Saturday, April 28, 2007

Win SPJ Lisagor column writing award

I'm excited because I received the Society of Professional Journalists/Chicago Headline Club award for column writing last night for three columns I wrote for the Southwest News-Herald. It's a big award for the Southwest News-Herald and puts them in competition with newspapers throughout the state of Illinois. It's not easy to win.

This is my 3rd Lisagor Award for column writing since I entered journalism in 1976. I won one in 1984/05 when I was at the Chicago Sun-Times, one in 2002/03 for columns I syndicated through Creators Syndicate and published in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and now this one which I'm really honored to receive.

The columns reflected both my humor writing style and serious approach to regional news and events, and are titled:

"Thanksgiving Tabouli Wars Is Now Served [at the Hanania Household],"
"Graduates Who Defy Stereotypes" and "Reavis [High school] Reunion Creeps Up Like Receding Hair."

The award means much because I was competing against two other great writers who also deserved the same credit for their talents and hard word: Named as finalists were Joseph Aaron of the Chicago Jewish News for "Talking and Listening," "Real Jewish People" and "Jews and Darfur," and Thomas Mucha of Crains Chicago Business Magazine for his "Small Talk" columns.

They are both great journalists, too, working at great publications.

Here are the comments from the judges:

Comments of the judges:

News column or commentary Award: Southwest News Herald, "Thanksgiving Tabouli Wars Is Now Served," "Graduates Who Defy Stereotypes" and "Reavis Reunion Creeps Up Like Receding Hair," Ray Hanania

Comments: Writing a regular column is a lot harder than it looks. General interest columnists have to be ready to show themselves and share their inner thoughts and beliefs with their readers -- something most of us were trained not to do in the course of our other job as fair and ideally objective reporters of facts. Ray Hanania's columns illustrate how the best of us are able to accomplish that, taking the random and (globally) inconsequential activities of daily life and crafting them into a deceptively simple sounding monologue that touches people with the familiarity of the experiences while shedding light on the serious and significant concerns of the larger world. Mr. Hanania manages that slight-of-hand with both wit and grace, and most difficult of all, a dash of humor that lightens outrage and makes it palatable, causing the reader to think about the greater issues roiling beneath the surface without compelling them in any obvious way to challenge their assumptions. Instead they think about the world in ways they might have resisted if they were simply being bashed over the head with passionate and reasoned argument.

Finalist: Chicago Jewish News, "Talking and Listening," "Real Jewish People" and "Jews and Darfur," Joseph Aaron

Comments: There is some irony to the fact that Joseph Aaron's thoughtful and often moving commentaries from a distinctly and unabashedly Jewish perspective came in just slightly behind the work of his Arab-American colleague. His columns are well thought out, well structured, filled with passion and guided by a sure moral compass. Whether one agrees with him or not he demands that the reader think and reconsider initial prejudices. He combines those passionate positions with reasoning and denies himself the easy satisfaction of absolutism by recognizing the other side of the coin even as he is spending it. Faced with several dozen examples of written commentaries, I started his entries with a wish that he wrote shorter columns, but in each case I finished them glad he had room to stretch his verbal muscles.

Finalist: Crain's Chicago Business, "Small Talk," Thomas Mucha

Comments: One of the things that makes judging this category a particular challenge is the variety of work submitted. It is one thing to write a compelling column about the lifelong love affair of one's parents after one has passed away, or to recount the happiness and affection between a family and their recently departed pet. It takes skill and courage to write about the feeling of waiting for a press conference with your throat in your mouth as you consider the chances that your own family members could have been in that very wrong pace at the time the horrific news event occurred. It is a different, but no less admirable feat to take a small business person's question and make it the foundation of an article that is simultaneously entertaining and informative, and even more amazing, right to the point. Small business advice columns are unlikely to leave their readers with a lump in the throat and a tear ready to fall from their eye, but making them something that people will look forward to, or even go out of their way to pick up a magazine and read is no less of an accomplishment -- maybe more.
Last November, I was presented with the "Best Ethnic American Columnist" Award fromt he New American Media Association, too. :)

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