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Winning While Losing

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Journalism awards — selected by our peers at newspapers throughout the state — are always welcome. By no means are they the goal or the motivation, but once received, it's a nice affirmation to have a group of judges look at your work and how it stacks up against those of other similar papers throughout the state and say, "This stands out."

But this year's somehow feel more special. Maybe it's just that we — like everyone — are worn, battered and tired after 14-plus months of pandemic living and collective loss, but news last week that the Journal had won six California Newspaper Publisher's Associations Better Newspaper Contest awards felt like a ray of sunshine. We like to think that's because it's a sign that even as a black swan event upended each of our lives — and the newspaper's financial stability until a federal Paycheck Protection Program staunched the bleeding and steadied the ship — we were still able to deliver important work to a community that was counting on it.

It's also important to note these represent a lot of hard work by not only the Journal's editorial and design teams, but everyone in the building. Though they don't get bylines or credits in print, the Journal's dedicated administration, advertising reps and office staff fuel everything we do as a company.

With all that said, here's the work CNPA's judges felt worth of recognition:

First place, coverage of youth and education: "Reaching for Resilience" by Iridian Casarez. It's hard to overstate how proud we are of this Oct. 1, 2020, cover story looking at the reverberating impacts of Humboldt County's high rates of childhood trauma and efforts to turn the tide. After earning a fellowship at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Health Journalism (which had to shift to remote instruction), Casarez spent months researching trauma on the North Coast and intervention models, then how they were impacted by the pandemic. "Great writing/reporting," wrote one judge. "This is how you take facts and figures and weave them into a story." We couldn't agree more.

First place, informational graphic: "Measure R" by Jonathan Webster. If a picture's worth 1,000 words, a good infographic is worth 4,000. This one deftly illustrated what was at stake with a local ballot measure intended to increase funding for the Arcata Fire Protection District.

Second place, informational graphic: "The Cost of Childhood Trauma" by Jonathan Webster. How do you illustrate the correlation between high rates of childhood trauma — things like neglect, abuse or an incarcerated parent — and negative health impacts, from alcoholism and homelessness to school suspension rates and suicide? We didn't know. Thankfully, Webster did.

First Place, front page layout and design. Webster, the Journal's art director, used art and technical instructions from numerous sources to put together cover designs capturing the urgency of a story about missing and murdered Indigenous women, depicting a masked and solitary bigfoot for a story detailing the need for residents to stay distanced and masked, and — our favorite — a detailed template instructing readers how to make masks at home weeks before facial coverings were mandated by the county and state. "Beautifully executed concepts across the board, with typography perfectly matching tone," one judge wrote. "Loved the wrap-around mask template."

Third Place, arts and entertainment coverage by Journal staff. Guided by arts and features editor Jennifer Fumiko Cahill, the Journal has become a perennial finalist in this category. This year's award holds a special place, however, because staff had to grapple with how to cover arts and entertainment — capturing the vitality, creativity and beauty of our community — while we were all apart and galleries, venues and theaters were closed. And we were especially pleased to see a judge's nod to our "extensive calendar," as we know just how hard calendar editor Kali Cozyris worked to find a plethora og virtual events that kept readers entertained and connected when they needed it most.

First Place, coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic fallout by Journal staff. The pandemic's impact was the single biggest story facing just about every community and every newspaper in the state, so it's obviously a huge honor to take this award. And Cahill deserves a huge hat tip here, as it was her coverage of local businesses — restaurants and bars, particularly — that allowed us to document the pandemic's toll on business owners, employees and local residents.

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to thank you, our readers, without whom we wouldn't get to do this thing we love. And a special thank you to those of you who ponied up with memberships to support the paper and those who recently took time out of your lives to fill out our reader survey, which will help us improve and expand on what we do. Thank you.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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