Every October, I’m reminded of a joke: How can you tell if someone is an award-winning journalist?
Don’t worry — just like vegans, marathon runners, and members of the sovereign citizen movement, we’ll tell you.
I kid, I kid. Actually, it’s quite the opposite among my peers at Sound Publishing, at least down here in King County; we dutifully send our clips and photographs to the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists every year, and if we receive some award for our work, quietly file them away into a dusty manila folder or dark filing cabinet, only to reappear when we need to update our resumés.
At best, we’ll throw an office pizza party for ourselves — that’s about as wild as we’ll get.
(The sales folks, on the other hand, know how to party.)
I’ve been submitting my articles to these sorts of contests every year ever since I started back in 2014. Dennis Box, my old editor, would encourage me on an annual basis to write about the various awards I’d get — but I never got around to it. Truth be told, despite the fact that I put more than a fair chunk of my self-esteem into these sorts of competitions (especially when I was eight years younger), I am also embarrassed to talk about these sort of achievements.
But why I’m breaking a nearly decade-long streak is clear: with the direction journalism is heading, especially local reporting, you need to know what sort of bang you’re getting for your buck. Despite all the pretty talk about a newspaper being a community pillar and a bastion of free speech, it is also a product — and you want to make sure you’re paying for the best product you can get.
Since 2015, I have earned 50-some awards in myriad news writing, opinion writing, and photography categories in state-wide contests.
Individually, these achievements — in my opinion — mean squat. Although my pieces of work were judged by other journalists in other states, without any sort of knowledge of me and as objectively as possible, I know how subjective these competitions are, since I have also been a judge.
But almost every year, no matter which state judges my work, I’ve established a pattern of awards.
I’m most proud of my Comprehensive Coverage achievements, in-depth reporting that spans at least three articles.
I earned third in 2019 for reporting on Bonney Lake’s water utility and why water bills were reaching three digits every month and for my 2021 COVID-19 coverage.
I garnered second in 2018 for reporting on the tumultuous Black Diamond City Council, and another second place for Investigative Reporting in 2020 for digging deep into a council member’s history with the “Three Percenter” movement.
I was awarded first in 2015 for a series of articles about marijuana when the state was preparing for growers, processors, and retailers to legally start their businesses, and another top placement in 2022 for my COVD-19 coverage.
And finally, in 2020, I opened a WNPA package containing a broom and a dog tag. Confused, I emailed the WNPA what sort of award this was, as I had never seen it before. I was informed it was sent to me because I “swept” the Comprehensive Coverage category that year, placing third, second, and first for a series on a local civil war soldier’s diaries for Veteran’s Day, the beginnings of the Drainage District 5 scandal featuring Allen and Joann Thomas, and coverage of the Jokumsen cold case as it went to trial, respectively.
My columns have placed well almost every year I submit them; I’ve received several awards for my “Shakespeare and Sex Jokes” series, numerous first places for my commentary on social issues like why gay men should be able to donate blood, fake news vs. bad journalism, imperialism and independence, and praise for writing about the rise of White Nationalism and far-right violence, both generally and locally.
And, after four years of desperately wanting this particular prize, I finally placed first in the News of the Weird category for my article on an international Sasquatch convention coming to town in 2020.
I’ve also won awards for numerous business features, several crime and court articles, many photo essays (I also swept that category in 2020), and a smattering of environment, government, health and wellness, education, general news and profile articles, and — surprisingly — a sports feature.
And this is just me — reporter Alex Bruell is just as, if not more so, recognized as a top news writer in this state, having earned myriad awards at this paper and his previous publication, the Longview Daily News.
Of course, you also get the moron who manages to screw up sports headlines three weeks in a row.
Mistakes aside, this is what you get when you read the Courier-Herald: local, in-depth, and informative news coverage — far superior to what you may hear about the Plateau on cable or radio — plus diverse and (I hope) thought-provoking opinions and columns.
And while the recognition is appreciated, I don’t do this work for certificates and plaques. I do it because I believe this is how I can best serve this community that I have come to love. My family is here — my child is growing up here — so I want the Plateau to be the best place it can be.
But back to the subject at hand: does this paper deliver? Is the information you get worth the bill you pay?
If you ask me, of course I’ll say yes. But I also think you’re asking the wrong question.
This newspaper may be a product, but my mission is public service. And it’s clear that when small-town papers die, their communities are negatively affected — voter participation declines, corruption increases, and rumors and misinformation run rampant.
It may be silly to be idealistic in a time where inflation is out of control and 40% of Americans are one paycheck away from poverty, but supporting this paper is more than just paying for the privilege of ink-stained fingers — it’s a way to invest in your community.
And I think that’s the biggest bang for your buck you can get.