Weekly editors' group honors editorialists and a courageous family, and confronts the Internet
A refugee from daily newspapers and a family that has published a crusading Appalachian weekly for more than 53 years won the top awards at the annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, held in Kentucky June 23-26, 2010.
Mo Mehlsak of The Forecaster of Falmouth, Maine, won ISWNE's Golden Quill award for best editorial among 96 entries. The judges said it explained "an intricate series of city and school official maneuverings . . . in such a way that readers unfamiliar with the political figures and events can understand the problem," the school superintendent's undue influence over the appointment of a board member. To read the editorial, click here.
Mehlsak is in the middle on the right side of the table in this photo of one of the editorial critique sessions, the heart of the conference, on Saturday, June 26. At the awards banquet that night, he said that after a summer internship during college, " I never imagined I'd ever again work at a weekly newspaper, at the bottom of the newspaper food chain." But he said the Forecaster, which competes with media in nearby Portland, is a "daily weekly," publishing four editions with deadlines three days a week.
"No group is better positioned to be a watchdog on local government than we are," Mehlsak told his audience. "With daily newspapers struggling to survive because they have forgotten how to do local news, and because their reliance on wire services and news that's available everywhere on the Web makes them increasingly less vital, our readers are depending on us more than ever to be that watchdog." To read his full speech, click here. In a Forecaster column after he returned home, Mehlsak said he had enjoyed "an inspiring week."
The editorial that wins the Golden Quill award is one of the "Golden Dozen" that are also recognized at the banquet and reprinted in the quarterly ISWNE journal, Grassroots Editor. This year's winners included competing editors in Abbotsford, Wis., Kevin O'Brien of the Tribune-Phonograph and Peter Weinschenk of the Record-Review. Other winners were David Giffey, editor of the Home News in Spring Green, Wis.; Dick Crockford, publisher of the Dillon Tribune in Montana; Marcia Martinek, editor of the Herald Democrat in Leadville, Colo.; Mark Brown, executive editor of By The Sea Future of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla.; M. Dickey Drysdale, editor-publisher of The Herald of Randolph, Vermont; Paul MacNeill, publisher of the Eastern Graphic in Montague, P.E.I.; John Wylie, publisher of the Oologah Lake Leader in Oklahoma; Bill Knight, columnist for The Zephyr of Galesburg, Ill.; and Tim Waltner, publisher of the Freeman Courier in South Dakota, seated behind Mehlsak in the photo above.
The Gish family, above, of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., won ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award for a career of outstanding public service through community journalism. Ben Gish, right, accepted the award on behalf of his father, Tom, who died in 2008, and his mother, Pat, who has Alzheimer's Disease. Ben Gish hosted the conference attendees during their tour of Eastern Kentucky Thursday, June 24, and had a lively discussion with them, but he had his friend, 1983 Cervi winner Homer Marcum, do most of the talking during the ceremony at Eastern Kentucky University.
"The Gish family have been role models to countless journalists," Marcum said, including himself. "They are also the most humble people I have ever met in this business. He said a professor who taught Ben Gish at the University of Kentucky called him "the best student I ever had," who missed class only when the Eagle office was firebombed in 1974. "If he got the Pulitzer tomorrow it wouldn't be award enough for the Gish family." The last eight pages of the Summer 2010 Grassroots Editor are about the Gishes.
The award is named for Eugene Cervi, who was editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver and "one of the most outspoken voices in American journalism," The New York Times said at his death in 1970. Waltner, who presented the award, said he had no doubt that Cervi, like Tom Gish the son of a coal miner, would be pleased with the selection. "For the past five decades the Gish family has continued to make a difference, not only in the community of Whitesburg, but literally across this country . . . Their commitment to craft and to the people in their community reflects the highest ideals of community journalism." For Waltner's remarks, click here.
On Friday, June 25, ISWNE focused on the issues that the digital age poses for weekly newspapers, which "face a special challenge from the Internet because their frequency is an anachronism in a digital world where readers can get fresh news 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky, which programmed the conference.
Cross and Gary Sosniecki of TownNews.com said the best strategy for weeklies is to post online material than can't appear in print, such as video. Publisher Don Estep, and Managing Editor Trent Knuckles, left and right above, of The News Journal in Corbin, Ky., showed how they had used video to add depth to stories and increase traffic to the website of the weekly, which competes with a daily. Estep said "A weekly needs timeliness," and Knuckles said they view the site as a companion to the printed newspaper. Asked about their priorities, Estep said, "My goal is to take care of the newspaper first. Video is the whipped cream on top."
The "Weeklies and the Web" session also included discussion of the legal and ethical aspects of interactivity, respectively, by Kansas City media lawyer Jean Maneke and Ohio University professor Bill Reader. He "got everyone buzzing" with talk about the strong tradition of anonymity in commentary on issues, wrote Marcia Martinek of the Herald Democrat in Leadville, Colo.
The day concluded with a presentation by Jim Turner of the Logan Journal, an online news service he started because people in Logan County, Kentucky, said they needed more or better coverage than they were getting in the local News Democrat and Leader, for which he and Cross once worked. "Since I started this, the paper I left has improved considerably," Turner said. "They're really mad at me at the newspaper, and I would be, too . . . but I felt like the paper wasn't living up to the standards" that it followed during most of the 40 years he worked for it, under a different owner.
To watch video of the sessions with Cross, Sosniecki and Maneke, click here. For video of Reader, Estep, Knuckles and Turner, click here. For the lunch speech by Greenslade Bursary recipient Doug Melloy of central England's weekly Rotherham Advertiser, go here. For photos from the whole conference, by Lindsay Huffman of EKU, go to the ISWNE Facebook page.