It’s hard to type with one arm in a sling from patting yourself on the back

From The Platteville Journal:

The Platteville Journal received seven Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest awards, including two first-place awards, at the annual WNA convention in Middleton Friday. …

The Journal won first place in the Most Improved Newspaper category. The category compared three editions in August 2012 from the same three editions one year earlier.

“Changes very noticeable,” judges wrote, mentioning The Journal’s logo “and front page in general. … Very newsy and well designed newspaper.”

Editor Steve Prestegard also received a first-place award in the editorial category for his June 27 Etc. column, “Parking problems.” Judges called it “good, punchy writing on topics of local interest.”

As a former fellow ink-stained wretch put it, newspaper people use words like “punchy” and “newsy.”

Four pages later:

When winning awards, a journalist is supposed to say that he or she isn’t in the profession to win awards, and that quality work is its own reward.
Who in the name of Joseph Pulitzer am I kidding? Of course I’m happy that The Platteville Journal received seven awards in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest last weekend. Professional recognition of your work is always nice.

And professional recognition is always nice, until the inevitable future lesson that you’re not as good as you think you are. Journalism is one of the few professions in which you make your mistakes in pubic. I mean public. (See?)

I had a great time at the WNA convention, even before award time. I saw former coworkers and colleagues in this line of work, along with my counterpart on the most contentious hour in the history of the Wisconsin Public Radio Week in Review. (When we were on the air two years ago during the height of Act 10, I truly thought that had we been in the same room, fisticuffs might have broken out, though when you’re looking at out-of-shape journalists the result probably would have been similar to your typical hockey fight.) I also got to see most of the staff of the Ripon Commonwealth Press, once again judged the state’s best weekly newspaper, and for good reason.

The timing of the WNA convention was ironic given the reporting of attempts at intimidation by  the Obama administration of journalists covering the administration. (Including, most stupidly, Bob Woodward of All the President’s Men. Woodward seems unlikely to be able to be intimidated.) The reverse irony was the fact that Gov. Scott Walker spoke during the convention’s first night. (I couldn’t go, but I’ve heard him before.)

After a quarter-century in journalism I’ve concluded I’m better at improving than creating. I’m probably best at, shall we say, adapting (sounds better than “stealing,” right?) others’ more original ideas. If you put together the 1985–88 Monona Community Herald, the 1988–91 Grant County Herald Independent, the 1991–92 Beaver Dam Daily Citizen (where I learned that “under way” is two words, not one, and I learned the Fay Test — if the typesetter who doesn’t pay much attention to local events doesn’t know a name in a headline, don’t put it in the headline), and the 1992–94 Tri-County Press, with a few ideas thrown in from the 1994–2001 and 2008–11 Marketplace Magazine (R.I.P.), you get the 2012–13 Platteville Journal.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the work of the old-timers more than I did 20 or so years ago. We purchased the Tri-County Press in Cuba City from a man who had owned it for 27 years, after his father owned it for 64 years. I redesigned it because (1) it needed to be redesigned, and (2) I couldn’t figure out how it had been designed. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten was from the son of a reader who said he previously could read the paper between his mailbox and the front door of his house, but now had to sit down and read it.

One of the more enjoyable hours I’ve had here was talking to the long-time owner of The Platteville Journal before he sold it in 2004. We were competitors when I was in Lancaster and in Cuba City. I confess I didn’t think much of how his newspaper looked. I further confess (because it’s Lent after all) that I didn’t react well to competition.

In both cases, it’s taken many years for me to realize that someone does the best he or she can with what he or she has, particularly when, as in the Journal’s and the Tri-County Press’ cases, the editor is also the publisher, job printer and business owner. I work long and irregular hours, but it’s hard to imagine working every night, every weekend and every holiday, and being ultimately responsible for literally everything. That’s what business owners do, whether or not they’re in journalism.

We old (or middle-aged in my case) warhorses can swap war stories. The Journal’s previous publisher told me of a city council meeting he covered in which two aldermen, with the same first name, got into such a heated argument though sitting on opposite ends of the council meeting room that one got up and crossed the room to take a swing at the other. I have my own stories, including taking on an entire school board (or so it seemed at the time) over its creative (yet incorrect) interpretation of the state Open Meetings Law.

The previous owner of The Journal (who purchased an ad thanking us and applauding the “past and present editors” after the sale for their work) didn’t get nearly as much credit as he should have for the things he did for Platteville. That was one reason to write about him. The other is that he has terminal cancer. I will make certain he gets an appropriate sendoff in the pages of his former newspaper.

The convention honors those journalists who have passed on to the Great Newsroom in the Sky in the past year. This year, that included Don and Laurel Huibregtse, owners of the Monona Community Herald and the source of my first journalism paycheck. Between that and meeting all those people I’ve interacted with in my journalism career, the convention was a one (very long) day trip into the wayback machine.

3 thoughts on “It’s hard to type with one arm in a sling from patting yourself on the back

  1. Congats Steve!!! Makes all the long hours seem like it was worth it…….for awhile.
    Keep up the good work and let me know when you get that book published. I would like a signed copy if it happens.

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