I hit a bit of a slump during the spring of last year. Lots of work, things going on in my personal life – basically I was in the dumps and was really itching for some sort of good news to boost my spirits.

One thing was coming up that could potentially do that – the Alaska Press Club awards. Newspapers in every state hold yearly contests where accolades are given out for good photos, news stories and content in other categories, and during the submissions period for the Alaska’s Press Club awards, the editor who replaced me up there had asked me for recommendations of articles to submit.

I gladly made them. There was some really great stuff that I had done the previous year, stories and photos that could really go the distance. So, in the midst of a pretty dour mood, I was sort of holding out for a win when the Press Club awards were announced. 

And I got my win – though the way it came was pretty funny. My replacement had chosen to submit other things besides my recommendations, mostly sending in a lot of his own work. Which is fine. Honestly, it’s what I would have done too. Strangely though, he submitted one of my sports photos for the small newspaper category  in “Sports Photography.” And it won first in the state. 

My initial reaction was an instinctive burst of happiness as I saw that “First Place” on the PDF listing all the awards. That was immediately followed by a ton of confusion as I saw which photo had been submitted –  a picture from a youth wrestling tournament, with a young girl and boy squaring off on the mat.

It was NOT a great photo – not first place worthy by a long shot. Then I read the judge’s comments, and I understood. Here’s just the opening snippet:

“With only one entry, was tempted to just give this photo a first place and move on, but just didn’t want to. Then, it appears the judging program requires that you pick a first-place winner. With many flaws (see below) a third-place finish is generous enough.”

I was fuming. Full ego mode. I felt wronged, that I had been done a dis-service by having that picture submitted for judging. I felt unfairly criticized, since I wouldn’t have put that picture up for critique in a million years. Angry, I scanned the rest of the PDF for some form of other vindication. Surely SOMETHING of mine had been submitted and placed well.

What I found was a “First Place” mark next to the name of my intern, Aly, for a first-person story about a cancer support walk she’d attended. It had been a tough story for her to write – Aly had penned it just after a close family member of hers had died from cancer. It’d been a beautiful piece, full of pain and honest emotion. It was equal parts a retelling of her thought processes during the seven-mile walk and a thank-you letter to those who participated for helping her cope with her loss. 

My angry feels just sort of melted away when I saw Aly had won with that story, and I had a good laugh about how worked up I’d gotten.

Nothing I’d suggested for submission even came close containing to the passion and sincerity of her story. When I called her to tell her about it winning first, she thought I was pulling her leg. Incredulity turned to genuine joy, and I realized her victory was greater than anything I could have (or did, technically) win at those pointless awards. 

I was just in the game for a pat on the back, and an ego boost – both pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. 

If my old newspaper ever mails me the certificate for my “First Place” sports photo, I’m going to frame that sucker and hang it on the wall in my office as a little reminder of what’s really important. 

Managing Editor

A certified wiz at playing tabletop war games and binge-watching anime, I spend far too much time on the internet. Also I run a couple of newspapers.

Recommended for you