Jim King 2017

If you looked at the front page of this week’s Review before you eagerly turned the page to read my column, you might have seen that this paper was once again named the state’s best big weekly newspaper.

On one of the section back pages you can see our 1st-place entries and all the awards we won.

If you’ve followed this column, you might know that this is the one time of year I like to crow a little about how hard we try to dell way in all spects of newspapering and how much these awards are about the lives we lead in Hampshire County, maybe even more than how the Review covers that.

Yada yada yada.

But there is a set of awards that the Review did particularly well in this year — you’re in the middle of one — that has my heart swelled.

The West Virginia Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest has 3 categories for column writing — news columns, feature columns and sports columns. Each category awards 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

We took 7 of those 9 awards, sweeping the news and lifestyle categories. We only had 2 columns to enter in sports, so we couldn’t sweep there.

Pity.

Now here’s the really neat part. Four of our 7 column-writing awards went to people in this community, not our paid staff. That’s a bit of extra special in my book. Let me explain why.

Column writing is an art. Anyone can spout off on Facebook. But to take a topic and enlighten readers requires both a way with words and an expertise in the subject matter.

There’s a term of disdain among writers called “navel gazing.” It describes the process of those people who sit and stare at their belly button until they have what they think is a clever thought and then they start typing.

Then there’s the right way to write a column, as I’ve preached often to staffers so often they don’t even disguise rolling their eyes at me. Good columns are reporting laced with insight. A good column starts by laying out facts — that’s the reporting part — in a way that makes people think and maybe see them differently. That’s the insight.

That’s what we’ve been able to latch onto here.

Roy Knight, the retired pastor from Romney’s First United Methodist Church, asked me almost 2 years ago if I would be interested in a column from him occasionally on religious ethics. I said sure, and I’m glad I did.

His Markings column always draws out something from me as I edit it — sometimes a tear, sometimes a challenge, always understanding.

Editors in North Carolina agreed. They said he wrote the best lifestyle column in any big weekly paper in this state last year.  

“Well chosen selection of topics with thought-provoking insights. The Peach Pit column was especially poignant. Good job,” the judge said.

By the way, the award doesn’t go to an especially well written single column. Anyone can get lucky once in a while and write something special. But in this contest, the entry for the Rev. Knight was a portfolio of 3 of his columns, meaning he had to show versatility and consistency in his writing.

Second place in that category went to Dr. Patrick Turnes, the internist who takes care of so many patients at Valley Health’s Multispecialty Clinic in Sunrise Summit, for his Healthy Hampshire column.  

“Lots of good information in these columns,” the judges said. He was another volunteer too.

Third place for lifestyle columns went to our own staffer, Emma June Grosskopf, who started writing her New Kid in the Holler column within a month of starting here, fresh out of college last fall.

My only frustration with those awards is that Roy’s, Patrick’s and Emma’s 1-2-3 sweep meant Kitty Savage’s The Savage Life was overlooked. I think she writes a wonderful week-in, week-out funny take on juggling parenting and work.

Oh yeah, and Ted Kalvitis (a previous award winner) for his Far Muse column. And Sally Mullins for her Garden Path.

On the news side, yours truly was picked as the best news columnist, beating out Don Kesner’s Food for Thought and Ed Lombardi’s Truth or Consequences, which took 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

Both Don and Ed have written columns for the Review for years. As pastor of Christ Community Church, Don’s appears on the Our Faith page, commenting on the issues of the day from a religious perspective. Ed has provided an insightful, questioning conservative voice on the Opinion page.

Sadly, the category judges didn’t write any comments about our entries.

But they were effusive about Nick Carroll’s column, Carroll’s Corner.

“Solid writing, edgy. Nick clearly feels comfortable at the keyboard,” the judge said. The comment made Nick smile. He had never written a column until he started here 2 years ago.

And, as a side note, he named the column in honor of his uncle, who wrote a column under the same name when he was an editor at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

The sports columnist who was overlooked by judges was Clint Ferguson, who wrote WV Outdoors for 15 years before calling it a career (as a writer) in April. He’s still an active outdoorsman and his column had such a natural voice to it that if you read it, you could hear him talking. He left with a handful of column-writing awards over the years in this contest.

Here’s the wrap-up. We at the Review have been blessed to bring you people with great voices — understanding and insight and writing talent. I think that means if you read any of them, you’ve been blessed too.

If you haven’t, then start. If you have read some, read some of the others, and not just the award winners.

It will enlighten your life.

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