Sunday, June 14, 2009

Third Place, Military Reporting, SPJ-Utah 2009

This award is special.

Last summer, I spent 3 months working on a story about post traumatic stress disorder. As a rule, journalists are advised to not become too emotionally involved in their stories. But with this one, I couldn't help it. Someone very dear to me has PTSD. I last spoke to him just a couple weeks before I started this story, and it was clear his symptoms were becoming worse. After rekindling a years-old friendship with him, I had waited for three years to have just the right opportunity to write about PTSD.

I spent hours talking to two combat veterans, one of whom was in an in-patient treatment facility, so we communicated via phone. I talked to their wives. I talked to the VA, and to the Air Force and the National Guard. I studied a ton of research that I have been collecting for years. I worked with a couple ladies at the National Center for PTSD in California.

After weeks of interviews, phone calls and reading, it was time to put the story together. I can't even tell you how many hours it took -- it was the biggest, most in-depth story I had ever attempted.
All this time, I was immensely worried about my friend. I cried, a lot. I cried for my friend, I cried for the vets who had completely trusted me with their pain. I cried for the wives and children whose lives were forever changed after their soldier returned home a mere shell of the person he had been when he left.

My story was published in August as a Sunday Extra . . . it started on the front page, and then filled an entire page on the inside, something that doesn't happen often. I had the support of my editors on this one. I know at least one person read that story and found an understanding he didn't have before. If one single person picks up the phone and asks for help, I am happy.

Two days ago, I attended the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, where I learned I had won third place in military reporting in Division A, which is made up of the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. Stephen Speckman was the military reporter at the D-News, and he was good at it. Really good at it. And of course, the Tribune has top-notch reporters as well. So third place for me was an intense honor.

But I would give it back without hesitation if there was some way that story can keep helping veterans and their familes.

I don't know what happened with my friend, and I may never know. But I do know this -- I am so grateful to him for his willingness to share his own difficult experiences with PTSD. It is because of him that I have and will continue to teach others about PTSD every chance I can get.

See my story here.

UPA Best Feature Story, 2009

I am a day late and a dollar short on this one. Theannual Utah Press Association convention was in March. I was getting a bad cold and felt pretty sickly, but I needed the getaway so badly that I went anyway. Besides that, if I have to be sick, and i get to choose, I am going to be sick in sunny St. George before I am going to stick around here!

Friday night I had dinner with Doug, the sales manager at the News Journal, and Casey, our publisher. Mike Ramsdell was our guest speaker, and he was fabulous!! After hearinghim speak that night, I bought his book, A Train to Potevka.

On Saturday, I slept in and missed breakfast completely. I attended some classes in the morning, then spend the afternoon alternating between reading and napping. That night was our awards banquet, so we all had dinner together. In all the craziness of college, I didn't feel like I had contributed anything award-worthy, so I was quite surprised when they called my name for Best Feature Story in our division.

I won the award for Open Adoption: Bringing Families Together, which can be seen here: It was published both at the News Journal and on the Hard News Cafe, USU's online newspaper.