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Archive for February 7th, 2009

Judges in two Iowa journalism contests affirmed this weekend what I hope you already know: The staff of The Gazette and GazetteOnline have been doing some outstanding journalism.

If you don’t like boasting, go read something else, because I want to take some time to brag about our staff.

Journalists can’t work in pursuit of prizes. I have been a judge or coordinated judging for dozens of journalism contests. However seriously judges take their work, they often have a lot entries to work through and they never have the perspective of the community audience for whom the work is produced.

Not long after last June’s floods, I started fielding suggestions from readers that we needed to nominate our staff’s work for Pulitzer Prizes. My response has been consistent: Yes, we will send in several Pulitzer entries (we did), but I don’t consider the Pulitzer Prize to be the highest honor in journalism. The highest honor in journalism is the respect of your community, so I’m more pleased to be asked about it by people in the community than I will be if we win.

And the fact of the matter is: Judging for journalism awards is unpredictable and subjective.

When I announced on Twitter Friday night that we had taken second place in the front-page category at the Iowa Newspaper Association awards, a friend on Facebook quickly asked what could have been a better front page than our June 13 “EPIC SURGE” wraparound cover? Well, the front-page entry is three different front pages: two from specified weeks and one of the newspaper’s choice (of course, we chose June 13). The judges liked the Dubuque Telegraph Herald’s three better than our three, so they took first place and I congratulate Editor Brian Cooper and his staff on that award. (We did win for best headline writing and best total newspaper design, and the “EPIC SURGE” edition was the centerpiece of those entries, too, so maybe we were getting a little greedy.)

Gazette staff members brought home a lot of awards from Friday night’s INA banquet in Des Moines, where INA and the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors both hand out awards.

Two efforts accounted for most, but not all, of our awards: The “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” series on prostitution in Eastern Iowa and our coverage of the June floods and the flood recovery.

Winners of first-place or individual awards were Jennifer Hemmingsen, Adam Belz, Liz Martin, Scott Dochterman, Jim Slosiarek, Jonathan Woods and former intern Amanda LaRae Larkin.

Jennifer was a multiple winner in both contests for “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” (a series that ran before I arrived, so I applaud without taking any credit). In the APME awards, she won the Writing Sweepstakes Award for the best writing entry as well as a first and a second in specific categories. She also won two first places and a third place in the INA awards.

We won several other first-place awards. Scott won first place from both INA and APME for his “Sports & Recovery” series about sports helping towns recover from tragedy. Jim won a first in APME for a sports feature photo from the Drake Relays. Amanda won for the best video, about a 71-year-old triathlete. Liz and Jon collaborated on the best slideshow, from the funeral of the Sueppel family. We also won in spot news story, slideshow and video. In additon, lots of staff members won second and third place in both contests.

INA names three outstanding young journalists and two of those honored Friday were Gazette staffers: reporter/blogger Adam Belz and photojournalist Liz Martin. Both were key players in our flood coverage.

Liz took the photo of May’s Island underwater that was on that June 13 cover and the cover of the “Epic Surge” book. She took many other photos you’ve been admiring in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the “Epic Surge” book since they appeared in The Gazette and GazetteOnline, including that huge aerial shot of Cedar Rapids at the museum and the shot of the clean spots under a place setting on a filthy tablecloth at Zins.

Adam has been one of our lead writers in flood coverage from the first. He wrote the narrative account of the successful effort to save the Edgewood Drive water well, a story people still praise when I’m speaking or meeting people in the community.

That community praise does matter the most. But also enjoy acclaim from our peers.

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