MNA Better Newspaper Contest Awards After Deadline

Reporter Noah Fish, photographer Andrew Link and reporter Jeff Kiger celebrate with the Vance Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding daily newspaper in Minnesota, in this Jan. 24, 2019, photo. Winning the award again (for the third straight year) is a goal in the newsroom. 

It's like my own Sophie's Choice around here.

The newly christened online editor is cracking the whip on us all to get our entries to him by tomorrow for the 2019-2020 Minnesota Newspaper Association's Better Newspaper Contest. 

The Post Bulletin has won the MNA award for overall awesomeness (not the actual award title) the last two years, and, frankly, we'd like to win it again. 

Alas, here's my dilemma: Each reporter has been tasked with finding the two best stories he or she has written in a particular category (Human Interest Story, Social Issues Story, Hard News, etc.). 

Just two.

That's like telling Monet to pick his favorite painting of water lilies. There's so much fine, quality material there. How can one choose?

Square Pegs, Round Holes

The first problem I face is the categories the MNA gives us for the contest. I don't necessarily write a ton of articles in the category of Business Story or Arts and Entertainment Story. 

What I excel at — if I may be so bold — are what the MNA calls Social Issue Stories. Those are issues that affect society as a whole, but the MNA mentions examples such as "poverty, violence, justice, human rights, equality or discrimination and crime."

No, I write about dairy farming trends and nitrates in the water. 

My second problem is, generally, when I tackle big social issues, I cover them as part of a package or as ongoing coverage. With nitrates, I wrote a weekend focus with three separate stories. With dairies, it's been a body of work consisting of a dozen stories over nine months.

Cows Come Home to Roost

There's the business of cows. There's the trends with cows. I've met with owners of dairies of all sizes and written about how they run their businesses. I've gone to court to hear cases about cows. County board meetings have focused on cows. 

I think I've written a lot of interesting stories about dairies. Hard-hitting looks at the industry, how local farmers are impacted by national trends, and how they are fighting to keep their business the cream of the crop. 

I get to choose two. 

Well, that is, I get to choose two stories per category, and sometimes I write things in a category that have nothing to do with cows. Even if there was a whole category for cows, I'd have too many.  

Right away, I cut any story that comes from a meeting. This summer, I covered a Winona County Board meeting where the topic was dairies, and some great stuff was said. That's not even on the short list. 

All this work, of course, is to give me the best chance of winning an award. The newspaper that gets the most points from winning awards gets the big "Best Newspaper in Minnesota" award, and I'd like to help with that. 

And if you think picking my best cow story is hard, I'm also entering the Column category where I will finally get the recognition I deserve for the humor, heart and tales of the journalism underbelly that is "After Deadline."

Already A Winner

Sadly, over the last three years, I have yet to win an MNA award. 

Yes, I'm as shocked as you are. 

Maybe it's because I've already had my moment in the sun. 

Previously, I worked for a business magazine where I took home awards every year. We'd enter the Minnesota Magazine & Publications Association contest each year. I never left with less than one silver award. 

The same magazine would enter national and international English language business magazine contests. In the international contest, I once won an award for writing a humorous column. I would trot out that fact when my kids would say, "Dad, you're not funny."

"Oh, yeah? I've got an international business writing award that says otherwise, young lady!"

They were never impressed by this. 

What Would Noah Do?

Last year, hard-working AgriNews reporter Noah Fish won an award for a story he wrote about migrant labor. This year, I also wrote a story on the topic, and I'm tempted to enter that in the contest. 

On the pro side, it's a winning topic. On the con side, if I don't win, Noah can lord it over me for years to come. Not that he would. But it's a concern. 

In the meantime, I'm trying to decide between the column I wrote on journalism ethics and the one where I slid off the icy road near Weaver. 

It's Sophie choosing between Jan and Eva all over again.

What's your reaction?