National, regional contests honor Herald journalism

There’s an art to accepting compliments.

First, you need to receive the good words graciously. And second, you need to keep them from going to your head.

The Herald newsroom has numerous award winners — and these journalists admit they’re happy for the recognition. But they seem to do a good job of maintaining their perspectives.

This year, the newspaper and its sister publications won fourteen awards — including four first-place honors — in the Society of Professional Journalists regional contest for the Pacific Northwest. During the past year, its photo staff won both national and regional recognition. And the Daily Herald was one of only two mid-sized newspapers to win multiple awards in the Washington-Oregon Blethen competition.

“Who doesn’t like to win an award?” asks Debra Smith, a reporter whose assignments include covering the city of Everett. “It is something people in many other industries don’t have — a chance to be measured against your peers.”

Although most awards are given out to individual journalists, Smith thinks the recognition helps cement the Herald’s reputation with readers. “It’s good for people to realize they’ve got a pretty good paper in their community and pretty good people working here.”

On the other hand, Smith admits, there are many news stories that affect people in both big and small ways — “and they will never, ever win awards.” But you cover those stories anyway, because they matter to people in our county. “Readers,” she says, “are the ultimate judges.”

Earlier this year, reporter Diana Hefley wrote a story about a courts project that diverts kids with drug infractions into a program that uses art and other creative outlets to help them discover new directions for their lives. The feature won an SPJ first-place award for social issues reporting.

“I don’t set out and say, ‘All right!’ This is going to be an award winner!’” Hefley says. Reporters do a lot of stories because they are important, uplifting or heart-rending — “and lots of the Herald’s good work didn’t get SPJ awards this year,” she observes.

Hefley, who covers criminal justice news and issues, says she witnesses a lot of grief and pain as she does her reporting. And that often discourages her from seeking awards for her coverage. “You don’t want to feel like you’re gaining from someone’s tragedy,” she says.

One of the Herald’s assistant city editors, Chuck Taylor, has seen journalism contests from both sides. He has worked in newsrooms that devoted a lot of effort to entering and often winning major national and regional awards. And, early in his career, Taylor was an officer in the Tri-Cities SPJ chapter, helping to coordinate contest entries and judging.

“It gives you a moment of recognition among your colleagues around the region,” Taylor says of awards. “But I’m not sure it is time spent that really benefits readers.” In addition to the time spent preparing entries, he point outs, most contests carry entry fees.

“Is entering a lot of contests how you really want to commit your resources?” Taylor asks.

Many newspaper editors weigh the value of newspaper contests in terms of staff morale. And that’s the way Herald outdoors columnist Wayne Kruse reflects on his winningest year.

In about 1980, when Kruse had been at the Daily Herald about four years, he recalls, “I was fortunate enough to win not just one first-place award, but two; not bad for a specialty columnist.

“The awards dinner, a silverware-and-tablecloth affair at a hotel in downtown Seattle was, for me, a magical event. The memory still ranks near the top of the list for me after all these years. I went on to win a number of other regional awards, but this first-place double was the main event.”

Kruse is a guy who knows how to take a compliment.

Each week, Here at The Herald provides an inside peek at the newspaper. Is there something you would like to know? Email Executive Editor Neal Pattison,

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