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From the Publisher

April 21, 2005


Hard years and bears


Monday's mail brought some terrific news for us: four CNPA awards, the most we've ever won. As I told our staff, gathered to cheer the news, the awards came in all the important categories. We compete every year in the statewide Better Newspapers Contest sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association against newspapers of similar circulations.

The category that the Journal has won most often in the past is Environmental or Agricultural Resource Reporting. This year we swept both first and second place with stories by Editor Emily Gurnon.

I wasn't at all surprised that one of the winning entries was the story on Andrea Tuttle, "A battle won?" After five years at the helm, Tuttle was being replaced as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection by Gov. Schwarzenegger. I suggested to Emily that Tuttle's perspective, as a card-carrying environmentalist who came to earn the respect of many timber executives, might be pretty interesting. I was right. The second winner in the category was, "A gnawing problem" (Oct. 14, 2004), a story of very cute, very pesky bears causing some major damage to timber revenues.

Senior Staff Writer Hank Sims and Emily Gurnon won a CNPA award in the Freedom of Information category, a first for us, for "The Debi August files" (Sept. 9, 2004). It was not only the research, reporting and writing that won the award, but the frustrating effort to obtain the Grand Jury files on the case. It was the second award for this story. Last month the Journal won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter.

However, my favorite of the four awards came in the Feature category. Emily took a dry old statistic and turned it into a compelling piece of journalism.

What was that statistic? It seems our over-65 population in Humboldt County has been growing at a 9.2 percent clip over the past decade, more than double the population as a whole. What will that really mean for Humboldt County when the first of the baby boomers begin to retire in a few years and the demand for services jumps?

Emily hit the streets to find out, spending time with a young woman delivering meals to homebound seniors, an older pharmacist who daily sees the elderly struggle to pay for their medications at the counter, and a mental health worker bracing for the influx of seniors who are so skilled at hiding their depression. (See "Hard years," Dec. 16, 2004.)

It's my favorite because Emily humanized the story without getting maudlin. The story began with an elderly woman at a meat counter asking a butcher if he had any bacon trimmings, a conversation overhead by a senior nutritionist who recognized the woman may need some help. The nutritionist tried to acquaint her with some services, like the Meals on Wheels, but in the end the woman was just too proud. She said she and her disabled husband "don't need help yet."

By the way, the butcher ended up giving the woman the bacon scraps at no charge, earning him an award in my book any day.

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SPEAKING OF AWARDS: Last week I was honored to receive a Humboldt State University Distinguished Alumni Award (OK, alumna, for you literates out there). In my acceptance remarks I said most awards are rarely solo accomplishments -- even writing awards. In the newspaper business it takes an organization that encourages and supports excellence, and it takes a team of talented people to put it all together, in our case, every week.

I shared the stage that night with two other "distinguished" alums, both of whom I've written about in the past: Muriel Dinsmore, a super community volunteer and fund-raiser for so many good causes, and Po Chung, co-founder of DHL Asia Pacific.

Chung, who has reached superstar status as an international businessman, artist and philanthropist, had the best joke of the evening. He said his daughter gave it to him, but it's been floating around the internet for a while. In case you haven't heard it, it's the definition of success: At age 5, to not pee your pants. At age 7, to have friends. At age 18, to have sex. At age 65, to have sex. At age 75, to have friends. At age 85, to not pee your pants.


See also: Awards earned by the North Coast Journal since 1998



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