The Andover Townsman received five awards Saturday from the New England Press Association, which named it the top weekly newspaper its size in the six-state region for headline writing and among the best in New England for its reporting on government, the environment, education and health issues.

NEPA is an organization of hundreds of New England publications, from the Boston Herald to small weeklies. In most cases the Townsman was competing against weekly newspapers up to 11 times its circulation size and alternative publications such as the Boston Phoenix.

The Townsman received a first place in New England for weeklies with a circulation above 6,000 for its headlines, which are written by editor Neil Fater.

Reporter Brian Messenger won a second place in New England award for Government Reporting, for articles explaining the salaries and benefits given to Andover employees. Judges said the stories' beginnings, along with "facts which lead to an informed public, and balanced views on the topic of teacher salaries, made this a valuable piece to the Townsman readers."

Editor Neil Fater and Andover resident Judith Holt shared another second place in New England award for Environmental Reporting for a series that followed the O'Brien family of Andover in its attempt to "go green." Fater wrote a kickoff story about the family and Holt wrote columns about their attempts and how others in town could live a greener lifestyle.

"What an original idea with great local appeal! I'll bet this series had families all over Andover looking for ways they could save energy," wrote the judges, in part. "Putting the series online was also a fantastic idea."

Messenger also received a third place in New England award for Health Reporting for what judges called "an extremely detailed series that pinpointed the key issues" around the closing of the town's landfill on Ledge Road. "The health and safety of the community was clearly the No. 1 priority in these articles. Each story was clean and crisp, well-deserving of an award," wrote the judges.

Messenger received another third place award for Educational Reporting for a story on how Superintendent Claudia Bach makes the decision to close schools during snow storms.

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