By Dan Haley
So, folks, we brought the Will Loomis Memorial Trophy home to Oak Park on Friday. That's the prize the Illinois Press Association gives out to the top paper, the sweepstakes winner, among large circulation weeklies in the state. And this year it came our way.
It is a large trophy. When you heft it, as we did at the awards banquet in Springfield last Friday, you know you've been honored. It's all eagles and winged creatures. Wonderful and odd at the same time. On plaques across the four sides of the foot of the trophy are the inscribed names of the past winners. There's the Journal's name twice from a few years ago.
Who was Will Loomis? Well, if you search diligently on Google you will eventually find out from a couple of references that he is the guy who got the newspaper trophy named after him. Not much help. Look really hard and you'll see a connection to a newspaper called the LaGrange Citizen. And you'll find out that in April 1922, Mr. Loomis was a speaker at the Illinois Press Association annual conference in Chicago. His topic: "Newspaper Laws in Illinois."
The rest of Will Loomis' life, the part that got him a trophy, is pretty much lost to history, or at least contained in the bound volumes of the LaGrange Citizen, which seem to have been in the local library basement and at the LaGrange Historical Society for several decades.
That's OK. In a pre-digital era, that was the accepted and acceptable fate of local newspapering. We wrote a first take on local history. We kept an eye on elected officials. We told small stories with a strong sense of place and moment. We got the names of the graduates in print. We took stands on issues that mattered in town. We gave you space to disagree. And then we wrote your obit when your time ran out.
It is honorable and necessary work, whether you're spreading the news on paper or in pixels.
And the effect of it is powerfully immediate, depending on whether your kid made the front page for something wonderful or made the blotter for a transgression. The effect, though, is also gradual and accretive. Every week a paper. Every week a new story, a slight advance in an endless story, a surprise, a reinforcement, a clearer sense of the town you've made home.
To win the Will Loomis Trophy a newspaper has to tote up a lot of small wins in a lot of categories. We actually won 33 different awards — first places through honorable mentions — to grab off the trophy this year. Brad Spencer, our old sports guy, somehow managed to win second, third and honorable mention in the sports feature category while first place eluded us. There has to be a bad sports metaphor to describe that accomplishment, but, Brad, we'll take the points.
We were honored for our design, our photos, our news writing, editorials, sports, special sections, local columnists (Ken came in ahead of me, as usual, plus he got first place for headline writing which may be what he's happiest about.) And the day before the editorial awards, we won 15 awards for our advertising and marketing team.
There's a complete list of all the awards in a house ad on page 12.
Altogether a good week to be a Wednesday Journalist. We couldn't do it without these fascinating, complicated villages we get to write about, without the passion of our readers, the support of advertisers. We couldn't do it without the talent and the commitment of our colleagues here on Oak Park Avenue.
So, thank you.