awards, including first place for pieces on a possible wind energy development in southern Eau Claire County and for the remarkable story of two area men whose lifelong bond was reinforced when one donated a kidney to the other.

Sarah Seifert brought home first-place awards for stories on families dealing with being separated, ongoing coverage of the UW-Eau Claire’s response to racist social media posts by members of the university’s football team and for reporting on local education.

Seifert also shared a first place award with Andrew Dowd for breaking news coverage after the arrest of the former Altoona schools superintendent. Dowd, in turn, brought home second place for local government coverage.

Ryan Patterson took third place for feature stories.

Leader-Telegram columnists took first and second places for local columns. B.J. Hollars won for “Bouncing through quarantine,” while Patti See took second for “Get your blue mind on.” See also took first place for her column in The Country Today, which competes in the weekly newspapers division.

While most awards had single names on them, Rickman said the honors reflect the hard work everyone at the newspaper has done over the past year.

“We want each individual who won an award to get credit for their contribution, but it took everyone under this roof and the production facility, our distribution team and our audience, to earn the general excellence award,” he said.

The Leader-Telegram and The Country Today are owned by Adams Publishing Group.