Whanganui journalist Rachel Stewart has claimed a prestigious national award.

On Friday night she was named New Zealand's top opinion writer at the Canon Media Awards held at Te Papa in Wellington.

Stewart, who lives in Westmere, writes a sometimes controversial column called 'Riding Shotgun' for the Taranaki Daily News and Manawatu Standard.

The Canon event is NZ's major journalism awards ceremony and is usually dominated by media from the main centres of Auckland and Wellington.

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Stewart, who beat off competition from the NZ Herald and Dominion Post to take the Opinion Writer of the Year title, claimed it as a great win for the provinces, while admitting she was surprised to have gained the accolade.

President of Wanganui Federated Farmers from 1999 to 2003, Stewart received death threat last year for her columns about dairy farming.

"I take on farming issues _ especially dairy - because I know about that. I also write social commentary, I cover fishing, science and the environment and inequality."

Stewart, who some years ago became New Zealand's first female train driver while working at Eastown, Whanganui, also writes for Fish & Game magazine and for falconry publications.

She was supported at Friday's event by Whanganui mayor Annette Main.

The awards attracted 1603 entries encompassing more than 7000 individual pieces of work across 71 categories assessed by 46 judges in five countries.

Kim Conner, Managing Director of Canon New Zealand, said the calibre of this year's submissions truly reflected what it meant to be the best of New Zealand journalism.