It happened over 20 years ago in the elevator of the Gannett Building, then the headquarters of The Portland (Maine) Newspapers.
As we reached the newsroom floor and the doors opened, my editor, Bill Nemitz, and his boss told me that I’d won the daily analysis category of the Maine Press Association Better Newspaper Contest, for a series I’d written on the state of the city’s waterfront.
I jumped for joy. Literally.
Journalists may seem a tough lot, loners who ruthlessly cover their beats, impervious to criticism, unfettered by fear.
Perhaps a few are, by many are not. Many, in fact, are full of self-doubt, constantly wondering whether they’ve asked enough questions, drawn the correct conclusions and explained it all with clarity and grace and verve. Could they have done it better? Did they do it well enough?
Which is why, when a journalist’s peers applaud a particular piece of work, the satisfaction is profoundly felt.
Traditional newspapers support state and/or regional press associations. Enlightened publishers allow reporters and editors to volunteer company time to help lead the associations, and the papers also pay the tab for contest entry fees and the travel expenses incurred to attend meetings.
Why? Because the associations provide continuing education that raises newsroom performance while reducing libel and other risks.
Typically (at least in New England (I confess I’m not familiar with practices elsewhere), association meetings include presentations about stories gone wrong, ethics seminars and training sessions on the basics: interviewing, writing, editing. Hard questions are asked, fears are expressed. Many learn something new. Most are comforted by the apparent fact that they are not alone.
Reporters and editors return to the daily grind with a new understanding of how to do what they do — better.
I was reminded of this benefit by emails I received this week. The New England Newspaper & Press Association (NENPA) sent a link to its latest e-Bulletin. The New England Society of Newspaper Editors (NESNE) sent an invitation to its 2016 Awards Ceremony. Good examples, both of them, of the opportunities provided by peer association in the newspaper business.