Dallas Observer staff writer Charles Siderius was named Texas print journalist of the year in the Houston Press Club's recent Lone Star Awards, a statewide journalism contest. Siderius finished ahead of two finalists from the Observer's sister paper, the Houston Press, for the best portfolio of stories by a reporter at a newspaper with a circulation of more than 100,000.
Siderius was honored for "Forget Me Not," his March 1, 2001, cover story about a 1951 lynching and its aftermath in tiny Ladonia, Texas; "Reverend Fix-it," a December 13, 2001, investigative report that delved into the past of an administrator at a financially troubled Christian school; and "Road Rage," a March 22, 2001, story that revealed how Denton County developers were exploiting an obscure law to create their own shadowy governments, using their own employees and benefactors to elect boards favorable to the developers.
"Forget Me Not" has also received other honors in recent state and national journalism competitions. Earlier this month, it won first place in the enterprise reporting category of the National Association of Black Journalists Awards Contest for newspapers with a circulation of less than 150,000. The story also took second place for feature writing in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies awards and the Lone Star Awards.
Siderius found out about 31-year-old lynching victim Harrison Ocie Jones while researching another story in Ladonia, a Fannin County town so cash-strapped it had to lay off all of its police. The Reverend Jim Parsons of Arkansas had written a newspaper commentary explaining how the course of his life changed after the murder of a black man who worked on the Ladonia farm where Parsons grew up. Siderius got all the details he could from Parsons, who was a teen-ager when the killing occurred. With that information, he was able to locate a death certificate for Jones, which incorrectly stated that he died of tuberculosis, and later tracked down some of Jones' children. One of Jones' sons had been told his father died when a car fell on him. But after speaking with Siderius, the son checked with some older relatives, who told him the truth: His father was beaten to death by a lynch mob, possibly because of a debt. Jones' widow, who died in the 1970s, had kept the information from her children, fearing they would suffer retribution.
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Siderius, 41, joined the Observer staff in June 2000 after working for the Denton Record-Chronicle and several newspapers in his home state of Washington.
In other recent competitions, Observer columnist Jim Schutze was awarded first place in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies contest for political commentary. It is the second year in a row that Schutze has won the award, beating columnists from the Village Voice and other papers. Schutze also won his fourth consecutive national Unity Award, which honors outstanding writing about racial and ethnic issues, for his October 25, 2001, column, "Down the River."
Staff writer Mark Donald won a State Bar of Texas Gavel Award for his October 11, 2001, cover story "Deadbeating the System," which revealed why thousands of divorced parents, most often men, find it easy to outmaneuver the state's overburdened system of collecting child support.
Sports writer John Gonzalez was named one of several finalists for the Livingston Award, which honors young journalists, for his June 21, 2001, story "Fantasy League." Gonzalez will rejoin the Observer staff in September as a sports columnist.