The Society of Professional Journalists’ annual Excellence in Journalism awards included contributions from CTNewsJunkie for the first time this year at Thursday’s awards dinner in North Haven.

CTNewsJunkie and its partner site, CTTechJunkie, competed in several categories among the state’s “Online-Independent” publishers.

Winners included contributing columnists Sarah Darer Littman, Susan Bigelow, and Heath W. Fahle, who won first, second, and third place honors respectively in the Op-Ed Column category.

Contributing photographer Matt Rece took second place for his photograph of the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final launch.

And for coverage of far-reaching changes ongoing in the spaceflight industry, CTTechJunkie’s Lon Seidman took first place with am assist from Doug Hardy in the In-Depth Reporting category with Dotcom Billionaires Taking On NASA’s Big Government Contract Culture.

Both Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid were finalists in several categories as well, and reporters from the Valley Independent Sentinel, and the Branford Eagle also were winners Thursday.

Jonathan Pelto, the former lawmaker who has previously written for CTNewsJunkie and whose Wait, What? blog on state politics has developed a significant following in recent months, was also honored as the winner of this year’s Helen M. Loy Freedom of Information Award.

Pelto was honored because he took his FOIA complaint against the University of Connecticut — originally filed in 2008 — all the way to the state Supreme Court in an effort to gain access to information in some of the university’s databases. However, even though the justices decided that some information in the public university’s databases can qualify as “trade secrets” and upheld the denial of his request, the state FOI Commission honored Pelto for his persistence.

Pelto spoke briefly at Thursday’s dinner and said that the Internet has opened the door for citizen journalists to make a difference, particularly through information-based advocacy journalism. He said he accepted the award Thursday on behalf of everyone who has ever been stonewalled in their efforts to obtain public documents.

The evening was keynoted by reknowned author and investigative journalist Leonard Levitt, who publishes the NYPDConfidential blog, and also saw the posthumous induction of photographers Edward Cotter Jr. and John Mongillo Jr. into the Connecticut Journalism Hall of Fame.

See the complete list of winners here.