When Jeff Vandermeer returned from a tour of duty in Iraq to surprise his younger brother at graduation I was the lucky reporter assigned to the story.
“Brothers reunite at graduation” http://www.paysonroundup.com/news/2008/may/22/brothers_reunite_at/ was the last story I wrote as a reporter for the Payson Roundup Newspaper. Graduation ceremonies ended around 10 p.m. on a Thursday and was in the office until about 1:30 a.m. Friday crafting the story for the front page.”
This past evening, the story was given a mere Honorable Mention by a judge for the Arizona Press Women 2009 Communications Contest.
I admit my heart sank as I believe “Brothers… ” is one of the best feature stories I have ever written. The unknown judge wrote: “The extended stage/play metaphor is a bit labored and doesn’t really fit the occasion that well but the story has some nice moments.”
While I believe the judge was dead-on with comments on some of my other entries, and it was nice that the judge took the time to comment, “didn’t fit the occasion” made me bristle.
Payson is a small town and one of my beats was school activities. I knew the school. The judge did not. I met the younger brother Steven Vandermeer while covering another story. I was there. The Judge was not.
At the end of the evening I was stunned when the contest chair announced “Brothers reunite at graduation” was recognized by the Arizona Newspaper Association for the Arizona Press Women Communication Contest with the Outstanding Writing Award.
Kristin Gilger, Assistant Dean, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications wrote of “Brothers…” in an e-mail to the contest chair:
“What makes this simple story compelling is the way it is constructed. The writer sets up her story like a stage play… Telling the story this way draws the reader in, gives the piece a dramatic narrative structure and also helps to capture the drama and fun of the event…. The author’s voice comes through, but it does not overwhelm the telling of the story or the real heroes–two brothers who are happy to be reunited.”
So although the story won’t be going on to nationals, I am delighted.
My journalism training was in the newsroom, and while my first editor, Jerry Thebado, told me “writing news stories is not rocket science, ” it is nice to hear from someone whose job it is to know that I am quite capable.
Kudos to photographer Andy Towle for staying up late to get the picture and editor Tom Brossart for the assignment. And, thanks to the Vandermeers for the flowers.
I also won the Outstanding Writing Award in 2007 for “Happy ending.” you can read it here: http://www.paysonroundup.com/news/2006/nov/30/happy_ending/