A long (three months) time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
The envelope appeared on my desk without much fanfare. It was from the South Texas Press Association, and it was an innocuous invitation to the annual convention that was scheduled to be held in La Grange, Texas on the weekend of April 12 and 13.
Upon further review, I noticed there was also an invitation to enter the yearly press association Better Newspaper Contest. That immediately caught my interest, so I called my managing editor José Torres to my office and said: “We’ve had a good year putting this paper out, so let’s get our best stuff together and see if we can’t take home some contest hardware.”
José enthusiastically agreed, and we got Sanya Simmons, our office manager, to rummage through our archives to find back issues of the 2018 Gonzales Inquirer.
It was a process that took a couple of days to get everything together, but when all was said and done, we had everything we needed to review before we decided what to enter.
It didn’t take long for us to realize we had some good material in front of us. In the 17 months I have been the editor and publisher of this paper, we have made a methodical and dedicated decision to provide the best local coverage of news and sports for this community given the limited resources we have available to us. José took on the task of putting together the sports entries, and I looked at the other materials for news, editorial, column writing, news photos, etc.
We gathered a large array of options in a number of categories, and then made our own judgement on what we thought was our best work. It took a day or so to put together the materials, but I was sure our coverage of the Jim and Carla Russell story at EMS, our GBRA coverage and devoted focus on local news was going to serve us well.
We put everything in an envelope and mailed it off. Then we didn’t think about it again.
The Rise of Skywalker, or the Gonzales Inquirer
Fast forward to Friday, April 12. I was in La Grange attending the STPA convention. It was noon, and the entire luncheon was devoted to announcing the winners of the Best Newspaper Contest. I was sitting with Karen Lopez, the publisher of our sister paper in Sealy, Texas; our owner Brandi Chionsini of Cedar Park and her husband Scott Coleman, the president of Fenice Community Media which owns the Gonzales Inquirer.
As they started announcing the winners, I was elated when they announced early on: “And in second place for editorial writing, the Gonzales Inquirer.” I jumped up from our table and proudly went up to the podium to collect our award.
As soon as I sat down, another announcement: “In second place for best spot news photo, the Gonzales Inquirer.” We all clapped, and I went up again to get the award that Erik McCowan had won for his picture of the semi-truck accident on I-10 that brought the National Guard in to help clean up. Not bad, I thought.
Then the heart rate quickened.
“And in first place for best news writing, the Gonzales Inquirer!” I was overjoyed, for not only did the paper win, but that was my personal baby. It was about the story of EMS and improving the working conditions for the EMTs. These dedicated and hard-working men and women are the boots on the ground saving lives every day in our community. I was beaming. And so were Brandi, Scott and Karen (who was also winning a good number of awards for her paper in Sealy).
When all was said and done, the Inquirer had won eight awards, including three firsts, four seconds and one third. The big moment came when it was announced the newspaper had won the prestigious community service award for creating, sponsoring and hosting the Come and Taste It Craft Beer and Wine festival. The paper was cited for helping to boost tourism, economic business and benefiting the Gonzales Center of Victoria College in the form of future scholarships.
We were one of the biggest winners on this day, and I called the staff after lunch and told them how well we did and how proud I was of all of them. We journalists and executives celebrated into the wee hours of the morning that night at the hotel in La Grange.
The biggest surprise, however, came on Saturday. We were told by the STPA to leave all our contest entries on display until the convention ended. I honored that request, and at the end of the convention I went to the display area to gather up all our entries.
When I did, I was surprised to see that there were four more awards listed for Honorable Mention that were not given out on Friday! All in all, the Gonzales Inquirer had won 12 awards, the most in one year in its storied 166-year history.
I can only say that I am proud of my staff and the newspaper that we have become. Now it’s time to get even better. I personally want to thank everyone in Gonzales for standing by the paper through the years and behind me during the time I have been here. I am eternally grateful.
On this day, I am especially proud to say I am the publisher of the award-winning Gonzales Inquirer.