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— For decades, legions of executives, editors, and reporters of once-mighty Copley Newspapers have trooped out to the firm's posh Casa del Zorro resort near Borrego Springs for the annual "Ring of Truth" awards honoring employees for their ostensibly superior journalism. But for Copley insiders, 2007's corporate backslap, held earlier this month, was sadly different. Seven of the shrinking chain's remaining eight papers are on the block to pay off the late Helen Copley's estate taxes, leaving son David with the Union-Tribune as his sole media property. Based on the paucity of prizes given to the U-T in this year's contest -- judged by faculty of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada in Reno -- there may not be much of a reason to continue the tradition once the sell-off is complete.

In times past, the U-T, Copley's mother ship, touted its awards in large, prominently featured stories, but not this year. On the other hand, the Torrance Daily Breeze, recently unloaded by Copley to the Hearst Corporation, bragged to readers that "six reporters shared first place in the news category for a series of stories about a sewage spill in Manhattan Beach" and that a sportswriter took another first for "a series of articles analyzing the drop in participation of black baseball players." The Peoria (IL) Journal Star won first in best enterprise reporting for "revealing the high incidence of lead poisoning in Peoria." Its editorial writer also placed first. Over in Springfield, the State Journal-Register noted that its coverage of a spate of tornados received a Special Award of Honor for Meritorious Service, "an award that is not given each year."

The U-T's relatively few prizes were mostly for stories that had largely been covered first and arguably better by others. The paper won second place for "best news story" for a report by Matt Hall about how there was "developing controversy about the financing of the San Diego Padres' Petco Park." Leslie Wolf Branscomb and Tanya Sierra were finalists for "an investigation of deplorable conditions in real estate owned by a local politician." That would be Nick Inzunza, former National City mayor and brother of ex-San Diego city councilman and convicted Cheetahs defendant Ralph, whose collection of slum properties was first disclosed here back in 2003.

Mike Lee got a nod as "finalist" for "a series of reports on environmental issues." John Wilkens came in first for best feature with his write-up of a San Diego family's Polynesian sailing trip gone awry. In business reporting, Penni Crabtree claimed second prize for "a story about allergy-free kittens." Robert Krier picked up a first in the "best series of headlines" division for "a collection of feature headlines." And K.C. Alfred came in second for best sports photograph, "for the photograph of a fumbled football and lost helmet."

The U-T did manage to prevail in the "Awards of Valor" category. Elizabeth Fitzsimons, Bruce Lieberman, and Sherri Pineda got a prize for "dedication in organizing an event to benefit the health of a fellow employee's child," and Diana Baier received one for "dedication in organizing a fundraiser to finance a memorial bench for a fellow employee." Cole Tuttle of the Peoria Journal Star was also recognized for "kindness and responsibility in stopping his car to assist an elderly woman who had fallen."

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