NEW YORK (AP) _ Bradley Clift, staff photographer at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, was named the Newspaper Photographer of the Year on Friday in the University of Missouri's 44th annual Pictures of the Year Competition.

The contest is sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association and the university's School of Journalism with a grant from Canon U.S.A., Inc.

Other top category winners were James Nachtwey of Time magazine, named Magazine Photographer of the Year, and Geoffrey Biddle, a New York free-lance photographer, named Canon Photo Essayist of the Year.

The three top categories cite consistent, outstanding performance by an individual in the field of photojournalism during 1986. More than 31,000 newspaper and magazine photographs were submitted in the contest. Awards will be presented to winning photographers at an April 24 banquet in Columbia, Mo.

Other first-place award winners in individual categories are:

-Newspaper Spot News: Stanley Forman, WCVB-TV/AP (Boston), ''Only One Way Out.''

-Newspaper General News: Joanne Rathe, The Boston Globe, ''Lost Leader.''

-Newspaper Feature Picture: David L. Ryan, The Boston Globe, ''Stopped.''

-Newspaper Sports Action: Kit King, Spokesman Review & Chronicle, ''Suicide Hill.''

-Newspaper Sports Feature: Paul Kuroda, The Fresno (Calif.) Bee, ''A Little Wind.''

-Newspaper Portrait/Personality: Bradley E. Clift, The Hartford Courant, ''Stevie's World.''

-Newspaper Pictorial: William Snyder, The Dallas Morning News, ''Waiting.''

-Newspaper Food Illustration: Joe Luper, The (Ventura County, Calif.) News Chronicle, ''Elegant Cherries.''

-Newspaper Fashion Illustration: Ron Bell, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times Union, ''Check It.''

-Newspaper Editorial Illustration: Rich Mahan, the (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun/News Sentinel, ''Plastic Surgery.''

-Newspaper News Picture Story: Kim Komenich, San Francisco Examiner, ''Philippines Election.

-Newspaper Feature Picture Story: Bradley E. Clift, The Hartford Courant, ''Stevie's World.''

-Newspaper Sports Portfolio: Calvin Hom, United Press International, Kansas City.

-Newspaper, One Week's Work: Bruce Chambers, the (Long Beach, Calif.) Press-Telegram.

-Magazine News or Documentary: Catherine Leroy, Time, ''Tripoli Under Attack.''

-Magazine Feature: Patrick Tehan, A Day in the Life of America, ''Old Man & Wife.''

-Magazine Sports Picture: Ken Regan, Camera 5 (New York), ''Pow 3/8 It's Tyson Again 3/8''

-Magazine Portrait/Personality: James Nachtwey, Time, ''Afghans.''

-Magazine Pictorial: Yva Momatiuk-John Eastcott, Freelance (Hurley, N.Y.), ''Woman with Chickens.''

-Magazine Illustration: Gary S. Chapman, Sunday Magazine, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal, ''Black & White & Red.''

-Magazine Science and Natural History: Robert Caputo, National Geographic, ''Flamingos.''

-Magazine Picture Story: James Nachtwey, Time, ''Tamils.''

-Magazine Sports Portfolio: Phil Huber, Black Star (Dallas.)

-Newspaper Editing Portfolio: The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, team entry.

-Newspaper Editing - News Page: Chuck Taylor, Jim Heckman, Gary Settle, The Seattle Times, ''Page One: Shuttle Explodes.''

-Newspaper Editing - Feature Page: Clif Bosler, The Dallas Morning News, ''Hungry and Homeless.''

-Newspaper Editing - Sports Page: Bill Ostendorf, Robert Dorksen, Lee Gorden, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, ''Auto Racing.''

-Newspaper Editing - Series/Special Edition: Clif Bosler, The Dallas Morning News, ''Hungry and Homeless.''

-Newspaper Editing - Newspaper Magazine Picture Editing: Peter Howe, The New York Times Magazine.

-Best Use of Photos in a Newspaper (circulation under 25,000): Neighborhoods, a weekly section of The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.

-Best Use of Photos in a Newspaper (circulation between 25,000 and 150,000): The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

-Best Use of Photos in a Newspaper (circulation more than 150,000): The Orange County (Calif.) Register.

-Newspaper Editing - Best Use of Pictures by a Magazine: National Geographic.