This Saturday, I won a first-place award from the Arkansas Press Association. It wasn't the award I had expected to win.
Going in, I knew three of my pieces had won either first, second or third place in the state. One was a shared byline with my editor, one was for coverage of education and one was for a column I wrote on domestic violence last November.
I thought the column would win first place because of the subject matter, so I was shocked when it took second. After that, I started messaging my family that it was over.
"I'm sharing first place with my boss and I got second for my column. My coverage of education probably came in second or third," I wrote to my boyfriend.
This is my first year working full-time for a publication, so I didn't expect education coverage to even place when I submitted it. For the category, I had to choose three to five pieces I felt provided the best scope of education in Carroll County.
That part was difficult. It required me to analyze the technical aspects of all the articles I had written on education in the past year, as well as determine which subjects were most compelling. Though I know I'm a talented writer, I'm still learning how to capture the character of people I interview. That, combined with the difficulty of mastering technique for feature and news articles, made me doubt my submission for education coverage.
You can imagine my surprise when I won first place in that category. My column on domestic violence is deeply personal to me, but I think winning for articles I've written on education means a great deal more.
It means that I've been -- and hopefully continue -- reflecting the backbone of the community in a real, honest and holistic way. I could take all the credit for the win, but I know I did half the work at most. I share this award with all the school districts in Carroll County.
I've been consistently impressed with how forthcoming representatives from Berryville, Green Forest and Eureka Springs have been with me. Two weeks into my job, I met Mindy Hicks from Berryville. She has kept me updated on everything that's going on at the Berryville School District and is always pleasant to speak to.
I know I can call Gayla Newberry from Green Forest for any school news and receive a kind response, even if she can't help me at the time. Cathy Martinek from Eureka Springs, too, never fails to pass on my messages. All three women represent their community well -- a community I am proud not only to represent but to be part of.
I've met journalists who believe school news is all fluff, and I'd have to disagree with that. The schools in this county form close-knit, supportive communities. Though I've reported on award ceremonies and other happy events in these communities, I have covered more bittersweet, sometimes tragic events.
The first article I wrote for the paper was about Beth Duncan, a kindergarten teacher who died unexpectedly last year. Her friends and fellow teachers embraced me on my second day at Carroll County News, openly telling me about Beth and the kind of person she was.
More recently, I wrote about the car accident involving two young men who had just graduated from Green Forest High School, as well as the death of beloved Green Forest custodian Cory Lewis. These stories have such sadness ingrained in them, but the communities somehow found the silver lining in each tragedy.
A tree was planted in Beth Duncan's name at Berryville Elementary School. Green Forest staff, students and community members gathered to pray for the boys injured in that car accident. A friend of Cory's set up a memorial scholarship fund in his name so that a Green Forest student with interest in band can pursue his or her dreams in college.
The way these school districts have responded to tragedy gives me hope. I feel so honored to represent all these districts, and I hope every person working at these schools knows how compelling and meaningful education coverage is to me.
Even if I hadn't won an award for it, I'd consider myself lucky to write about everything the schools in Carroll County are doing.
I'd like to thank everyone who has spoken with me about education-related articles in the past year. Let's make this next year even better.
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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News. Her email address is CCNNews@cox-internet.com