My favorite moment during the Academy Awards occurred when musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won an Oscar for Best Original Song, “Falling Slowly” from the film Once. Not only is that achievement remarkable for independent music, but also for the movie, which was made in three weeks with two Handicams and a $100,000 budget.

Sometimes I feel we at the Indy craft the newspaper version of Once, albeit once a week. We don’t have the ginormous (but shrinking) newsrooms of our daily counterparts or roving vans equipped with antennas and dashboard cameras. The Indy‘s editorial department is composed of just a dozen plucky reporters, editors, photographers and designers, along with a cadre of freelancers, who think there are untold stories worth telling and alternate voices and viewpoints that are valuable. We’re a scrappy bunch who dare to believe the media’s job is not to be stenographers and sycophants, but challengers and critics.

Our peers agree. This week, the N.C. Press Association honors the best of the state’s media, and the Indy is among them, winning seven awardsincluding four first-place finishesfor non-daily newspapers with circulation of more than 10,000. The winning stories are as varied as the writers, photographers, editors and designers who created them:

Staff writer Mosi Secret, first place, investigative reporting, for “Stolen youth,” an article chronicling Eric Daniels, a teen convicted of a crime he may not have committed;

Staff writers Bob Geary, Fiona Morgan and editor Lisa Sorg, first place, news coverage, for several articles previewing the 2007 legislative session, including “The progressive prescription” and “Jones Street scorecard“;

Photographer Jeremy Lange, first place, photo page, for “The longest road home,” a poignant essay showing the devastation of a family whose son had died in the Iraq war;

Photographer Derek Anderson, first place, feature photo, for “Drink it raw,” a story about the underground raw milk market;

Contributor Suzanne Nelson, second place, news feature writing, for “Drink it raw“;

Intern Ashley Roberts and managing editor Jennifer Strom, second place, general news, for a series of pieces uncovering the connection between convicted dog fighters and a pit bull breeder who served on an Orange County dog-tethering committee, including “Member of Orange County’s chained-dog study panel has ties to dog-fighting” and “Orange dog panel member quits“; and

Independent staff, third place, for overall appearance and design.

The NCPA honors are especially rewarding when you consider the downsizing, outsourcing and consolidation nagging our industry. Yet I have hope for the alternative press, hope for journalists who could have chosen easier and more lucrative careers but opted for an often difficult, yet rewarding path.

As Irglova said in her acceptance speech, “… fair play to those who dare to dream, and don’t give up.”