2009.11.18 A judge learns to grieve 2009.11.18

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Journalists in Iowa judged Michigan’s Better Newspaper Contest last summer. On Friday we returned the favor.

I signed up to help knowing that great suffering lay ahead, but I arrived at the scene at 8 a.m. and got to work quickly while I was still awake.

And still enthused and ready to reward good work.

And hoping that this time I would escape the Five Stages of Judging Day Grieving.

How wrong I was. Only a few minutes passed before I hit that first wall—Denial, this can’t be happening to me.

I started off with Feature Page entries from weekly papers about our size. There was an entry that looked like an ad for the county fair. I tried another and found three pictures of the new ice cream truck.

Another showed three photos from the fourth of July celebration, including one that appeared to show storm clouds over a cornfield. There was no photo caption and I really couldn’t figure it out.

The next one had a photo of the school softball team plus the probable line-up. Then came a special section of Letters to Santa, loaded with Christmas greeting ads. Someone else passed off an election preview section as a feature page.

Maybe they just have a different idea of feature page in Iowa.

One editor subscribes to the bigger-the-better philosophy. A letter to the judge says, “Seven—count ’em—seven big pages of photos were included in this edition.”

I wasn’t that easily impressed and I felt Stage Two moving in: Anger, the “why me?” feeling.

I was forced to choose three examples of good work. I looked through them again, made my decision, and moved on to the entries from the smallest newspapers in the state.

I girded for the worst, but by the end I discovered they were actually better than the first batch—along with many exceptions.

I next chose Use of Graphics and the first batch included four entries. I only had to discard one, but I wanted to discard more. Just show me a clear winner and help me feel good about my work.

Later I dug into the photography entries and gave Stage Three of grieving a try: Bargaining. Mike MacLaren from the Michigan Press Association office walked by and I told him that I’d winnowed the entries down from 34 to these six and I wanted him to select the top three. Instead he just disappeared from the room.

I’m a small town boy and decided to give Agricultural News a try. I was befuddled. They’re publishing press releases and entering them as good ag news coverage. Show me an interesting story about someone. Dagnabbit, I was slipping back into Stage Two.

I packed up my choices before someone stopped by to see what I’d selected. I had reached the inevitable stage of judging: What am I doing here? What do I know about good quality work? Sometimes it happens when there’s too much good stuff; sometimes when there’s not enough. I was moving into Stage Four: Depression.

By now it was after noon and I noticed stacks of entries that everyone was avoiding. I took a look: Sports Stories.

Div. I: 26 entries. Div. II: 28 entries. I dug in and tried to control my eyebrows. What are the characteristics of Stage Four? Frustration, bitterness, feeling numb, perhaps suicidal.

I didn’t feel suicidal until I grabbed a packet of Sports Photos with 64 entries! I didn‘t want to do this, but I couldn’t just put them back in the envelope. The first pass narrowed the field to 18. This was where I really began to feel incompetent. I cut it down to seven; four of them had to go. 

The judging was advancing fairly well until the Iowa reps spoiled it by bringing out the college newspaper entries. Now I had to read the Wartburg Trumpet and puzzle over a Loras Duhawk.

I’ve told you about my suffering and my frustration, but I should mention that there were many good entries and some really fine work. You might think this statement represents the final stage of grieving: Stage Five, Acceptance.

You’re wrong. That came later when a name was drawn from an actual hat. One of the judges who stuck it out past 4 p.m. would receive a check for $100. My name was drawn, although there was no check to pass. I’m told it will be in the mail and I can accept that.

  • Play Practice
    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rover
    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

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