Budding Writer, 1979: Award-winning coverage?

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About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself, and other writers, career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!

As a young writer new to the business of journalism, I had no idea that newspapers had associations and that the associations presented awards.

As a retired editor who has left the business behind, I know it well. My newspaper competed — and won — many years in the New England Newspaper of the Year competition sponsored by the New England Newspaper & Press Association, or NENPA. I never entered any of my columns, mostly because our paper had a much more insightful columnist who deserved (and still deserves) awards.

In 1979 the Journal Opinion was a member of the New England Press Association, a coalition of weeklies. I placed a black-and-yellow NEPA sticker on the driver’s window of my little yellow Chevy Vega wagon to get past police lines. (It didn’t work.)

As far as I can tell NEPA is no longer, but it was a big deal to us. However, it’s a long trip from “thinking of sending it” to actually receiving an award.

… I made my way up to Bradford and sat in on a number of editorial meetings. Robert is really proud of our Low-Pritchard stories and is thinking of sending it to NEPA — he thinks it will be award-winning coverage! Wouldn’t that be a feather in the cap of the Journal Opinion! Wouldn’t it tickle my ear in my own!

… I had a long talk with Robert about my career goals, options, and plans. He was a little discouraging about my freelance PR estimate and approach, but offered to help where he could. He was also non-committal about what a position as Arts/Social Editor would entail. Apparently it means a lot of experience for about $30 more per week. Worth it? Possibly. I’ll have to see how far [about] $30 + $36 +$30 + freelancing elsewhere goes …

It could go farther if all goes well. Frank Batten may be buying a house in Lyme; if so, he might consider splitting at about $100/month. Hmm.

Journal, Volume II
17 May 1979

In the missed-metaphor department, have no idea what I meant by the feather tickling my ear in my own cap. But that aside, let’s parse this.

“A lot of experience” translates to “a lot more work.” Even so, I was doing the math.

And remember how I told you here and here about missing opportunities to network? I knew Frank Batten Jr. ’80, who had rushed our fraternity when I was its president. He later moved to a more traditional house. We remained on good terms but weren’t particularly close, so I didn’t pursue the idea of house-sharing or leasing from him. After I left campus we drifted apart.

What I didn’t remember: When we talked during the fraternity rush, Frank modestly told me that he was from Norfolk, Virginia, where his family “owned a little chain of newspapers.” Yes, that Frank Batten. The Virginian-Pilot and The Roanoke Times truly are award-winning papers.

I contacted him about this journal entry using Dartmouth’s alumni directory. He said that he never did buy the place in Lyme. Instead, when he graduated from Dartmouth he moved to Roanoke to work for the Times. “In the mountains of Virginia, I still got to enjoy the autumn colors, just a few weeks later than in New England.”

In later years, his company sold the The Virginian-Pilot, The Roanoke Times, Landmark Community Newspapers, and The Weather Channel, and he moved into technology, marketing, and software. Today he’s semi-retired and serves on the board of several charitable foundations.

Networking today is easier with social media, including alumni networks and LinkedIn. You even carry your contacts list around in your phone. As a journalist, I kept a big Rolodex of names and numbers on my desk. Even as a freelancer, I had my card file.

Frank would have been an important contact when I was starting out and throughout my career, if only I had asked. But as a recent alumnus, I was oblivious to the importance of college connections.

Three strikes and you’re out, Howard. Opportunities like these won’t come up again.

Western Canadian wildfires make a smoky glow at sunset over Lake Champlain, May 17, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.