Two different barometers to judge how effective the Times really is
It’s always gratifying to win awards for one’s work. Such was the case last week when we came home with a whopping nine awards—the best ever for us in the state journalism contest.
There are a couple projects that I am especially proud of in winning awards this year. Among the many awards, we earned first place for local breaking news coverage and special section.
But beyond these awards, there is more than just bringing home hardware.
Howard Lestrud and I teamed up on the tragic coverage of Rachel Harberts and her daughter, Emerson. Rachel, a Blooming Prairie school teacher, was killed on her way to school. For two weeks, we provided our readers with extensive coverage of this horrific event.
Even for veteran journalists like Howard and myself, stories like the Harberts tragedy are never easy to cover. In Howard’s case, he had just taken a class photo with Emerson a couple days before she was killed and the cutest photo of her with a hula hoop at Bible school a few months prior.
It’s not winning the award itself that I am proud of, but rather what the judges said about our coverage. “A heartbreaking story told with sensitivity and compassion,” the judges wrote. “Lots of detail and reaction in this story, and readers undoubtedly appreciated the thorough reporting and clean writing.”
The compliment of “sensitivity and compassion” is one of the greatest rewards that a writer can achieve. This is the approach that both Howard and I take no matter what we’re covering for the newspaper. It’s one thing to get the story, but it’s another to tell it in a way that brings out sensitivity and compassion to all those involved. I hope readers appreciate that from us as we’re always striving to be sensitive and compassionate in what we write.
The other big first place award recognized our efforts with the Lois Riess murder case. The project was called, “Murder on the Prairie.” We published an entire special section devoted last March to the tough life issues that have become the central focus of the Riess investigation. We went out of our way to dig deep into gambling, domestic violence, mental health and other issues that arose from the Riess tragedy.
Again I point to what the judges commented in awarding us first place. “A great way to bring challenging situations to light how to get appropriate help. Overall great job in covering available resources and offering options for care,” the judges wrote.
While these awards are wonderful, perhaps the greatest award came last week not at the awards banquet, but rather while I was out and about covering a story in Owatonna. A couple people stopped me and complimented us about how wonderful a newspaper we put out every week. What caught my attention even more was when one of them said, “The Times has developed a life of its own” through the stories and coverage offered with each edition. I don’t think there is any better compliment or award than hearing praise like that!
All of this goes back to my original intention 10 years ago when I took over this newspaper. All I have ever wanted to do is provide the citizens of Steele County with a quality newspaper that they can be proud of and want to pick up and read every week. Judging by the two barometers outlined above, I think we have accomplished that goal.
I am especially grateful to our readers and advertisers for allowing us to go in hot pursuit of providing quality hometown news every week.