The Write Life: My Tribbees are winners

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8 … Just one week and one day from the due date when Darnell and Kishia Brown will be parents, and Jodie and Kelly Jackson will be grandparents. Kianna Allene Brown will also be blessed by her Auntie Natasha.

And that’s just the immediate family. So many others are already invested in the Brown family. And a few hundred have followed this countdown to some degree for 30 days now

It won’t be long …

The Write Life

We all want to be relevant. Even the most introverted among us (and that certainly is not me) wants to matter, if not make a difference. I think that’s the Number 1 reason we write, whether it’s newspaper journalism, non-fiction biographical histories, or novels of fantasy or mystery.

I was asked this week to give a critical review of my own work as a writer and reporter. I responded by telling my inquirers that I’m a journalist and writer second. First and foremost, I’m a communicator. I tell stories. That’s what drives me to write – whether it’s discovering someone’s story, finding a story in the mundane minutiae of a county government meeting, or harboring an entire world of characters and relationships in the novel-percolating part of my brain.

Anyone can string words and sentences together; not everyone can communicate.

On Friday, my colleagues at the Columbia Daily Tribune and I got some good news with the announcement of winners of the 2012 Missouri Associated Press Media Editors newspaper contest. Here’s the article that identifies Tribune awardees and includes links to their award-winning work.

My pod-mate, Janese Silvey, and Rudi Keller shared first place honors in spot-news reporting for the work they did during last February’s blizzard. Janese later added a comment that “most, if not every, reporter helped” cover Snowmageddon. Truth was, I didn’t go anywhere for three days.

Me and my pod-mate Janese getting newsprint on our hands stuffing Black Friday inserts into our Thanksgiving edition. It's the one day of the year we volunteer as inserters.

Sports writer David Briggs earned first-place awards in spot sports reporting and in sports feature writing. His winning feature was a magnificent, sensitive piece about the suicide of a Missouri swim team member and the young woman’s battle with mental illness.

Two of our photographers, Parker Eshelman and Don Shrubshell, were first-place winners for sports and spot news, respectively.

Five others, including me, were also winners. I’ve won first, second, third place and honorable mention awards in 30 years of journalism for feature writing, spot news reporting, sports writing, sports columns, editorials and commentaries, page design, news photography and feature photography. I remember the first award I won in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest: second place for news reporting and third place for feature writing, with both stories related to a tornado that ravaged southern Gasconade County in April 1984.

Awards. That was cool.

Since then I’ve always appreciated the recognition, but more often than not, the contest entries that I felt the most strongly about usually didn’t win awards. And besides, yesterday’s award doesn’t mean a thing to the person who doesn’t understand today’s story — or might have been misquoted.

The award isn’t the standard or the bar of excellence. The bar is already set high and success rests on one thing: Does the reader understand the concepts, decisions or issues that our stories convey? And did it make a difference?

My APME recognition was a second place award for community affairs/public interest, for my series “Patients in Peril?” There were eight specific articles under that heading – during the period Feb. 27 through March 5 last year – and another four articles, spanning Jan. 2 through April 28, were directly connected to the series. The series focused on patient safety and a local hospital’s noncompliance with infection control standards, with problems that included dirty surgical and procedure instruments, documented threats of retaliation against whistle-blowing employees, and an inexplicable disconnect among federal and industry regulators, none of whom read the other’s inspection reports.

Now that I’ve had a few hours for the award news to register, I’m very happy that my work was validated by another outside source. Without a doubt, “Patients in Peril?” was the most important investigative reporting I’ve ever done. I worked for the better part of four months to research, investigate and write the series, sifting through hundreds of pages of documents and even reading most of the textbook that sterile processing technicians need for certification.

I have some measure of satisfaction that the series made a difference for a lot of people. Even though it caused monumental grief for hospital executives, it was a crucial story that had to be communicated to the public. Oddly, no other media outlet in our media-intense community even touched the story.

Before I get my arms out of joint from patting myself on the back, you should know that my city editor, Lora Wegman, deserves equal credit. If she hadn’t shepherded the process and sharpened my focus – finally telling me, “Write” – I’d probably still be gathering  information, interviewing people and outlining more and more “legs” to the series. Lora is a top-notch editor. (And cake baker. You might recall her Jan. 31 guest blog, “The Tale of Kianna’s Cake.”)

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #29

It’s the simple things that teach us the most profound lessons. Last night your Grammy (Mrs. Grandpa) pointed out to me that the pedestal for a statuette in our bedroom has been upside-down since we moved in last September.

So the hollow end is supposed to be on the bottom? Huh. But how could you tell? Besides, very, very few people will ever see it. So, rather than turn the pedestal and make it right, I asked, “Who will know?”

Kianna, what happened next so beautifully describes your Grammy. She replied, “I’ll know.”

Even if no one else can see it – even if it’s really not anybody else’s business – what matters is your own conscience. If it’s out-of-whack, even if you’re the only one who knows about it, you owe it to yourself to fix it.

I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “Character is who you are when no one is watching,” but that’s how Grammy has lived ever since I’ve known her.

By the way, I flipped the pedestal and reset the statuette.

(And Grammy was very pleased with Grandpa.)

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Filed under A reporter's life, CoMo Health Beat, Family, Kianna Allene Brown, Living Write

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