Prairie Press wins statewide excellence award from IPA


The Prairie Press was honored as the best large-circulation, non-daily newspaper in its class at the 2024 Illinois Press Association awards, held on Thursday, June 6 in downstate Bloomington.

Nearly 100 daily and nondaily newspapers competed in 39 editorial categories. Members of the Minnesota Press Association judged the more than 1,700 editorial entries for work done in 2023. The Prairie Press took the top spot in the General Excellence category for Division C: non-dailies with a print circulation of 2,501 or more.

“We are thrilled with the honor and are truly grateful for the wonderful comments from the judges,” said Prairie Press Publisher Robby Tucker. “We will always prioritize local coverage. We want to keep our communities informed of what’s happening close to home – that’s how we build a better Edgar County.”

In selecting the Press for the top honor, the judge said: “Most impressive of this publication is the tidal wave of coverage packed onto the pages. This paper knows how to focus on local coverage of all aspects. Very impressive to see the amount of color throughout the paper to make the pages pop. Great photography also makes this paper stand out from the rest. I trust that readers are in love with this paper as much as I am. Solid performance all the way throughout. Thanks for showcasing local journalism at its best!”

The comments were right in line with what newspaper owner Ben Lueken has been working towards since he assumed majority ownership of the paper.

“I wanted the newspaper to have a hometown focus on kids activities, including schools, sports and community activities,” a pleased Lueken said this week.

To do that, Lueken pushed to remove coverage of national news, politics and elections – but not local elections. The paper’s editorial pages with columns were jettisoned to make room for two pages of school news, and not just pictures.

“We wanted to do stories on what was going on in the schools throughout the county,” he said.

The school pages have grown in popularity with readers, and now include features on students and teachers as well as events happening inside classrooms. Eventually, Lueken hopes to be able to publish stories written by students themselves. Paris High School’s Aubrey Wilson spent her senior year as an intern for the newspaper – and even earned a third-place honor during the IPA awards for a picture she took in Brett Block’s chemistry class.

Lueken praised the young staff of the newspaper who joined the Press following the retirements of editor emeritus Gary Henry and publisher emeritus Nancy Zeman.


“They were open to the changes,” he said.

The circulation of the Press is roughly 2,300, Tucker said, and has a growing online presence.

“I worry about local newspapers,” Lueken said, noting Clinton, Ind., recently lost its longtime newspaper The Clintonian. Lueken and the staff are always looking for ways to improve access to news content for all readers, especially through the web and social media.

“We are looking at the easiest ways for our subscribers to access our news,” Lueken said. “I want the Press to be where the people of Edgar County turn for their county’s news.”

In addition to the General Excellence award, Prairie Press graphic designer Jennifer Macke took home first-place honors for her 2023 Christmas advertisement for Jones and Griffin Law Offices.

Macke, who earned her master’s degree in fine arts at Indiana State, started working at the newspaper just in time to work on the first edition of the paper in September of 2014. Although she began as a part-time employee, she quickly became an integral part of the staff and became a full-time employee. In addition to her work in designing ads, she has been called upon to design pages for the paper.

“I would put her ad design work up against anybody’s in the state,” Lueken said.

Additional individual winners include Tucker, who took fourth place in the “Localized National Story” category for his piece on school safety: a district-by-district breakdown of measures taken by Edgar County schools to protect their students following the tragic Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Tenn. on March 27, 2023.

Former correspondent Linda Lane also won third place for her personality profile on local barber Tom Willett.

Lueken said the staff is preparing to roll out new initiatives and services while bolstering its online offerings.

A celebration for the staff is planned in the future to honor their hard work, he said.

Prairie Press, Illinois Press Association, Excellence award