During the last full week in January of 2019, the Fillmore County Journal Creative Director Jana Boyum attended the 152nd annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show.
As part of a three day event, Jana was able to partake in educational sessions with speakers and network with newspaper industry peers during round table discussions. Attending these types of events helps us compare ourselves with other newspapers. What are others doing that we should consider incorporating into our game plan? And, what are we doing that is different than the rest of the industry that make us authentic — that we should keep doing. It’s a learning experience quite different from any classroom. Each member of our team will come back with different ideas for us to discuss as a team, and that’s why it is important to have each team member attend these events on a rotational basis.
Each year, MNA hosts the annual Better Newspaper Contest, with winners presented at the annual convention. All newspapers in the state of Minnesota submit entries based on categories provided by the MNA organizers. This year, newspaper industry peers from the Colorado Press Association judged all entries.
Last year, we won three awards in key areas: General Reporting, Website, and Advertising Excellence.
We finished in third place in all three categories relating to editorial, online presence, and advertising.
This year, we upped our game a little.
•First Place – Use of Color in Advertising (Weeklies over 2,500 circulation)
•First Place – Website (Weeklies over 5,000 circulation)
•Second Place – Special Section (Weeklies over 2,500 circulation)
•Third Place – Headline Writing (Weeklies over 5,000 circulation)
I’m proud of our staff for so many reasons, and these awards are a reflection of their accomplishments.
Each award comes with a story for which we are grateful. And, in all cases, it’s about the people.
First Place – Use of Color in Advertising
Taylor Case, a graphic designer who joined our team over two years ago, has worked side-by-side with my wife Amanda Sethre to do the layout and design for the weekly grocery ads for Harmony Foods, Preston Foods, and Rushford Foods.
While Taylor has taken over more of the responsibility in 2018, with Amanda serving as a backup, they both maintain the continuity of design expectations for our client.
This year’s winning contest entry that garnered a first place finish was the eight-page Easter section. Thanks to the Hoiness family, owners and operators of Harmony Foods, Preston Foods, and Rushford Foods, with entrusting us with such an important marketing responsibility. And, thanks to Taylor and Amanda for being much more talented than myself!
First Place – Website
Back in October of 2009, nearly 10 years ago, I never envisioned that SMG Web Design would be so instrumental in the development of our newspaper strategy.
Up until 2012, we were paying an outside firm based out of Kokomo, Ind., to manage our entire newspaper website platform.
In 2012, while we were researching other vendors to help us with our web design needs, SMG Web Design General Manager Michelle Quanrud said she could take on the development of www.fillmorecountyjournal.com and provide the customized service we needed.
We made that transition to SMG Web Design (keeping it local) and never looked back. And, quite honestly, our staff has collectively approached how our website is presented with a completely different perspective than the rest of the industry.
We have rules in place based on what we feel is important to media website users. We don’t allow for non-local advertisers, because supporting our local businesses is of utmost importance. We don’t allow for in-article advertisements, because readers get annoyed when scrolling through articles and seeing an advertisement every two paragraphs. We don’t allow for third party advertisements, such as Google Ad Choices. The reason we don’t allow for third party advertisements is because we feel that readers don’t like to feel like they’re being stalked with using the Internet. Just because you conduct a Google search for something, doesn’t mean you want to see whatever you searched for popping up on every website you view after that search. We could make money off of third party online advertisements, but that doesn’t fit in with our approach to the online experience. And, last, we don’t charge for online access to any content on our website. No subscription paywall!
Michelle Quanrud has led our staff to develop an award-winning website. In this world of cookie-cutter corporate-run media websites, I think it is important to play your own game. We don’t want to be like everybody else for a good reason.
Second Place – Special Section
Our winning entry for the special section category was our Veterans Day section.
This section involved reporters Karen Reisner, Hannah Wingert, Kirsten Zoellner, Annie Lewis, and Rich Wicks. And, as always the rest of our team plays a significant role, such as Assistant Editor Ellen Whalen, Creative Director Jana Boyum, and Graphic Designers Taylor Case and Kiel Larson. At all times, it takes a team to accomplish what we do every week.
We have always taken the responsibility of recognizing our veterans with the utmost respect. And, we will continue to do so.
Third Place – Headline Writing
This award goes out to all of our reporters. I can think of a lot of great headlines they have written over the past year. And, these clever headlines draw readers into their outstanding stories.
Thanks to our magnificent storytellers. Keep up the great work!
Not just raising the bar
We are a family-owned weekly newspaper in Southeast Minnesota. Most of the newspapers we are competing with in the Better Newspaper Contest are owned and operated by large corporate-owned newspaper groups with far greater resources.
That’s what makes these awards feel even better. It’s a David versus Goliath story. In 2018, our staff won 22 awards from three associations: Minnesota Newspaper Association, Midwest Free Community Papers, and Association of Free Community Papers.
It’s an amazing and wonderful experience to work in a creative environment at all times. And, I think that’s why I have been at this for more than 25 years. The newspaper business presents opportunities to always plan for the future. What are we working on next? How can we do it better? What can we do that would better serve our readers and advertisers?
And, while raising the bar for ourselves can seem like an admirable goal, we’d prefer to set the bar.