Every year immediately after the holidays, I and scores of my colleagues and industry professionals are asked to judge journalistic excellence drawn from Ontario’s community newspaper industry, in the annual newspaper awards competitions. I’ve been doing this now for 30 years and I always look forward to seeing what the province’s best community journalists have produced over the past year.
There’s a few reasons for that. One, as a former publisher and editor in the industry, I know the people who produced the work entered, completed it in less-than-ideal conditions, often under-paid and over-worked. They overcame internal and external pressures to publish work their boss has deemed worthy to represent the newspaper in competitions. Second, it gives me examples of great local stories I can bring into the classroom to show my students at the college that print journalism is alive and well and even thriving. And that reaffirms my strong belief in the future of our province and country’s community press.
I’m judging the ‘Best News Story Over 10,000 circulation’ which is my favourite category next to ‘Best Investigative Story’ (another judge claimed that first). I will be judging more than 60 entries from towns and cities such as Smiths Falls and Port Perry, to Milton to Sudbury. Examples of the kinds of stories run from fires to deaths to plant closures, often tragic, but stories that require steadfast reporting to answer the community’s questions.
But the story that will win this category from my perspective will be the one that goes beyond the obvious five Ws reporting and the standard police press release. Scale of a news event is important — that is, its overall impact on a community — but I’ll be looking for the extra dedication spent in telling the total story at every level, to ensure that there are no, if any, unanswered questions a reader may have.
I want to see examples of “smart” reporting, in which sources that may not have been obvious at first, breaks information that unlocks key information that competitors overlooked.
Once I’m done and the winners are announced (first week in February), I will be highlighting the winning entries in this blog and provide my rationale behind my decisions. Stay tuned!