Sign at a carnival that says WIN PRIZES

By Jacqui Banaszynski

For four decades now, I’ve laid down a motivational challenge for myself: Can I be involved in at least one journalism project each year that wins a significant award? Regional award is ok. National, far better.

I’m sure that sounds like hubris, or at least indicates a seriously screwed-up value system. As any journalist will tell you, ours is a profession that loves to shower itself with awards. Maybe that’s because 1) we are loath to accept smooches from any interest that could be perceived as a dent in our armor of independence and 2) when so much of the world likes to disparage us, we comfort ourselves with a bit of self-love. Awards also can feel fickle, requiring a serendipitous combination of the right story, right timing, right approach and right judges.

But it’s not the awards themselves that engage me in this mental game. Rather, it’s been a way for me to assess my work on a regular basis and try to ratchet it up a notch — or several. Contest judges were not something I could, or would, control. But the story, the timing and the approach — those things were, often enough, up to me. This became a way for me not to let one more year slip by in a good-enough rut, but to ask myself — as a reporter, then an editor, then a teacher, then a story coach — whether I was bringing my best self to the job.

Bonus — and it’s a big one — it’s how I kept learning.

The work I do now, with Storyboard, doesn’t easily fit under my game umbrella. Our mission is to identify, analyze and celebrate the stand-out work of other journalists. But it wasn’t hard to tweak the challenge to fit the job. Now I like to see how many of the stories we’ve featured over the past year have, indeed, been on the list of the big contests. I guess it’s my way of paying attention to how much quality journalism is being done despite — or maybe because of — the dragons chomping at our industry. It’s also become a way for me to study the best practices at work behind that journalism.

There’s no score-keeping in this game. I will confess to brief moments of pride. I soon override that with a dive into all the impressive work that wasn’t on my radar and try to target a few pieces for future posts. That done, I reset the game clock with the thought that maybe I’ll do better next year.

Further Reading