We won big, because you support us

Right now, you’re holding in your hand the best little newspaper in Iowa.

No, seriously, on Friday, the Iowa Newspaper Association awarded The Graphic-Advocate first-place in the General Excellence category for weekly newspapers with up to 1,140 subscribers. Judges awarded us the first and third place in Best in Class Advertising, plus another 15 awards.

Last year, I attended the awards banquet, which followed a daylong newspaper industry convention, and as I collected my five awards, I set a goal that someday, The Graphic-Advocate would win the General Excellence award. I had no idea that we’d accomplish that goal so soon. It certainly didn’t hurt us that this year, the paper was moved from the Weeklies Class 2 division (mid-sized weekly papers) to Weeklies Class 1 (small weekly papers), not because of a drop in circulation (ours has been steadily increasing for the past year) but because the Iowa Newspaper Association changed the cut-off numbers for each category. It was a slight change, just a shift of four subscriptions, which meant we went from being one of the smallest circulation papers in the middle class to one of the biggest papers in the small class, an advantage that I can’t deny. But just being bigger doesn’t automatically mean better and we still had to submit quality entries.

Our ad and design team walked away with what I would consider the two premier awards for their side of the industry: Best in Class advertising, a category comprised of all of the ads that won individual categories, and Designer of the Year, given to Monica Edeker, who designs all of our Champion ads. Based in our Hampton office, Monica works with our ad manager, Toni Venteicher, whom many of you know.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big amount of credit to Toni, who not only sells ads to our local businesses, but makes sure our advertisers are getting the right ads for their money. Reporters and other editorial department employees typically have an adversarial relationship with our ad departments, but Toni and I have developed a strong, supportive relationship that results in a better paper for you to read.

Many of you know that I don’t design our newspaper. That task falls to Danielle Potkonok, who takes the stories and photos I send, the ads Toni sells, most of which Danielle designs, and turns all of it into the polished finished product you pick up every week. I can’t praise Danielle’s creativity enough – I give her the barest of instructions and she somehow transforms those few words into exactly the vision I had in mind. That’s especially impressive, to me, because I know that my design vocabulary is as limited as my design abilities, so for her to understand what I mean is incredible. I could write the best stories in the world, but if my designer didn’t make a visually pleasing page, no one would read them. That’s how newspapers work.

We wouldn’t keep running without Jeri Wilson, our Lake City office manager. She’s there to back up Toni with ad sales, handle subscription renewals and field phone calls from readers who can’t track me down while I’m out covering the news. She’s the glue that holds us together, makes sure our legal advertisements make it on time, and perhaps most importantly, catches many of my typos every week.

In the same way, if I didn’t have a strong ad team selling ads, we wouldn’t have the revenue to keep printing. Newspapering is a team effort and I work with an incredibly strong team.

If I can continue to brag for just a few words more, let me point out that we’re the first newspaper in our company history to even place in the General Excellence category. Mid-American Publishing newspapers won about 36 awards and The Graphic-Advocate was responsible for half of them. Our awards came in all categories – news, advertising and design – which really hammers home the message that we are a well-rounded publication, everyone supporting each other and making each of us look better.

For the next year, I intend to refer to our paper as the best (because we won first place) little (because we’re in the smallest circulation category) paper in the state.

More importantly, though, I need to thank you, our readers and subscribers, the officials who talk with me at meetings and the people who let me call them up and ask them personal questions. I need to thank the people who indulge my nosiness, who help when I misunderstand something and, most of all, who forgive me when I get it wrong.

I need to thank the businesses who buy advertising in our paper and the customers who see those ads and patronize those local businesses. I need to thank the people who submit wedding announcements and anniversary notices, not to mention the people who send in the thank you ads.

A speaker at the newspaper convention on Friday pointed out that a strong local newspaper is a sign of a strong local community. You read The Graphic-Advocate because you want to know what’s going on in Calhoun County, and you get news in our paper that you won’t find in the Fort Dodge Messenger, the Carroll Daily Times Herald or the Des Moines Register. Sure, those papers have larger news staffs and can present more information to you and more quickly, with their daily deadlines. But you know you can count on The Graphic-Advocate to be at county and city meetings, graduation and school plays. We know you, we know your businesses. There’s value in that, and the awards handed out on Friday are just an affirmation of that.

What we do is for you, and we couldn’t do it without you.

And now, back at it, because there’s news to cover and I’ve got work to do.