I haven’t been a journalist for my entire adult life.
And so, it was with surprise and gratitude that I received my first journalism award – the Marshall Gregory award for education journalism from the Oklahoma Education Association.
What’s important about the award is not the personal acclaim. It’s the credibility earned that counts.
It was for a series on alternative schools in Oklahoma City Public Schools. I did it for the Oklahoma Gazette while I was still freelancing January 2016 before starting this publication.
The series was called “Alternative Paths.”
The award would not have been possible without the Gazette’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Chancellor saying yes to my pitch for the series.
It was extraordinary in that many editors believe their full-time reporters should write a serious series like that one and will not agree to a freelancer doing it.
So, my first journalism award doesn’t really matter to me in terms of acclaim. Who cares except me?
Instead, the award means that an editor was willing to let me show what I could do. And, when I did it, people on a committee who didn’t know much about me thought I did a good job.
It contributes to my legitimacy in this craft even though some would normally give me the side eye for not doing it the 20th century way.
You know —
- College journo degree.
- New kid at a small paper.
- Experienced kid at the next sized paper.
- Even more skilled not-kid at a metro daily.
It just doesn’t work that way anymore and there have been books written about why. I won’t get into that here.
When I took early retirement from teaching to write more and learn the discipline and craft of journalism I knew that one of the issues was gaining credibility as a journalist.
Frankly, like so many who show the public their work on a regular basis, I’m only as good as my last story.
That meant that I would have to do a few things.
Work my ass off.
Try and try again.
Seek out every good training source I could.
Gain credibility any way I could.
And, credibility is the currency of journalism. Without it, not much else happens.
So, I’m not a good journalist because I got this award and can now call myself “an award-winning journalist.”
I’m a good journalist when my readers trust me and believe what I write.
Photo courtesy of Doug Folks and Oklahoma Education Association