VPA honors outstanding journalists, sales professionals

Two advertising sales professionals from non-daily publications and two journalists from daily publications were recognized April 5 by the Virginia Press Association for outstanding work in their respective fields.

The honorees were Scott Matthew of the Courier-Record in Blackstone, outstanding young sales professional of the year; Mitzi Lusk of The Tidewater News in Franklin, outstanding sales professional of the year; Mike Hixenbaugh of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, outstanding young journalist of the year; and Roz Helderman of The Washington Post, outstanding journalist of the year.

Matthew was nominated by William D. Coleburn, editor of the Courier-Record, who wrote, "Scott not only handles most of our local accounts, he is our main contact with national advertising agencies, which demand a lot of information. Scott is diligent and dependable and has helped us come up with new ideas to increase sales, including a special magazine that celebrated our town's 125th anniversary. That magazine grossed $6,310 for us in February, which is normally a bleak time for selling ads.

"In addition to his expertise and dedication selling advertising, Scott is a team player to offers to take photos for our news staff, and he has written a number of interesting stories. In less than three years, he has become one of our newspaper's MVPs. I shudder to think of having to replace him!

"Merchants know that when Scott Matthew comes into their business, he's not just looking for revenue. He's trying to learn more about their business and to offer ways to help them."

Bobby and Lynn Daniels of Bevell's Hardware, Inc., added their endorsement to the nomination, writing, "The first time we met Scott, we were very impressed with the way he conducted business. He is very personable and professional. Scott is knowledgeable in his field and he has become our go-to person whenever the need arises."

Douglas Compton, principal owner and broker of Tennek Realty, added, "Scott Matthew is one of the best sales persons our office has dealt with. He comes to our office in person, is always courteous and very professional. He takes the time to go over our advertising, offer suggestions, and let us know of upcoming promotions and ventures that may be suitable for our business.

"More important, Scott is very personable and goes out of his way to make it seem more like a friendly visit than a sales call. He always takes a little extra time to talk in general and is truly concerned about our office staff in a personal manner, as evidenced by cards and follow-up conversations when one of our staff was briefly hospitalized.

"He always does a great job and exemplifies the ideal professional by adding these personal touches to his visits."

Lusk was nominated by Tony Clark, publisher of The Tidewater News. He wrote, "Mitzi Lusk is passionate about the health of her clients' businesses and the value that she brings to them. She takes personally her role as the primary revenue driver for our business and the value that she brings to us, and constantly strives to find ways to bring additional value to both.

"Mitzi is more than just a valued sales professional. For the past two years, she has essentially been our entire sales department. Our market, which is relatively small, requires two full-time sales professionals. In the summer of 2011, one of the two resigned. Since that time, our second position has been a revolving cast of characters...

"Mitzi has basically carried that load alone. What is remarkable is how our business has done as a whole and how well the advertising department - or should I say Mitzi - has performed in that time. Just this year alone, four months into our fiscal calendar, we are on pace to generate well over 100 percent of the advertising revenue that we had budgeted for the year.

"In the past two years, we have hit most advertising revenue goals because Mitzi simply refuses to fail. Plainly stated, we could not run our business today were it not for the contributions of Mitzi Lusk.

"But it's not just the value she brings to our organization that makes her so worthy of this recognition. It is also the relationships she has developed over the years with her clients and our business community. Mitzi's clients adore her, because they know she truly cares about their businesses and not just hitting her sales goals.

"I know for a fact that most of her clients - and our customers - count her as a trusted business advisor and friend who has their best interest at heart."

Sarah P. Rawlings, vice president of Rawlings Mechanical Corp. in Courtland, endorsed Lusk's nomination, writing, "Mrs. Lusk has been our sales representative with The Tidewater News for approximately six years or more. She and I work together in regard to ads for the paper, magazines and our online ad.

"Mrs. Lusk is very professional and knows exactly what to do and when. She notifies me when it is time to change an ad, and when she thinks we would be interested in running an ad for special events in our community, over and above our regular advertising. We stay in contact, which is very important to me.

"There has not been one time when I have spoken to her that she has not followed through.

"The local newspaper is one of the ways we keep our name 'out there' for existing customers and new customers. We are very pleased with the comments we receive in regard to the advertising we do with The Tidewater News. Mitzi Lusk is responsible for that. I thank her often and I also thank her for making this part of my job with Rawlings Mechanical easier for me."

Hixenbaugh was nominated by Denis Finley, editor of The Virginian-Pilot. The judge for the outstanding young journalist award wrote, "It's gutsy for a newspaper to entrust its highest-profile beat to someone with less than a decade of experience. The winner repaid this confidence with a portfolio of work that demonstrates a keen ear and a broad range.

"Mike Hixenbaugh consistently put a human face on the sprawling industrial-military complex that fuels the Hampton Roads economy. He brings empathy to the men and women in the military, but he is far from a booster for the brass.

"His profile of a veteran suffering from PTSD will give pause to anyone living in close proximity to so many battle-scarred warriors.

"His report on a 2012 Navy helicopter incident - based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act - is a textbook case of taut, explanatory journalism, one that provides civilians with a clear understanding of systemic and cultural failures.

"My favorite entry was the shortest, one prompted not by a tip or a public document, but by a reporter simply looking at the world around him. His lead: 'Here's an unexpected consequence of federal belt-tightening: The U.S. Navy has become that sloppy neighbor with the unsightly front yard.'"

Helderman was nominated by Mike Semel, local editor of The Washington Post, for her work in reporting the alleged conflicts of interest within the Virginia governor's mansion. The judge for the outstanding journalist award wrote, "From the first paragraph of the first story published in March, The Washington Post wrote with clarity and authority about a series of revelations that would become known as 'Giftgate.'

"Rosalind Helderman was the lead reporter who convinced a number of sources to reveal information that was unavailable in any public record. The reporting - 10 articles over eight months - led to a tragic downfall that created a crisis of confidence in the ethical underpinnings of the Virginia political system. In hindsight, the articles show remarkable restraint in which Helderman and her colleagues never let the narrative stretch beyond where the available documents led."

The awards for the outstanding young sales professional and the outstanding young journalist are for staff members who are 30 years old or younger. The awards for the outstanding sales professional and outstanding journalist are for staff members who are more than 30 years old.

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