All that glitters
Ryan Summerlin February 27, 2014
While Mikaela earned her gold last Friday, I picked up ours.
Our total count of statewide press awards at 34 exceeded the U.S. medal count at Sochi, and of course any contrived comparison with the Olympics ends there.
Even we’re far, far more excited about our Eagle-Vail neighbor than our own little coups.
Still, I think I see a little more bounce in the step of folks around here, particularly in the newsroom, with a General Excellence plaque in hand for our size of paper.
The full list covers awards in reporting, column writing, design, photography, online journalism, magazine work and advertising. So the haul represented a pretty good range of the various disciplines that produce the Vail Daily, Weekly, Home magazine, fistful of seasonal magazines, website and other digital tools, and other products we do through the year.
Counting the Eagle Valley Enterprise and new Free Enterprise, add eight or so more plaudits for our operation.
It’s all nice, although the titan this year in our division was The Durango Herald with more than 90 of these awards.
I’m familiar with that paper with my kids going to college in Durango, between my son who graduated in 2010 and daughter graduating this spring.
The Vail Daily and Durango Herald both are family owned, and there the comparison pretty much ends. We’re part of a larger hub, and they are the hub of their company. We’re a “free” paper to readers, and they charge for copies, with the bulk of their distribution in home delivery. Their newsroom at 30 is more than twice our 13.
There may be another difference, too. I once worked at a paper in New York that prized the trophies to the point we had a reporter who flat refused to do certain bread-and-butter work — briefs, essential but routine stories and such — because she didn’t sniff award opportunities in them.
Frankly, the daily paper was crap and well hated by the community it presumed to serve for exaggerations in some of the very stories that so impressed judges who had never visited our town. It won lots of great awards. But the staff had gone too far.
Winning prizes helped my early career, no question. Contests do spark good ideas, along with encouraging journalists to ask that next question, rewrite that story or column one more time, fuss that much more with a page design or take on a challenging assignment. There’s always value in motivation to do better.
Alas, my own curmudgeon instincts now swing so far away from the awards culture that I see corruption of our essential mission to do our best to serve readers and our community, hang everything else, and bring it every day.
We don’t really work for editors in Arkansas or Virginia who don’t know our communities, rush through packages of entries just as we do for their state contests, and frankly whose judgment I don’t value much compared to what you think while reading the day’s edition.
I’ve seen and been part of planning with too much calculation for what might win vs. what really matters. No one can be more fanatic than the converted, right?
My attitude now: Focus entirely on the people we’re really working for. If judges of contests like it too, great. Just remember that’s sugar, not the steak.
Durango, among others I view with a bit of a squint, isn’t a crappy paper on a daily basis. But neither have their “normal” editions when I’m in town struck me as the best everyday work I’d expect from a staff their size.
It simply may be that the impressive glitter on awards night raises my expectations unfairly. I have to confess some skepticism born of experience, though.
I know I’m too dismissive of our own winnings from these beauty pageants. They have their place, as do reader surveys, business benchmarks and especially the percentage of people in town who read the day’s paper.
We’re very blessed with the latter, thanks at least as much to our business model as producing work that people care to read.
I’m jealous of the way Mikaela won her medal. However she got there, it was the fastest on the slalom course that day, period. That’s gold you can count on.
Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.