Thursday, June 17, 2021
June 17, 2021

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From the Newsroom: Celebrating well-earned recognition

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Journalists sponsor a lot of awards contests to recognize their own good work. Other industries do this too; I once got a really interesting story for the paper by talking to the two-time U.S. champion at installing resilient floor covering, who was from Vancouver.

There are the Pulitzer Prizes, of course, and many, many other contests. Some are based on subject matter or the platform of the story (TV, radio, print or web.) Some are based on geography, like the Best of the West contest.

At The Columbian, we mostly enter the Society of Professional Journalists’ regional contest, which covers five Western states including Washington and Oregon. At various times, I’ve been a board member of the Greater Oregon chapter and realize that the contest entry fees paid by The Columbian and others provide enough working capital for the chapter to do some very good things, including lobbying for better public records laws and providing conferences and training for working journalists and college students.

Plus, it’s fun to win! Just this month, we took home nine awards in this year’s SPJ contest. With about two dozen journalists on our staff these days, that’s a pretty good percentage of winners.

Our photo editor, Amanda Cowan, won three awards, including first place in feature photography for an entry she called “Health Care Worker Tribute.” It shows employees at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center waving at fighter pilots during a flyby to honor health care workers’ service during the pandemic.

Meg Wochnick and Joshua Hart were honored with a first-place award for sports reporting for the story “Virus’s Blindside Block.” The story, which ran in September, examined the plight of local high school athletes who were banking on their senior season to help them land college scholarships. It was a smart story idea, and they reported it well, including athletes both from football and less-publicized sports.

I was surprised by our other two first-place finishes, because they were awards for something those people don’t normally do. Colleen Keller, our assistant news editor, was honored for editorial and commentary. Colleen is an excellent editorial writer, but she spends almost all of her time as our assistant news editor, choosing wire news and editing both it and local copy. But when our editorial page editor, Greg Jayne, is away, she contributes some excellent editorials. (Greg missed several weeks of work last year due to an injury, so Colleen’s work was invaluable as well as award-winning.)

Amy Libby won first place for print page design. Amy’s our web editor. Most of her day is spent tending our website, monitoring our social media and producing our newsletters. But she’s been laying out print pages for many years; obviously she hasn’t lost any skill despite her primary web duties.

Welcoming a new byline

Are you a byline reader? If so, you’ve noticed an old friend and a newcomer in recent days. One of my all-time favorite colleagues, Tom Vogt, came out of retirement to write a story about Mount St. Helens research for the anniversary of its May 18 eruption. True to form, he found another good story while reporting that one, about how Vancouver-based vulcanologists are monitoring geothermal activity at Yellowstone National Park.

The newcomer is Becca Robbins, who started this week as the junior member of our breaking news team, alongside Assistant Metro Editor Jessica Prokop (who was one of the SPJ winners).

Becca is my favorite kind of person to hire: talented, educated and from Vancouver. She’s a graduate of Skyview High School and Clark College. She finished her bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Oregon. We lured her away from the Herald & News in Klamath Falls, Ore., where she’s been covering breaking news and courts for about a year, along with general assignments.

I love to hire “townies” because they already share our sense of community. They also know Mill Plain from Fourth Plain, so we don’t have to explain. If you don’t know the explanation, consult our website. It’s a classic Tom Vogt story!

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