Awards only mean so much

Published 12:03 pm Saturday, April 25, 2015

On Saturday, for the third consecutive year, The Tidewater News returned to Franklin with the top award that the Virginia Press Association can bestow upon a paper our size in its annual news and advertising contest: The Grand Sweepstakes.

Judged by our peers in the Oregon Press Association, we competed against 33 publications from all around the state and earned enough points for second place in the news category — it would have been enough for the top spot had the first-year category of best website counted; and first in the advertising sweepstakes by a large margin. Added together, we also easily won it all in our division, the largest grouping of newspapers in the contest.

To be recognized for our work by our peers is an absolute honor. That doesn’t mean that we get to rest on our laurels, nor does it mean that we are a perfect paper.

In the news industry, the things that we have done are great, but not deeply meaningful long term. Like any service industry, it’s all about the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

And depending on the news week, that might not be a whole heck of a lot. That’s why we have to plan better to write compelling features and dynamic exposés that can provide good reads to fill those gaps.

It hurts our hearts when we publish newspapers that we know aren’t up to our standards, and we are also glad when the community questions that via an email, a phone call or random drop-by.

Then there are the weeks where there is so much happening that we can’t physically be everywhere because of time and there only being three of us in the newsroom. We hate to have to prioritize between which worthy event to cover. Yet, it’s a decision we are often faced with, and sometimes we don’t make the right call.

Another situation where we might not make it to an event is because we simply don’t know about it. Sometimes, it feels like people believe we know about everything going on, but we’re honestly only as good as our sources are in most cases.

Other times, it might be that we just screwed up; maybe our car broke down, or even worse, we forgot or planned so poorly that we double-booked ourselves. We are far from perfect.

Regardless of whatever reason we were unable to attend, we are deeply appreciative of our readers who take the time to send pictures, call in information, or submit a story or column.

A newspaper is a private business, but journalism is as close as it gets to public service without actually being in the public service industry. This is especially true for publications like The Tidewater News at the small community level. Just like government, schools and the police force, a newspaper is partially a reflection of what the community puts into it.

And also vice versa, the community can be a reflection of what the newspaper puts into it. We can be your voice in improving Western Tidewater.

But that’s only so if we have a pulse on the pavement. Some weeks, it seems like we are in an impenetrable castle with a dragon keeping people at bay. It’s really hard to be your voice if you don’t open up when we call or see you.

Other weeks, it seems like we can’t go anywhere without being delayed — and perhaps being late to one of those aforementioned events. Or we can’t get any work done in the office because the phone is ringing off the hook and people are constantly walking in to ask or tell us something.

Even though it gives us more work to do, it’s a much better problem to have because at least we have an idea of what people would like to read when they flip up the fold and crack open our pages.

Which brings us back to the point. Oregon, or even Richmond, will not be the one to judge our worth. That’ll be you, the reader. Despite any accolades we may receive, we know we could be better.

The upside is that we want to get better. There’s ways we seek to improve every day that we can only do through training or learning from mistakes.

But no amount of training is going to bring this paper to its true potential. Like any elected politician, if we tried to represent you without listing to you or soliciting your help, then we’d be doing a very poor job indeed.

That’s why our door is always open. Come by, call us, email us or message us on Facebook or Twitter. We can’t promise to always be there, but we will get back to you as soon as possible.

And if we don’t, call us back and give us a kick in the rear. Sometimes it can get hectic, but we never want to be too busy for you.

We care deeply about this community, and we want you to use us so that Western Tidewater can one day bring home awards — for best school system, most efficient government use of taxpayer dollars, most beautiful place to live and so forth.

These goals, which are far more important than any honor The Tidewater News can garner, are certainly achievable, but only if we care enough to make it happen.