Every week, I write four or five news stories, and often a column or a movie review as well. Some of them are pretty formulaic - school board coverage, previews for events like a Cinco de Mayo Festival, basic reportage on items before the planning commission or graffiti spray painted on the city park's bathroom walls.
The feature stories get a little more interesting. I've covered everything from pet pigs (and pet turkeys) to men who quilt, from champion vegetable farmers to World War II veterans recounting imprisonment in internment camps, from people who came to wine country with the dream of growing their own grapes, to a woman who led me through the steps of hand-pressing olive oil from her own trees.
I've had mud baths, and salt scrubs, and foot massages, and attended yoga classes, and Nia classes, and Pilates classes, all in the interest of telling Calistoga visitors a first-hand account of spa indulgences for our monthly Mud City Weekender.
I've met a lot of interesting people, and told quite a few decent stories. Some of them, I felt, turned out quite well. And the people of Calistoga, my readers, have been kind, and I frequently receive nice compliments about my writing - one of the perks of being a writer in a small community where people know who you are.
But last week, I received an award from my peers.
Each year, the California Newspaper Publishers Association holds a Better Newspapers Competition. Newspapers across the state of all sizes submit their best efforts: news stories, feature stories, business news stories, sports stories, news photos, sports photos, photo essays, editorials, etc. The competition is divided into categories by newspaper size, so the big dailies compete against each other, while the weeklies have their own contests.
Judges from newspapers around the state select the top four entries in each category. These four "blue ribbon panel" finalists are sent to judges from outside of the state, and two awards, a first and a second place, are bestowed, and then announced, at the annual convention.
And I won! I received a second place award for a business story I wrote called "Recession Woes." It was a good, solid piece of news journalism. I had interviewed several local merchants, including one who had been forced to close shop, as well as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, the city's financial director, and others in the community, assessing the impact of the recession. It was a story that, even when I had written it, I felt like, "Now, that was a good effort."
The Calistoga Tribune, my newspaper, also won awards for a feature story (first place) and photo essay (first and second place).
So - it's not going to my head or anything. But it sure does feel nice to have that little pat on the back every now and then, to have somebody say, "Hey, nice job."