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Talking it over: Judging and being judged

At the end of January over the past 20 plus years, I have attended the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention. There have been many changes over the years, not only in the industry but also at the convention. However, there has been one constant each year at this gathering and that is the Better Newspaper Contest,  a contest that features the work of journalists from throughout the state.

Each fall the rules come out for the contest and newspapers across the state are invited to submit entries in several categories ranging from typography and design, photography, stories, columns, and much more. In some of these, the rules specify the week during which the entry needs to have run. Some new categories have also been added such as best website, use of graphics and investigative reporting. During my nearly 25 years of working for the newspaper, I have submitted an average of ten to twenty items each year. Then I wait for the results.

In early November, volunteers from other states judge the entries and select the top three in each category. Letters are then sent out to winners telling them that they have won and in what category but not the placing. I received a letter late last year saying I was a winner in the Classified page category so I booked my trip to the convention.

When I got to the convention last week, I learned that the Hancock Record took first place in the category for our circulation. There are several circulation groups along with divisions for weekly newspapers and daily newspapers. The awards are presented at a banquet on Thursday night of the convention. It tends to get quite long with so many categories and divisions but is worth it when it is your turn to go up and accept the award.

I have to say that the award received this year has been a group effort. The Forum, owner of this paper, recently made some changes that affected how the classified page is laid out. I just have to let the ads flow in and then rearrange and place filler ads as needed. It does create a neat and clean look which was one of the comments made by the judges. However, it has taken time and patience to learn and master the new system.

It was fun to get the award and have a plaque to put on the wall. It was also quite thrilling to hear the congratulations and applause from fellow journalists. However, I have to say that for me the best thing about the contest, is the ideas you get by seeing what others have done and been recognized for. It is a great source for new ideas and even a way of knowing when to ditch others.

This is the fourth award I have accepted while working here and it was just as sweet as the first. Even though I don’t have a high percentage rate of winnings compared to entries, it is worth the wait. I need this encouragement every few years to keep me submitting those entries and learning a little more with each contest.