Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


March 23, 2014

Why contests make us better

— — It is contest time at the newspaper. I always associated the arrival of spring with newspaper contests. The deadline of the entries and the eager arrival of spring collide in a blur of newsprint and daffodils. It is time consuming but yet a ritual in the newsroom. I like to think of it as a year in review, a few months late. During contest time, I get to look back at the previous year to see where I have been and how far I have grown as a reporter and editor.

I remember my first entries more than five years ago. I really wasn’t sure what the judges were looking for in an entry. I thought about it for days. Then, finally I selected the ones that my mom liked the best. I was new in the business so I didn’t have much experience. I won that year to my surprise. Moms know best, right? Since then, there have been other exciting surprises, but the first award will always be one of the highlights of my career. It gave this journalist much needed confidence and the drive to work even harder for the next year’s contest.


I spent Monday tracking down all the different Lifestyle sections — there are 52 of them — the West Virginia Press Association contest. I went through each section, searching for the best stories. It was like looking through a memory book. I had my favorite stories, but there was some that I forgot about, like the story about the female doctors from Welch. There was the story about CrossFit’s arrival in Bluefield and the time I interviewed the owner of an apple orchard in Giles County. After picking out my favorite, I moved onto the next category — columnist. I had so much to choose from I didn’t know where to begin. So much had happened in 2013 — pop culture events, engagement, wedding, the holidays and more — that it was hard to pick. I decided to come back to that category later in the week. Like usual, I needed more time. I had also had the privilege to enter the category for breaking news. A jack-of-all-trades in the newsroom, I had a few news stories during 2013. I spent hours looking over my work, the feature stories, the columns, the news stories about prostitution and crime. My hands were covered in ink by the time I walked back to my desk.


I always feel like a student again during contest time. It is reminiscent of high school and entering essay contest for prizes like pizza or gift cards. In the professional world, we enter to gain recognition from our peers and to make our community proud of our hometown newspaper. This week, editor Samantha Perry will lock her office and organize all the entries. Together, along with other newsroom reporters and editors, we will select entries for the big award — Newspaper of the Year. We won’t know the results for months; it will be summertime when the awards are announced. We will huddle together like eager students, waiting for Samantha to read out the list. After six years at the Daily Telegraph, I have realized the judging is different every year. What wins in 2012, might not make the cut for 2013. One knows not get to get their hopes up. A few won’t even remember what stories and layouts they selected for the contest. Spring will seem like a distant season when it is hot and muggy in the two Virginias


We aren’t the only industry that recognizes hard work in a particular field. Financial institutions, schools, hospitals, engineering firms, restaurants and more come together to award the best of the industry. But it isn’t a priority. The responsibility of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph is to serve the community and deliver the news. Contests are fun; we all like to win. Yet, we have to remember, win or lose, we learn and grow from hours spent reviewing the year. We know what to do better for next year and how to accomplish that for our industry and more importantly, the reader.

Jamie Null is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at or on Twitter @BDTParsell.

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