Friday, January 28, 2022

Not to toot my own horn, but ...

I received my first solo, first-place award from my state's journalism association yesterday. After about seven years as a newspaper writer, it's pretty encouraging. It's in the category of human interest stories for multi-day newspapers with a circulation of 5,000 or less, and the story for which I won it was about a local young man who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and, after his remains were finally identified, came home to be buried last summer.

It was a beautiful thing to experience, and the story practically wrote itself, although it was also a lot of work. The words people said while I was there to record them were beautiful; I just had to put them down on paper. The many photos I shot may have also been a factor in my win, but again, they were only great photos because of the wonderful images I was there to witness. Far from being a brilliant photographer, I actually fell flat on my back while shooting a military jet flyover and consider myself lucky to have gotten a sharp image.

I was fortunate to get the assignment at all because, in a previous article about the same family, I was actually filling in for another reporter who did the initial work before being sidelined by an injury. Again, I did most of the work, but it wouldn't have even been my story if it hadn't been for my co-worker's painful accident. So there's a humbling side to this story, despite the fact that this is the highest recognition I've received so far as an individual reporter.

Mind you, I had received a second-place award from the Missouri Press Association, back when I worked at a newspaper in Missouri. Of course that's "second place in my newspaper's weight class," which is to say, weekly papers in its rather low circulation range. I believe it was for an editorial I wrote around my coverage of a murder trial in which the victim was a small child, an emotionally crushing experience. That same year, I think, I also won a second-place National Newspaper Association award for a human interest story about a local bar owner who up and poured out all his opened bottles of alcohol on the parking lot because he was disgusted with people wearing open-carry guns while sitting on his barstools. I worked on that paper for three-and-a-half years and I think those were the only MPA or NNA awards I got, partly because the ownership of the paper changed and the new owner wasn't interested in promoting work done under the previous publisher's watch.

A couple years ago, and a couple years after I moved to my current newspaper, I shared a first-place Minnesota Newspaper Association award with two other reporters (again, in our somewhat larger weight class for a multi-day weekly). It was for social issues reporting, in a special issue in which each of us contributed stories about school bullying. That year, our newspaper carried home three MNA awards (also including a 2nd and a 3rd place). The next year, which was last year, I think our editor won something and that was about it. This year, my award was the only one our newspaper got.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to collect the certificate in person, because the MNA convention was held in the Twin Cities area and they're having a COVID surge there, so our company advised its employees against going. Still, like I said, I appreciate the encouragement to continue making a contribution to quality local news coverage.

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