SAN JOSE — Journalists from the Daily Pilot and its Orange County sister papers won statewide awards for writing, photography and page design, an industry organization announced this weekend.

The California Newspapers Publishers Assn.'s (CNPA) annual Better Newspapers Contest pits the state's papers of similar size against each other. Winners were announced Saturday in San Jose.

Pilot staff writer Mike Reicher took first place in education reporting for his "School Flight" series, an in-depth look at why affluent families from Costa Mesa's Mesa Verde have abandoned their neighborhood's schools.

Designers and editors at the Pilot — Kelly Parker, Matt Murray, Hamlet Nalbandyan and Bradley Zint — took second place for best page layout and design. (Parker has since been promoted to web editor.)

The same design and news team won first place for the Huntington Beach Independent's page layout and design.

The Independent, Daily Pilot and the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot brought home a total of six awards for their coverage in 2011. All three papers, which are published by the Los Angeles Times' Times Community News (TCN) division, are based in Costa Mesa and share some staff members.

Photo Editor Don Leach, a veteran photojournalist who oversees the three newspapers' photo desks, won three awards. He took first place in news photography for coverage of heavy rains and floods that ravaged Laguna Beach, and second in features for one of his photos from the Pageant of the Masters. Both were published in the Coastline Pilot.

Leach was also part of a Huntington Beach Independent team that won for local breaking news coverage.

Leach, Independent Staff Writer Mona Shadia, City Editor Michael Miller and freelance photographer Steven Georges won first place for covering the Seal Beach salon shootings in October.

"There's no greater honor than one that comes from your peers," said John Canalis, editor of TCN South. "This remains a great newspaper state, and for us to be chosen means the world."

The TCN papers in Los Angeles County — the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun — won 16 awards, including two first-place finishes in best website categories and another for government coverage. Editor Dan Evans oversees those four papers.

"With our continued focus on being the best local news providers in the communities we serve, we are so proud of the great and innovative journalism both Dan and John's teams create," said Scott Pompe, vice president and general manager of TCN. "It's most rewarding to be acknowledged as one of the best by CNPA and our industry peers."

The CNPA awards were announced at the organization's Better Newspapers Contest and Press Summit. This year's convention theme was "Transform: The New Norm," and focused on the convergence of print, digital and mobile journalism.

dailypilot@latimes.com

Twitter: @TheDailyPilot