Digital Access

Digital Access
Access from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, sports, business, classified and more! News you can use every day.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Choose your news! Select the text alerts you want to receive: breaking news, weather, and more.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
Have our latest news, sports and obituaries emailed directly to you Monday through Friday so you can keep up with what's happening in the area.

Wimbiscus: Winning awards and working weekends

“Newspaper awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later every (expletive) gets one.”

– Don Hazen, former Herald-News copy editor

Ah, the prestige of industry awards.

Justification for all that blood, sweat and tears.

Vindication against all the doubters and naysayers.

The respect of your peers.

The adulation of the masses.

The recognition of a job well done.

And the promise of great things to come career-wise.

All those qualities will be on display at tonight’s Academy Awards ceremony. Along with vast quantities of political correctness, bruised egos and copious cleavage.

You can guess where my attention will be fixed.

The Oscars.

If only the rest of us poor slobs could get that kind of attention for just doing our damn jobs. But, alas, real life is not so kind to those of us mired in mediocrity.

Newspapers used to be one of those businesses that put great stock in industry awards.

My first experience with newspaper competitions was with the Iowa Newspaper Association. I was working at a tiny weekly newspaper, The West Point Bee, circulation 600, in the tiny southeastern Iowa community of West Point, Iowa, population 1,200. I’d been there about a year when one day the boss called me into his office.

“I want you to send in some stuff to this year’s INA contest,” he said.

“What’s an INA contest?” I replied.

After further explanation, he directed me to enter several stories and photos. Needless to say, we were competing in the “Very Small Publications” category, against other weeklies, fish wrappers and bird cage liners with circulations below 1,000. Entries cost $5 each, and we ended up dropping $50 on the submission, which was a small fortune in those days … the equivalent of nearly half my weekly take-home pay. Entries mailed, I then promptly forgot all about the contest.

A couple of months later the boss called me into his office again.

“You won four first places!” he said. “You know what this means, right?”

“No, what?”

“We get to go to Des Moines for the awards ceremony and pick them up!”

The road trip to Des Moines was a gala event. We feasted on rubber chicken. Helen Thomas of UPI was the keynote speaker. And I got to ride in the hotel elevator with the governor of Iowa. But, for me, the highlight of the evening was being called up to the podium to accept a Major Award. Four times. Each with my name etched on a brass plate, glued to a wooden plaque.

“Wow,” I thought. “After this, I’m really going to be going places!”

The next week my boss called me into his office.

Here it comes, I thought, recognition for a job well done, justification for working all those nights and weekends.

“Just got a letter from corporate,” the boss said. “The company’s doing so bad that none of us are getting raises next year. Sorry, kid.”

Several years later I was working at another paper, one of the largest dailies in Illinois. Since everyone above me had quit, I ended up as interim editor. One of the duties of interim editor was entering the paper in the yearly Illinois Press Association contest. By that time I knew the drill: enter early and often.

My strategy paid off: A few weeks later we won a ton of IPA awards, including the general excellence award, besting most of the top papers in the state. Which was a pretty big deal. Or so I figured.

“Wow,” I thought. “After this, I’m really going to be going places!”

But then the company reorganized. And my new boss came down from Aurora for a visit.

“We’re replacing you with someone else,” he said. “But don’t worry, we still have a job for you, in our central design bureau. It’s only about a 45-minute drive, though since you’ll be working nights and weekends, you can probably get there in 40 or less.”

Several years later, I was back managing my old paper, though by then it was no longer one of the largest dailies in the state. The guy who had replaced me had quit. And then the guy who had replaced him had quit. So they decided to give me another shot.

Now in addition to running the paper, one of my duties was to write stupid columns, much like the one you’re reading now. Another was to enter press contests, much like I had done in years past. Our publisher had passion for community and industry recognition, so we sent in a slew of entries.

A few weeks later, I learned I’d won the top columnist award in the state.

“Wow,” I thought. “This time, I really am going to be going places!”

But then the company reorganized again. And my newest boss came down from Chicago for a visit. He was an English guy, tabloid-oriented with a reputation as a content genius. I’ll never forget what he said to me at that first meeting: “Hey mate, could you get me a cup of coffee?”

Afterward, he left for the afternoon to play craps on the riverboat. I never saw him much after that.

My career puttered along until 2006. It was then my many years of contest mongering finally paid off. A growing daily in Florida was looking for the right person with the right expertise to supercharge their folksy down-home paper. Would I be interested?

I jumped on it.

“Where do you want me to start?” I asked the boss my first day on the job. “A redesign? A new business section? Better breaking news? A new column?”

“What I really need ya’ll to do,” my new boss confided, “is work nights and weekends.”

• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at

Loading more