The Hudson Reporter newspapers won nine awards in a statewide competition for weekly newspapers, the New Jersey Press Association announced last weekend. The contest drew entries from scores of weekly newspapers from around the state. The NJPA's annual "Better Newspaper" competition includes categories for news writing, feature writing, column writing, and layout. The Reporter newspapers won in seven editorial categories and two layout/graphics categories. Staff writers Al Sullivan and JoAnne Steglitz each won three awards. Art Director Jennifer Merrick won two, and Managing Editor Caren Lissner won one. Sullivan, who covers Secaucus and also won an award last year, garnered two first place honors and one third place honor. In one case, he won first place for Interpretive Writing for a pair of stories about the Secaucus Democratic mayoral primary. He also won first place in Environmental Writing for a packet of stories about the contamination of the residential property surrounding a former factory in Secaucus. The town government had purposely held off in releasing the information to the public. Sullivan also won third place in the First Amendment Award category for "You want what?," a story about the difficulties the public can have in getting government information in Hudson County. Staff writer JoAnne Steglitz won second place in the Robert P. Kelly Award category for writers with less than a year's experience on a newspaper. She also won third place in the very competitive feature writing category for "Meet the Fruit Guy," a profile of Hoboken fruit vendor Herb Crouchelli, and third place in the Column Writing category for a pair of humorous essays that appeared on the Back Page of the Hudson Current. Jennifer Merrick, the art director, won two graphics awards. Her cover for an issue of the Hudson Current won third place in the Front Page Layout category. A display ad for the Portside development in Jersey City won first place in a very competitive half-page display ad category. Reporter Managing Editor Caren Lissner won first place in the Column Writing category for a pair of columns that appeared on the Back Page of the Hudson Current, including a humorous essay about new area codes. There were 4,862 entries submitted by daily and weekly newspapers in all of the categories. Lissner said she was pleased but not surprised to find out about the awards. "Our writers not only put a lot of heart, concern and caring into the towns and topics they cover, but also collectively have a high level of writing talent and creativity," she said. "The evidence for this is the wide range of categories in which we won." Lissner also predicted the papers would win more layout awards in the future. "Anyone who has been reading our newspapers over the past year, especially the Current, couldn't have missed the creativity of the layout," she said. "We're lucky to have a very talented graphics team in Jennifer Merrick, Pat Spina, Margaret DeCandia and Marian Stahlin." Co-publisher Lucha Malato said the awards were "recognition of the hard work that's put in by all of our staff." The awards will be presented at a Press Association banquet in Princeton on April 27. The Hudson Reporter group, based in Hoboken, publishes eight weekly newspapers, including the Hoboken Reporter, the Current, the Jersey City Reporter, the Weehawken Reporter, the Secaucus Reporter, the North Bergen Reporter, the Union City Reporter and the West New York Reporter.