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Our committment to excellence

Posted: March 16, 2012 2:20 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2012 5:00 a.m.

If you happen to see me or anyone else from the paper today, you’ll probably catch us grinning from ear to ear. A look at the front page can tell you why: for the second year in a row, the C-I is the best non-daily community newspaper in the state.

To earn first place in the General Excellence category is an achievement to be proud of. To earn the General Excellence first place spot for two consecutive years -- and for the third time in five years -- makes a very clear statement: we work very hard, day in and day out, to bring you the best coverage of any community in South Carolina. The award is a symbol of our commitment to you, our readers.

It’s a symbol of our commitment to quality journalism -- the gathering, writing and editing of news, sports and Localife stories. It’s a symbol of our commitment to creating, three times a week, a well-designed news product with good photographs and clear graphics to highlight those stories. It’s a symbol of our commitment to tell the stories of Kershaw County and all the communities contained within its borders.

That commitment extends beyond the C-I to all of Camden Media Co.’s properties. Keri Todd Boyce won her first top award for the West Wateree Chronicle. She earned first place in the Profile Feature Writing category for a story she wrote and published on “Biodiversity Queen” Julie Helm’s work to protect South Carolina’s poultry. It accomplished what every good profile piece should: entertain and inform.

Yes, entertaining is part of the mission. After all, if we can’t attract you to our paper and website, how can we expect you to read our content?

Enter Editor Martha Bruce with her third place win for Feature Headline Writing. “Say ‘hay,’” “Paws for the cause” and “Tree to the city” are all headlines that make you smile, maybe even chuckle and, hopefully, peak your interest enough to actually read the story.

As for myself, it was a little weird to realize that as the C-I won General Excellence two years in a row, I had earned -- now watch the numerology here, folks -- second place for the second year for Spot News Reporting.

According to the contest rules, Spot News Reporting criteria “include writing quality and thoroughness of coverage of an unplanned news event, taking into account difficulties overcome in reporting a breaking news story.”

It is unfortunate that both my 2010 and 2011 Spot News stories dealt with tragedy. Last year, I won for my coverage of the fatal Clearwater Cove Marina fire; this year for the fatal crash of a small plane in Elgin near I-20.

To be fair, I kind of owe this year’s award to Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have even known about the plane crash. Sounds crazy, right -- after all, how do you miss a crashing plane?

Simple: you get so focused on the crime story you’re already working that you forget to turn up the police scanner.

The crash happened on a Friday afternoon and I was working on a story for that Monday’s paper when I called Matthews to ask him a question.

His response was, basically, that he couldn’t talk to me right then because he was at the scene of this plane crash in Elgin. Needless to say, I stopped what I was doing, grabbed a camera, my pen and notebook and (carefully) raced down to Larry Jeffers Road near White Pond.

I took pictures, I took notes, but I also used my iPhone to take other pictures for the C-I’s Facebook page and posted updates there for our followers to keep up on what was happening.

Part of my commitment to covering everything from plane crashes to city council meetings is to try to be the last one out the door or on the scene. You never know what’s going to happen and officials are more likely to talk to you when they’re ready to clear out.

I stayed in Elgin for several hours, well past when most other reporters left. I could afford to do that precisely because it was a Friday afternoon. The fact that I didn’t have to put a story on TV that evening or even in the paper the next morning gave me a little more time to do some research on the plane and possible pilot, and make extra phone calls to officials.

That helped me to craft a deeper “breaking news” story than usual for publication that Monday.

Both the ability to do that and the commitment to do so is an example of the excellence I and the C-I strive toward.

Believe it or not, we do that not to win awards, although it was certainly great to win them Saturday, but to serve you, our readers.

Why is that important to us? Some may say because we want to sell newspapers and grab advertising dollars. That’s true. We are a business.

However, our commitment to excellence is also about establishing trust. If we take the time to thoroughly research a topic, ask lots of questions, dig for answers until we’re satisfied we’ve gotten answers, produce quality text that explains things so you can understand them, offers you context and meaning so you can make your own choices ... that’s why we’ve chosen to continuously make this commitment.

If you can’t trust us, then you’re not going to read our stories and advertisers will have no reason to buy space in our paper or on our website. It’s both good journalism and good business.

So, please celebrate these awards with us -- they’re as much for you and our community as they are for the C-I.


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