Recognizing good work [Commentary]

A pat on the back would go a long way in the ailing journalism industry

May 07, 2014|Susan Reimer

My husband the sportswriter received an award last week from the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons for a meticulously reported story on the surgery that repaired Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's devastating knee injury.

Talk about tough judges.

I was there to accept it for him because he was covering the Kentucky Derby, where the athletes have twice as many legs and not much chance of recovering from a serious joint injury.

My husband writes a lot about sports injuries. So much, in fact, that he considers himself something of a doctor and has taken to diagnosing with authority the aches and pains of his family and friends.

You can imagine, I'm sure, how we all reacted to the news that an august body of surgeons had reinforced the Dr. Walter Mitty side of him. Now we are waiting for him to show up at breakfast with a stethoscope around his neck.

He is a humble guy, but he was so pleased with the award. It put such a spring in his step that I started to think that they should hand out journalism awards the way they do rec league soccer trophies: Everybody gets one just so they can feel good about themselves. Heaven knows the news business is suffering, and we could all use a pick-me-up.

The journalism awards season begins with the Pulitzer Prizes, which are announced in early April. But there are literally hundreds of reporting awards given out every spring. Last weekend, the vaunted James Beard Foundation announced its prizes for food writing and I once judged a garden writing competition, so you can see what I mean.

David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of "The Wire," ridiculed prize-chasing journalism on that show and put the blame at the feet of the editors. But I don't know any reporters who have ever disdained the attention. Everybody wants to be told they are doing a good job.

We are all grown-ups and we should be more self-sufficient, but one of the great predictors of job satisfaction — just after a collegial and flexible work environment — is employee recognition. And job satisfaction can actually have an impact on a company's bottom line, so that employee of the month award is a good investment.

We make fun of the television and movie industry, which anoint themselves every couple of weeks in the spring with more awards. The Golden Globes, the People's Choice, the Academy Awards. We attribute it to the egotism of the Hollywood set, although I think it is the dress designers who are behind it all.

Journalists don't exactly make widgets at an assembly line. In fact, we have more in common with actors that we might admit to. Journalists tend to believe we have been called by a higher power to police everyone else and preserve the democracy. You'd think the wings and the halo would be enough. But nothing makes you feel more vulnerable than putting your name on absolutely everything you create, and if someone who is not your mother announces that you are doing a particularly fine job, it is hard to stop smiling.

So you can understand why my husband was so sorry to have missed his moment of being photographed with a trophy. Like the actors, we are all secretly convinced that this chance will never come again.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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