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Alan Riquelmy: Paperchase

The paper had the feel of importance.

A crinkly, ancient parchment, or so I figured the powers-that-be wanted us to think. This was supposed to be momentous, so the scroll better fit the situation.

This was the annual newspaper contest awards — the culmination of a year’s worth of work, pitted against your peers, and may the best story win.



There are plenty of categories to choose from, and the various organizing groups in each state keep adding more. Enterprise, breaking news, features, sports, fire — and plenty of subcategories of fire — editorial, personal column … a seemingly never-ending menu for papers to choose from.

First place gets you the plaque. Second and third warrant the fine vellum. Put it in a frame and hang it on the wall. The job might not pay much, but you list “awards” underneath your job history on the resume. How many people can say that?



Right now, most of us in this state’s newspaper industry wait for the results of the 2021 California News Publishers Association contest. You might as well mark it on the calendar. It’s another deadline we all have to make, filing your entries before the cutoff, waiting for the results.

Talk to different people and you’ll get different takes, as with anything. It’s a crap shoot, don’t worry if you don’t win. Nobody looks at this thing anyway. Obviously, you want to win every year, we put that in our job ads — award-winning paper in the Sierra foothills. More awards mean more respect and better job prospects.

Those submitting stories each year have wildly divergent views, as well. There are some who don’t want to fool with it. We’re here to serve the reader, not some faceless judge handing out embossed papier. Others cultivate their chosen stories throughout each year, knowing which ones will go to the contest. They wait, like a predator, for the results. A hunger that can only be sated by accolades.

Anyone in this job has felt that last one, at least once.

The reality is somewhere in the middle of all these. Reporters want their stories to be contest worthy, but every one won’t be. The ones that are can also serve as clips, what we call the stories reporters use when applying to other jobs.

You want to show a prospective employer the best of the best. It makes sense those stories would double as contest entries.

And if the story you’re submitting to a bigger paper has already won an award, all the better.

There’s something more here, though. Look past the crinkly paper and try to determine what it’s really worth, this tattered page that ends up in a desk drawer. Or maybe it’s in a line of frames on the wall of a disused conference room. Like ghosts of journalism past, they linger long past their recipient’s time here.

Does it matter, you might wonder. Does it matter at all?

No question. Newspapers have built their reputation over literal centuries to be what they are. The awards are annual reinforcements and reminders of the hard, honest and necessary work done for readers. The bylines change over the years, but the persistence for reporting the truth doesn’t.

We won’t score high marks every year. It’s the rare newspaper that does. But we will continue to report the stories day after day, regardless of awards received.

The recognition of our peers and the parchment on the wall — sure, it’s important to us.

And the readers?

Yeah, they’re pretty damn important, too.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor-in-chief of the Sierra Sun and editor of The Union. He can be reached at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4249



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