After returning from the Iowa Newspaper Foundation’s Better Newspaper Contest in Des Moines Feb. 7, I had mixed emotions about my third-place finish.
I was happy I was able to represent the Creston News Advertiser in the news photography category. Taking photos has also been one of my favorite parts of journalism while I was in school and working for various news and sports outlets in Texas.
But not winning left me burning with the desire to do more, be better and find a way to take award-winning photos and write award-worthy stories. That next week I spent a lot of my energy to find an angle in each story or event that could place at a contest.
Then I met Alvin “Red” Benson — a World War II veteran from southwest Iowa who was injured by a piece of shrapnel during combat, but had not received his purple heart medal.
I had the honor of covering Benson’s pinning ceremony after he waited almost 70 years for the medal he earned defending our country.
And of course, I knew a story like this, if written and photographed correctly, could have the potential to win an award.
I met with Benson the day before the ceremony and we talked for an hour about his experiences in the war, family and life in the Creston and Clearfield community.
That night, I spoke with Benson’s grandson and great-grandson, who had flown in for the ceremony. Both men were inspired by Benson’s service and chose to serve their country, as well.
Benson’s great-grandson, Brant Kuhns, also received the purple heart medal during a recent tour in Afghanistan when the vehicle Kuhns was in hit an improvised explosive device.
As I sat down to write, my focus was no longer on awards or beating other news outlets to the story.
I stopped thinking about what was in this story for me, and how I could write the story to honor Benson and his family for the sacrifices they have made.
Awards are a great way to recognize someone for hard work, but I was using the idea of winning an award as the focal point instead of an unexpected result.
So many of the people and events we cover at the Creston News Advertiser every day are stories that need to be shared so readers remember how many great people and activities are right here in our part of southwest Iowa.
Your stories — like Creston High School student Tanner Webb earning his driver’s license and the volunteers we are highlighting for our upcoming progress edition — are the best motivation to write interesting copy and take attention-grabbing pictures.
I’m excited to see what angles I can find in my upcoming stories because getting an email from a satisfied reader or seeing someone smile while reading a story in the paper is the best reward of all.