Deseret News staff writer JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells wields her pen in a comprehensive, readable, crisp and creative way. And for that she earned the newspaper's most prestigious award Wednesday.

The Excellence in Writing Award was given to Jacobsen-Wells during the 20th annual Mark E. Petersen Deseret News Awards Banquet.Staff writer Steve Fidel and veteran photographer O. Wallace Kasteler were given Outstanding Performance Awards.

Six Special Merit awards were presented to staff members during the ceremony, named after the late Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Petersen served the Deseret News for 60 years as a reporter, copy reader, news editor, managing editor, general manager, president and chairman of the board.

The merit award recipients were assistant librarian Jean Watkins, Utah County Bureau chief Brooke Adams, personnel assistant Angie Glissmeyer, editorial writer Hal Knight, staff writer Douglas D. Palmer and assistant chief copy editor Barbara Gingery.

Vicki J. Barker was given the Correspondent Award for her efforts covering southeastern Utah.

Several Deseret News employees were inducted into the Distinguished Service Club. Education editor Twila Van Leer, pagination manager Stephen L. Schowengerdt and staff writer Dorothy G. Stowe were recognized for 15 years of service. Managing editor Don C. Woodward, staff writer Douglas Palmer, editorial page editor Richard B. Laney and staff writer Joseph T. Liddell were honored for 30 years of service. Hal Knight was recognized for 35 years of service to the newspaper.

Jacobsen-Wells, who has covered a host of subjects for the paper, was praised for her ability to tackle difficult and controversial stories. Her tenacity and productivity were lauded as "legendary."

In nominating her, one staffer said, "JoAnn has given the Deseret News the last full measure of devotion in the years she has been here. It's no accident her desk is just to the right of the city editor; it's a place where you need someone fast, accurate and good."

Fidel, who was billed as "an assignment, copy, city and photo editor's dream," was honored for consistent high-quality reporting and writing. That outstanding reporting and integrity allowed him to spearhead an effort that eventually got Utah reporters to Saudi Arabia to write about Utah National Guard and Reserve units.

His combination of reporting and photography skills are proven on a daily basis as he covers the suburban calamity beat. One nominator said, "At any time, day or night, (Steve) is off to a calamity - virtually anywhere in the state - often through the same hazards of Mother Nature that cause the disaster.

Kasteler was lauded for his professionalism and creativity.

Several of his peers nominated Kasteler for the Outstanding Performance Award. One explained, "Wally has to win this award to give it lasting credibility. Year in and year out, he is the ambassador for the Deseret News. He handles people with deftness, and he makes the office a better place to be."

Adams was praised for going the extra mile to give readers a more interesting, in-depth look at several issues. Her performance as the newly selected Provo bureau chief garnered recognition from many of her co-workers. One nominator wrote, "Brooke has managed to keep the morale in the bureau at a good level and is constantly patting the reporters on the back, while judiciously educating them on how to do it better."

Gingery received accolades for her ability to edit copy in a precise, swift manner. Staffers described her as "diligent, soft spoken, an expert in her field - a real dynamo." She was also honored for her grace under pressure.

Among a host of praiseworthy deeds, one nominator said Glissmeyer particularly deserved the merit award for her work annually on Santa's Helping Hand. More than 600 Utah families reaped the benefits of her work last Christmas. Additionally, "She is unfailingly professional and sweet on the telephone. She can solve any paperwork problem, and if you ask her for something, she always follows through," one nominator said.

Knight was honored for his concise, accurate and informative editorial writing. Though not recognized because his byline doesn't accompany his writing, Knight was praised by staffers as a "newspaperman's newspaperman." His work with Deseret News spans more than three decades.

The newsroom would be amiss without Doug Palmer, one nominator said. "Every newsroom needs at least one indispensable, reliable, conscientious, I-better-double-check-that, you-can't-assume-anything kind of reporter. That man is Doug," a co-worker said. He was also lauded for his willingness to work competently and without complaint.

Watkin's happy and humorous disposition while locating stories in the library, helping needy reporters with questions and fielding cranky phone calls garnered praise from staffers. "It can't be denied, she gives us so much laughter," a nominator said.

Barker was praised for her comprehensive coverage of Southeastern Utah. "She finds a lot of stories that have statewide interest and is diligent in pursuing story leads and photos in Grand and San Juan counties," an editor said.