Courier wins record number of awards from CNPA

The California News Publishers Association has awarded the Claremont COURIER 19 trophies in its 2021 statewide journalism contest, the most by far we have ever won in a single year.

Longtime COURIER photographer and reporter Steven Felschundneff’s photo, “Rat’s experiment,” won two first place awards: in the statewide open feature photo category, and for weekly newspapers with a circulation under 4,300. Felschundneff has won numerous CNPA awards over the years, but this is his first in the open category, in which he was up against photographers from every newspaper in the state.

The statewide judges said the photo was, “An amazing juxtaposition between a familiar street scene and a wonderfully weird costume. The boy’s expression really captures the mood.” In the weekly category, the judges continued their praise: “Love the captured moment of the child’s costume. Can tell he put a lot of thought and work into it!”

“I am truly honored to have received a first place for feature photography in the CNPA open division for 2021,” Felschundneff said. “I have won numerous awards over the years, and even swept the category a few times, but always within our circulation division of small weeklies. So it’s very gratifying to win against all other first place photos including those from the largest dailies.”

In addition to the two first place awards, Felschundneff’s photos “Dunk a Cop” and “Life Imitates Art” won second place awards in the COURIER’s category.

“Life imitates Art” was taken by Steven Felschundneff at the Benton Museum of Art.


COURIER reporter and columnist Mick Rhodes also won big this year, with three first place CNPA awards in the weekly newspapers category: two for his four-part series “Gaming the System,” which was named both the best public journalism story and best investigative reporting in the state; and both first and second place awards for his work as a columnist.

Rhodes also won a second place award in the open statewide public service journalism category for “Gaming the System,” in which he was up against writers from every newspaper in California. The judges commented: “Dig, dig, dig — this is a great example of investigative and unrelenting journalism to get to the truth and heart of the issue, while providing a great service to community that may have never known of this company’s misleading methods.”

“I am extremely grateful to the CNPA for this recognition,” Rhodes said. “I worked very hard for very long on ‘Gaming the System,’ and I want to thank my editor Peter Weinberger for allowing me the leeway to see it through. And the two awards for my work as a columnist just seem unreal. Thanks again go to Peter for allowing me the freedom to write about my life in the COURIER.”

“Okay…wow. In reading these stories, I got angry for the consumers,” the weekly newspaper  judging committee wrote about “Gaming the System.” “And the journalists who exposed these practices should be so proud. This is amazing Public Service journalism. No, it’s not super flashy. But these are real issues that are affecting real people. This journalism is the bedrock of how newspapers can make a difference in their communities.”

The CNPA’s weekly newspaper investigative reporting judges had this to say about “Gaming the System”:

“Fake reviews. Customers being forced to leave positive reviews before their plumber will leave. Outrageous bills. The fact that Rooter Hero paid nearly $209K to the state and ripped off customers validates the effectiveness of Claremont Courier’s reporting. Great watchdog reporting by Mick Rhodes!”

The COURIER has won scores of CNPA awards for writing, photography and overall excellence over the years, but Rhodes’ two first place trophies for both the coveted best public service journalism and best investigative reporting are our first in those categories.

In the general excellence category, the COURIER staff, including Weinberger, Felschundneff, Rhodes, and Andrew Alonzo, won fourth place. “The Claremont Courier’s commitment to photography is evident with its large cover photos and photos that accompany nearly every story,” the judges said. “The photo of the gridlock from the snow frenzy and its nicely explained caption exemplify ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”

The Courier has won first place in general excellence three times, most recently in 2018.

“Season ends by inches in OT” captured the final moment of the CHS girls CIF playoff competition. Photo by Andrew Alonzo


“Light touch of winter” was shot in 2019 during a freak afternoon snow above the Wilderness Park. Photo by Peter Weinberger


“Back to School…finally” was photographed during the first day of school at Our Lady of the Assumption Church. Photo by Peter Weinberger.


COURIER editor and publisher Peter Weinberger won six awards for his photography, including third place for “Back to school…finally,” “After two years, fireworks over the city,” and “Time for a nap and a picnic.” Weinberger’s “Light touch of winter” earned a fourth place trophy, and “You’re looking good kid!” and “For the love of snow” both picked up fifth place awards.

In addition, the COURIER’s newest reporter, Alonzo, won his first individual CNPA award this year, a third place trophy for his sports action photo, “Season ends by inches in OT.”

The germ for “Gaming the System” arrived in the form of elderly Claremont homeowners Glyn and Alison Roberts telling Rhodes about a shockingly high plumbing repair bill. Exploring how and why Rooter Hero charged so much led him on a trail involving state regulatory agencies, lawyers, online fraud experts, fellow plumbers, former employees, angry customers and the plumbing chain’s chief operating officer, among many others. His reporting eventually uncovered a raft of illegal business practices designed to fraudulently prop up Rooter Hero’s online reputation in order to lure customers.


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