OLYMPIA — Chinook Observer staff and freelancers won 16 awards in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2016 – 2017 “Better Newspapers” contest. These awards included a first-ever top prize in the “General Excellence” category, in which newspapers of similar circulation size compete to win honors for the overall quality of the publication.

“We’re often in the top three, but were starting to wonder if there was a jinx on the top spot,” editor and publisher Matt Winters said. “I’m proud the Chinook Observer is recognized as the best publication of its size in Washington state this year. It’s a serious tribute to a talented staff, but also to our unique communities that have supported us for 117 years by buying the paper and advertising.”

The annual WNPA contest is a chance for non-daily papers across Washington state to compete in a variety of writing, photography, editorial content, advertising and design categories. The contest covered work published between April 2016 and March 2017.

WNPA representatives announced winners during the annual WNPA convention awards dinner in Olympia on Oct. 13. In all, local honors included six first-place awards, five second-place awards and five third-place awards. Because entries were due during a busy news week, the Observer submitted about half the usual number of entries.

Reporter Amy Nile took first place in “Best Story on the Arts” for “Ban Beat,” a story about an Iranian novelist who nearly missed her chance to participate in a local artists’ retreat when President Trump imposed a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Staff writer and photojournalist Natalie St. John took first place in “Best breaking News Story” for “Push comes to shove,” about revelers whose vehicles got stuck in the rising tide as they tried to leave the beach on Fourth of July. She took first and second place awards in “News of the Weird” for a story about a man who tried and failed to appeal a conviction for hunting magic mushrooms on public land, and “Phone fail flummoxes a felon,” about an inmate whose long-distance court appearance went awry when other inmates wouldn’t let him use th