Patting our own backs
Regular readers of this column know that I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan. Earlier this year, first-year Cubs manager David Ross was asked if he thought a 60-game season would hold less meaning than a normal 162-game schedule.
I loved Ross’ response: “If they’re handing out a trophy, I want it.”
I felt the same way Friday morning as I and the rest of our staff waited for the announcement of the Arkansas Press Association’s annual awards. We knew we had done well, but we didn’t know exactly how well. I hate to sound greedy, but I’m very competitive by nature, and there was only one award that was really going to satisfy me: first place for General Excellence.
We’d won the award for the first time in the history of this newspaper in 2017, then repeated in 2018. We finished third in 2019 and although I’m always grateful to be honored, third place isn’t first place.
The awards are typically presented in late June or early July at the end of the press association’s annual convention, which rotates among various cities. Last year’s convention was held in Hot Springs, and the 2020 event had been planned to take place in Little Rock.
That was before the pandemic, of course. The press association wisely shifted the convention to a virtual format and pushed it back to the final full week of September. So we watched the awards presentation from our newsroom. One side benefit was that we were able to whoop and holler when our names were called without being embarrassed, since no one could hear us.
Every year, we’re notified a few weeks ahead of the convention about how many awards we’ve won, and in which categories, but we’re not told whether we’ve taken first, second or third place or honorable mention. The General Excellence award is based on points earned for awards in the individual categories. When we received word a couple of weeks ago that we had won 19 individual awards in 16 categories, I felt as if we had a chance at the big prize. I figured we’d need six or eight first-places to pull it off.
When the award presentation began, we got off to a strong start but a couple of other newspapers were also doing well. Before the photo awards were announced, I told the group watching that we needed to do well in those categories. And we certainly did, reeling off four consecutive first-place awards for news and sports photography. That gave us 10 first-place awards altogether, the most we’ve ever won.
I was still a little nervous when the time came to announce the General Excellence awards, but when the second- and third-place awards were announced and our name wasn’t called, I knew we had done it. I might or might not have yelled “Yesssss!” at the top of my lungs.
We get excited about the awards each year. Part of that is personal pride, of course. And there’s a little feeling of vindication sometimes, too. We cover the news hard and we often publish stories that some folks would rather not see in print. When some of those very same stories receive statewide recognition, it reaffirms our faith in what we’re doing.
But another important reason that we take the awards so seriously is because they are one way to measure how we are performing in our true mission — which is to keep our readers informed about what’s going on in their communities. That mission trumps every other concern and it is always what drives us to do the work we do. Not every day in our newsroom is easy, but every day is well worth it to serve our readers.
Now, I need to brag on some people. Every single person who contributes to this newspaper’s news and sports coverage won at least one award, and they all deserve recognition.
First, associate editor Samantha Jones. I hired Sam as an entry-level reporter about a month after I came here in June 2014, and it was frankly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sam is a first-rate journalist with an energy and passion for the job that inspires me and makes me want to do my own job better. She’s also the person who makes sure all of our entries are submitted for the contest each year — on top of a million other things that she handles. Sam’s primary responsibility is the day-to-day news functions of the Lovely County Citizen and she also oversees production of our numerous specialty publications. I don’t want to even imagine trying to pull all this off without her.
News reporter Haley Schichtl is the newbie among our crew, but she brought home a second-place award for feature writing. She covers the education beat and writes general features. It’s been a pleasure working with Haley for the past year or so, and she has brought a lot of value to our team.
Freelance photographers David Bell and Charlie Chappell are two of the most talented “shooters” I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. David is always willing to go above and beyond to get just the right photo and it shows in his work. Charlie is a versatile photographer who shoots a lot of sports photos for us. If there’s a high school sporting event in Carroll County, odds are pretty good Charlie is on the sidelines in his trademark hat. I can’t thank either one of these guys enough for the quality that they add to our newspaper.
Page designer Brad Stout has been handling our pages for a couple of years now and always earns recognition for his front page designs. Brad makes the rest of us look good, and we’re glad he’s part of our team.
Oh, I can’t leave out former reporter Kelby Newcomb. He left us in the middle of 2019 but not before he turned in some award-winning work. Kelby is enjoying his new job and we’re happy for him, but we also miss having him around.
I’d be remiss, too, if I didn’t mention publisher Bob Moore. I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve worked for some good folks and some not-so-good folks. Bob is simply the best. He supports us, appreciates us and gives us what we need to do our jobs to the best of our ability. When we gathered in the newsroom last Friday to watch the award presentation, Bob was right there with us, cheering us on and congratulating us. A wise man once told me: People don’t work for companies; they work for people. And it’s true. I’ve never been happier than I am working for Bob.
OK, that’s enough shameless self-congratulating. It’s time to get back to work. Because what’s better than three General Excellence awards? Four!