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flatlander:Contest judging

Austin Richardson
Vail CO, Colorado

What I learned from judging the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editor Awards:

In judging the contest package from the Pennsylvania APME News and Photo Excellence Competition, the main thing I realized was that we’ve got some pretty good writers on staff these days. he category was for 15,000 circulation and under and I’d say the Vail Daily is every bit as good as these broadsheets.

The three categories I tackled were Best Sports Deadline Reporting , Best Sports/Outdoors column and Best Example of Public Service by a Newspaper.

In the best sports deadline reporting, the story that was most appealing to me was a story about a quarterback’s dad who went to his son’s rivals’ football practice and began videotaping. This is a no-no in high school sports, the games are OK to tape, but not practice. The interesting aspect of the story is what the dad told the coach when approached. He told the coach he was a scout from Ohio University.

Well, the coach called Ohio and confirmed that the man was certainly not a scout for Ohio University. The rival coach did some investigating and found out the true identity of the interloper.

Meanwhile, the father duped the video to DVD and gave it to his son’s coach.

When questioned about the DVD, the coach summarily quipped that he “threw it away without watching” the offending DVD.

The “dirty” team wound up winning the game, the coach was quoted as saying “the win was tainted” in a pull quote.

What I culled from this story is to look for controversy in all quarters. There are certainly folks in our own community that might stoop to less-than-ethical-means to forward their own cause. Perhaps in county government, could be a construction company, might be a developer. The lesson to be learned here is to mindful that not everyone is telling the truth all the time.

In the Best Sports Column, the winner turned out to be a fairly short column about a deer hunt. The author detailed his hunt by using a timeline. His internal dialogue was italicized and non-sequitor. It was excellent use of imagery because of all the things that churn through a person’s mind when under stress. Many of the things that go unsaid are sometimes relevant, sometimes random, but they are all quite telling and personal. This is the way to do first person.

What I learned from reading all these sports columns is that the most interesting, to me anyway, are local stories. National stories about who won the Superbowl, a Division I basketball coach retiring or a story about a kid with no legs bagged a bear in Maine are interesting, but not as good as the personal stories.

This might be a function of voyeurism, but the intensely personal columns are more interesting than something written in the third person. As the web editor soliciting blogs, this will become more and more important. The online world is an odd mix of voyeurism and exhibitionism. Most of the folks who put their thoughts and feelings on the web are doing so from a heartfelt place, but aren’t really concerned about what others have to say. That is, until, those people have something to say about what they have written. Then it’s a different story.

The third and final judging item was “Best example of public service by a newspaper.”

A series of stories about subsidizing gas bills for needy residents, pressure on state government to repair a bridge, a Christmas series of feel-good, good samaritan stories run over the Holidays (Twelve Days of Christmas-style) were the choices.

I chose the bridge story as the best one because it demonstrated the true power of the Fourth Estate: the ability to affect change. This is also and example of “sticking up for the little guy” in that the state was holding off repairs to a bridge that transported 10,000 people per day.

What I learned from this entry was part of what drew me to journalism in general: sticking it to the man. The example I judged didn’t exactly “stick it to” anyone, but it certainly helped in holding the state government accountable to the folks of Phoenixville.

By showing a different picture of this dilapidated bridge every Monday on the front page, the editorial staff really put the pressure on the legislators and department of transportation to repair the bridge. Pictures of netting placed on the underside of the bridge really brought the whole issue home, noting that the government knew how dangerous the situation could be by trying to mitigate.

This is a reminder of how journalism can make a difference, something we should all hold up as a standard.


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