Great topics are key to successful writing

By Dennis Minich

The key ingredient for any writer is good subject matter. For this reason, I am very grateful to some special people whose stories I shared last year, which were selected for awards in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper contest.

As was reported elsewhere in the paper, I received a first-place award for sports feature and a third place and honorable mention for news story and feature story. Both of those stories were about special people.

I used to really be interested in winning a sports writing award. I spent about 20 years in sports and in that time, I won one honorable mention from MPA for sports column and a second place from the Suburban Newspaper Association for a sports series. Otherwise, not too much.

As time goes by, I became less concerned with subject areas and awards for that matter, and just hoped I could find good subjects to write about. I found that story last year while watching the Harrisonville softball team play. There was a jersey hanging in the dugout and the team all wore patches bearing the initials SRJ. I asked Coach Dave Hix about it and the story of Sailor Rai Johnson took shape.

It is a sad story, as Johnson died in a house fire after her first year of playing varsity. But even in her absence, there was an aura of humor and affection from those who knew her. I simply told their story. The judge agreed the story of “Sailor Rai” was award worthy and I am grateful I was the one who got to tell the story. I am also grateful to those who shared their memories with me.

The other two awards came from the story about Xavier Cunningham, who not only survived being impaled with a meat skewer, but rebounded quickly and was back out supporting the HHS football team the next week. Cunningham’s story was one of faith, hope, medical technology and community support. It was a terrific story, and again, I am grateful I had the opportunity to share it.

I also won an award for my column, in which I try to share an assortment of thoughts and ideas every week. Column writing is a very strange task. Some weeks my mind is empty (some think it always is) and writing is a chore. Other weeks it’s a virtually natural task as words just seem to jump to my fingers.

I remember back when I played football, when you tackled someone fundamentally correctly, you barely even felt it. I have read about baseball hitters, when they hit the ball with the sweet spot of the bat, there is no feeling, the ball just takes off. That’s how I feel when I nail a column. Sadly, I don’t feel that way often.

But last year I shared three simple stories. One was about how my family used to observe Memorial Day, the next was about attending Vacation Bible school and the last was about how I feel about being an uncle.

Honestly, those were special to me and I am honored to receive an award for sharing those thoughts.

I also have to note Linda Thompson winning an honorable mention for a story about history for her tale of a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient buried in Orient Cemetery. Linda only writes once in a while, but when she does it is always a good read; this was no exception. I really have to wonder what kind of stories were better.

Awards are nice, but winning can be kind of fickle. I have to admit we had entries I thought were sure-fire winners that received nothing. I know virtually every reporter or editor at every paper feels the same way. That’s why it feels good when you do win.

But awards are not why we do what we do. Sometimes it’s a pain, but it’s always a pleasure to present our paper to you every week. It is what you our readers think that really makes a difference, and by our growth we know there are people who like at least some of what they see.

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