Monday, March 1, 2010

I was the judge of that

Just finished judging entries for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. The categories sent to me were government reporting series, reporting series and feature reporting. The features category covered my dining room table. With 25 entries, most having the allowed three-story maximum, I read nearly 75 stories all together! Yes, I am nearly blind.

I did come across some very enterprising and original topics, though. My favorite quote came from Walter Keller of Elma, Manitoba, Canada, who used a chainsaw to carve a tree into a giant bear holding a fish.

The owners of the tree saved it once by going head to head with the city when council members wanted to tear the tree down to pour new sidewalks. Unfortunately, the tree owners won the battle with the city but eventually lost the battle with Mother Nature.

The tree developed Dutch Elm Disease, and the owners faced tearing it down again – until Keller pulled into town. In his younger days, Keller wanted to be a cowboy. He even worked on a ranch in Canada for a stint, but as he “failed miserably” with horses, his talents brought him back to the chainsaw.

My favorite quote of all the stories I read during the last week came from Keller: “If you want to do any kind of creative work, you have to make yourself free. You have to forget about things like cell phones and TV’s, all of the distractions of the modern world. You have to go back and live simple, really sell your soul to what you want to do. In time you should see a certain measure of success.”

Keller and his wife live in the Canadian backwoods with no television, and up until a few months ago, no electricity.

Thanks to Mike Alan Steinfeldt, The Walsh County Record, Grafton, N.D., for a great feature story.

While reading, I also enjoyed picking out phrases or happenings we’re not likely to see in any newspaper in Oklahoma. Fun stuff. Here are a couple of my favorite headlines:

- “Lovin’ Lutefisk!”

- “Cold shuts down beet harvest”

Favorite quotes, leads and cutlines:

- “With a struggling economy, people are willing to do a lot for a job, even if that means braving a North Dakota winter in a camper.”

- “With Lefse in one hand and a big chunk of Lutefisk in the other, Lee Dahle enjoys herself at the 35th annual Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner.” (Mmmmmmmmmm or hmmmmmmm?)

- “Last fall we were looking at a goal of keeping rent between $450 and $700, and we are excited to announce that thanks to funding, the rents will be even lower.” (Where is this fairytale world?)

- “Two members of the Jewish community’s Minneapolis-based disaster response organization …” and in the same story, “NECHAMA is the Hebrew word for comfort.”

Of the 100-plus stories I read this week, at least 1 in 5 revolved around faith, including stories of Christians helping strangers, an old church organ played by a 103-year-old organist, a kidney donor, cancer patients. These were not just stories in the feature category, either. Christianity and helping others seems to be a high priority for folks in North Dakota, and their newspapers are not afraid to place faith-based stories above the fold, front page and center.

Other great stories included a feature on an old motorcycle “gang” called The Drifters. About 15 boys formed this group in 1958, when motorcycles were not only hard to come by but looked at negatively by community members.

Boys who rode motorcycles were considered trouble makers, so these young men, all sophomores through seniors, formed The Drifters, got with local law enforcement officials and made a pact to do good. Their first rule: they would help any driver with a flat tire get up and running again.

Fifty years later, The Drifters gathered back in their hometown, lined up and replicated a photo taken of them in high school. The photo was taken with the same guys, in the same order as another picture taken of them 50 years ago. Both photos were published on the front page of the paper. Great stuff!

Ironically, many stories featured Oklahomans or at least mentioned towns in Oklahoma:

- One N.D. graduate starred in “Always … Patsy Cline” during the 80th anniversary of the Sooner Theatre in Norman.

- A Vietnam veteran was trained at Fort Sill.

- A welder attended farrier school in Ardmore.

It was an honor to judge, and I walked away feeling a little smarter. Doesn’t mean I AM smarter, just that I feel smarter.


Matthew 21:1-11
Acts 28:1-16
Psalm 46
Leviticus 24, 25

Matthew 21:12-22
Acts 28:17-31
Psalm 47
Leviticus 26, 27

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