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In Idaho

Kevin Richert, who for more than a decade was one of the best editorial writers in Idaho, has a new bragging right. He’s also one of the Gem State’s reporters, earning the title of “Reporter of the Year” by the Idaho Press Club.

The award was richly deserved – and made more impressive by the fact that he beat out two high quality reporters from the Idaho Statesman, Sven Berg and Katy Moeller. It’s ironic that the top award goes to someone who does not work for the traditional print media. Idaho Education News is based online, but it’s the best place to find out what’s happening in education and Richert does a great job.

The Idaho Press Club also has proclaimed a new kingpin on the print side in the Treasure Valley. The Idaho Press-Tribune was given the top award for general excellence, beating out the Times-News of Twin Falls and the Idaho Statesman. That award is surprising, because the Press-Tribune was in the top three in only a a few categories. The Statesman, which has an outstanding reporting staff, has enough awards to decorate a wall. The Times-News also has a generous number of awards.

So, how does the Press-Tribune get first place and the Statesman get third? I suspect the difference is on the editorial page, which is the heart and soul of any newspaper. The Press-Tribune under Phil Bridges, another Statesman alum who is making good, produces editorials that are worth reading. At the Statesman, the in-house material on the editorial page is the newspaper’s weakest link.

No doubt, there are high fives going throughout the newsroom in Nampa. But I can’t take the Press-Tribune seriously for “general excellence” until it upgrades its political and Statehouse coverage. Nampa is Idaho’s second largest city, the politics in Canyon County are hot and heavy, and there’s no excuse to leaving coverage to a depleted Associated Press staff.

The top award in that editorial writing category went to Jon Alexander of the Times-News, who has shown that longevity is not the only criteria to producing quality material. Third place went to Michael O’Donnell with the Idaho State Journal, which over time has gone from one of the worst pages to one of the best.

Of course, no award in the editorial writing category would be complete without entries from Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune and Corey Taule of the Post-Register – who are two of my favorites. But neither they, nor their newspapers, submit entries for the Idaho Press Club awards.

Critics refer to Marty as “Shrillhaase,” but nobody has a greater passion for the job or deeper institutional knowledge about state politics. Corey has a more laid-back personality than Marty, but he’s not afraid to challenge the political establishment, which is what an editorial page is supposed to do.

My top three are Trillhaase, Alexander and Taule in that order. But Bridges and O’Donnell are not far behind. This Fab-Five gives Idaho a good variety of commentary.

I know, awards don’t tell everything about journalistic quality. In the few I’ve won, I thought the judges must have been some of the brilliant people ever born. When I’ve lost out, I questioned the judges’ ability to read and write.

But the awards serve a useful purpose, both on the print (the area in which I am more familiar) and the electronic sides. They give managers an indication of where their news operations are strong and where improvements are needed.

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