It's The Work, Stupid
Some thoughts on the Sunshine State Awards:
1. Okay, there's two categories, small newspapers with 50,000 circulation and under and large ones with anything more than that. Ridiculous. It leaves the small class with a dearth of solid competition and a whole class of mid-sized newspapers going up against bigees, which of course have more resources and reporters. Do you know how many finalists the Bradenton Herald got in this competition? Nineteen. Why? Because it's a professional newspaper (Knight Ridder/McClatchy) with a Sunday circulation of 48,000. It's a good newspaper, but it's not that good. Look at the paltry list. The Villages Daily Sun got nine, the Charlotte Sun and DBR each got seven, and the Business Journals pulled five. That's basically your competition, people. Here's what you do: Make the demarcation line 100,000. Pull the Naples Daily News and News-Press and Lakeland Ledgers into it. Or have three categories: Small at 40,000 and under. Medium at 40,000 to 150,000 and large everything over that.
2. Here's a little-known fact: When my friend Harris Meyer left New Times to become an editor at DBR, he pulled some strings at SPJ. First thing he did was take New Times out of the small newspaper category (where it was a dominator) and put it into the large. Then he took the Daily Business Review and moved it from large to small. Technically, he was right. Both the Miami and Broward New Times had circulations over 50,000 and DBR's circulation is under 10,000. But former DBR chief Ed Wasserman wanted to compete against the bigs and SPJ cut NT a break because the newspapers had such small reporting staffs. I'd rather compete against the bigs anyway, but, well, you know.
3. Meyer is also responsible for some of the stranger categories in the competition, like the ones for "civil law" and "criminal law" and "medical/healthcare/science" reporting. Funny, he's the law editor at DBR and he happens to have been one of the most knowledgeable health care reporters in the country. Must be a coincidence. To be fair, he added a lot more categories than just the ones mentioned and there is no doubt that he made the Sunshine State competition a more thriving contest. Hard to argue with, really.
4. One of the other categories Meyer added was local government reporting, in which I'm a finalist. Also named in the same category was Brittany Wallman of the Sun-Sentinel. You all know who she is. Here's Wyatt Olson's take on it: "It's got everything: dirty politics, pathos, kids caught in between, Plantation police eventually called in, a PDF of the incident report on smokinggun.org. There's a wild ride ahead, and the Lord obviously prepared your heart during your time with the Lords of Chaos." Silly. I couldn't have lovelier competition and I'm sure after the thing is over I'll stop sleeping on the couch and we'll start speaking again. Actually, when I heard about it, I thought the only thing that would suck was that if the third finalist won. Then I saw that the other finalist was Ronnie Green of the Miami Herald. I'm not going to go on and on about him, but let me put it this way: It would be an honor to lose to Ronnie Green. He's one of the best reporters to grace this peninsula. I remember when I first started working here and was doing research on some story or another and it led me to a bunch of Green stories. There was a shock of recognition. Here was a brother-in-arms, a reporter who dug deep, who questioned everything. And it made me think of the real importance of what we do. We aren't just writing for today's readers. We're writing for the future. And if we're lucky enough to be able to do more than scratch the surface, if we can really get at what is happening in South Florida in 2006, that work is going to be picked up by another reporter or historian or author down the road. It means something; it connects us. Forget the awards. It's the work.