Enterprise named to top 10 in New York for telling your stories

"Obituary on fallen soldier really brought him back to life," said the judges that awarded The Enterprise first place statewide for best obituaries.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In an era when “content management” is a buzzword, it is good to know that real stories are being told.

The keynote speaker for the annual New York Press Association conference, which drew 500 journalists from across the state last weekend, was Morley L. Piper.  He spoke about being an infantryman, at age 19, in the Battle of Normandy.

The room was pin-drop quiet as he told his tale. The silence was broken only once. One of the red, white, and blue balloons decorating the hall burst just as Piper was talking about hurling grenades. The laughter that rippled across the room broke the tension — but only for a moment.

Everyone knew that D-Day — June 6, 1944 — was a major turning point in World War II. But Piper made his listeners understand that, as he put it, “For hours, it hung in the balance.”

He was a second lieutenant in a rifle platoon that started out with 42 men. By the end of the day, the platoon numbered 17.

“It was an age of innocence,” said Piper, describing how he enlisted at 18. “We had led lives that had not been developed. We grew up in the steel grip of the Depression.”

Piper described descending, at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, from his ship on a rope ladder to get in a Higgins boat, heading for shore on rough seas. His platoon disembarked ahead of schedule because the first wave of soldiers, the vanguard, had perished so quickly. The Germans were entrenched on a bluff, and there was no air cover. Machine-gun fire raked the side of the Higgins boat as the men, laden with 50 to 70 pounds of equipment, waded ashore.

Piper’s radioman was hit; Piper dragged him to the beach and thought his wound had earned him a ticket home as the medics carried him away. But Piper found out later that one of the medics stepped on a land mine and they all died.

Many American soldiers were killed by the mines, others by the gunfire; still others drowned. “Bodies were everywhere; wounded were everywhere,” said Piper. “Most of us were exhausted, almost helpless...scrambling for any kind of shelter....Survival was about all we could think about.”

The Higgins boats were gone, so the soldiers couldn’t be evacuated. “We could feel the cold fingers of fear almost get the best of us,” said Piper.

As time wore on, said Piper, “We had, to a large extent, become fatalistic...We hoped to die well, perhaps even bravely.”

Around noon that day, said Piper, “The Navy blew a hole in a concrete bunker...A small rag-tag group of Americans burst through it...We found ourselves in the small town of Vierville, the first town we captured...We were hanging on for dear life.”

And so began the slow march — taking one town at a time — into Germany. A single 10-mile stretch took a month of fighting in hedgerows, resembling the slow warfare of World War I, said Piper.

Piper is planning to travel back to France for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy. He described the 9,386 graves — row after row — at the United States military cemetery, calling it “the emotional center of the Battle of Normandy.”

“It is a place that speaks to you, at once sad and liberating...” he said.

Piper’s speech was introduced to the crowd as not being about journalism. But, really, it got to the heart of journalism — a story powerfully told.

“There aren’t many of us left,” said Piper of World War II veterans, at the start of his speech. “We’re dwindling fast.”

Piper has only recently begun to tell his wartime stories. “For many years, I didn’t speak at all,” he said. But friends and family convinced him that what he called “his very small role” should be told.

Piper urged talking to veterans and asking them questions. “You will hear the stories that have been locked up in their memories for so many years,” he said. The elderly veterans, he said, “want to get their stories out, now.”

First take of history

Telling stories is what we do at The Enterprise, week in and week out. We record them with photographs, and art, and words.

We like getting together each year at the convention with other newspapermen and women to share our best work and learn from each other.

This year, we were honored once again to be named among the top 10 papers in the state for our editorial content, based on the results of a contest with 2,760 entries, judged by our peers in Pennsylvania. We also tied for fifth-place overall among single-flag papers — that is, papers that are independently owned, not part of a chain.

Our veteran sportswriter, Jordan J. Michael, was a standout in his fifth year at The Enterprise, garnering prizes for both his photography and his writing. Michael, a political science major from New England College, covers high school sports at Guilderland, Voorheesville, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

He doesn’t just report scores. He understands sports and the athletes who compete and develops stories that are, by turns, informative and entertaining.

The Enterprise took first-place awards this year for obituaries, for sports action photos and for sports feature photos; second place for community leadership, in-depth reporting, and sports feature; third place for environmental coverage, feature photos, picture story, and our website; and we received honorable mentions for our coverage of elections and politics and for art photos.

Most of the awards were won in the second division of typically three divisions, based on circulation; several were statewide, including papers of all sizes. The awards were for work done in 2013.

Obituaries

At the heart of our storytelling is the record we create of lives lived in our community. We write our obituaries free of charge and consider them essential news. We are proud to have won the statewide award for best obituaries many times.

We received a letter this week from Don Teator, thanking us for an obituary our Hilltown reporter, Marcello Iaia, wrote last week about Teator’s mother, Constance. His words meant more to us than any prize.

“Thank you for a character portrayal that illuminated my mother,” he wrote. “If words could become life, you came as close as a writer can do.”

Everyone on the staff is part of our success in the sometimes difficult work we do. Jim and Wanda Gardner have kept the 129-year-old weekly on course for more than a third of its life. Cherie Lussier, our advertising director, and Jacky Thorp, our sales rep, manage to not only keep us afloat but in the swim even when the economy is awash. Ellen Schreibstein, our circulation manager, working with a dedicated crew each Thursday, sees that our papers get to you.

Michael Koff takes pictures that both move and amuse. And Carol Coogan’s illustrations bring power to our words. Our graphic designers, Christine Ekstrom and George Plante, make each edition a visual feast for the eyes.

All of our reporters pitch in to conduct interviews and write obituaries:

— Jo E. Prout, who has reported for The Enterprise for 18 years and currently covers the villages of Altamont and Voorheesville. An anthropology major from Notre Dame, and the mother of three, Prout brings both wit and wisdom to her work;

— Anne Hayden Harwood, a Siena College English major with a passion for reading and running. She has capably covered our largest town, Guilderland, for five years while also assembling our weekly Community Calendar;

— Marcello Iaia, a Florida State music performance major who plays the classical guitar, and has covered the four Helderberg Hilltowns for over a year. Iaia brings the discipline and care honed with hours in the practice room to his craft as a reporter and writer; and

— Lisa Nicole Viers, our newest bright light, who joined us three months ago to cover the town of New Scotland. A recent Case Western Reserve graduate with a double degree — in philosophy and English — she has a particular passion for David Foster Wallace and will be presenting a paper on him at a scholarly convention next month.

Our first-place award this year was based on the obituaries in two editions — June 20 and Sept. 19. The front page on June 20 was dominated with a picture by Koff of solemn soldiers carrying a flag-draped coffin. Under it was an obituary, written by editor Melissa Hale-Spencer, on Lieutenant Colonel Todd J. Clark, who had been killed in Afghanistan.

The obituary inside filled two pages and included pictures of mourning family members, Patriotic Guard riders standing with flags, and schoolchildren with their hands over their hearts — all taken by Koff.

“Obituary on fallen soldier really brought him back to life,” the judges wrote. “Accompanying photos make the package stand out — terrific!…Impressive coverage.”

Other obituaries in the June 20 edition included one by Hayden Harwood on Gayle P. Fisher, who, her son said, put others above herself, and two by Iaia: on Dennis P. Miller, who was proud of his restored, white 1960 Corvair, and on Debra Lee Blodgett, who loved fashion and could, her half-sister said, “take a pile of rags, put them together, and make an outfit that no designer could.”

Two obituaries ran in the Sept. 19 edition. One, by Iaia, on Mary Keefe Lawrence, featured a detail of artwork by Lawrence. She began drawing in her old age to stave off dementia. “She would create these wonderful, primitive, whimsical drawings and they’re just beautiful,” said her daughter.

The other obituary in that edition, by Hale-Spencer, was on Robert Burns who had lived in Altamont’s first group home and was happy to be there after having been at Willowbrook. “The people in Altamont were good to him,” said his niece. “He liked going to the dances and to the fair. They took good care of him.”

Photography

The Enterprise won four photography awards this year, with Jordan J. Michael leading the way. His first-place sports action photo appeared on the front page of our May 2 edition.

The picture, which Michael called “Parallel flight,” depicted Guilderland pole vaulter Kendra Lizzote, sailing high against a pale-blue sky, the spectators below her dwarfed by comparison.

The picture went with Michael’s story on two pole-vaulting competitors who were also best friends.

“Vertical and horizontal angles capture the moment of the height of competition,” wrote the judges.

In a sweep, Michael also won first place for sports feature photos with a pair of Nov. 7 black-and-white pictures taken during the Class AA semi-final game where Guilderland was shut out of the Super Bowl.

The first picture shows the quarterback, Frank Gallo, looking regretful but stoic from the sidelines. “It’s frustrating,” Gallo said. “The game plan was to win the game but we didn’t do that.”

The second picture shows Guilderland’s head coach, Dan Penna, arguing a call with the referee. The light outlines the edge of Penna’s face, and his exasperation shows in the posture of his outstretched fingers. The ref, his arms crossed over his chest, juts out his chin as he speaks to the coach.

The judge commented that the pictures “captured the intensity of two different moments.”

Marcello Iaia won a third-place award for his Oct. 24 picture story called “Homeward Bound,” depicting children moving books in a parade from the old Berne library to the new one.

The color page, designed and laid out by George Plante, shows the action unfold from top to bottom, with the text at the base of the page. The large picture at the top shows a small girl, pushing a big wagon of books, bracketed by grown-ups’ legs. The final picture, a tiny square at the bottom, shows that girl placing a book on a shelf in its new home.

“A terrific layout. This could have been the winner but there was tough competition,” the judges wrote, referring to breaking news events that took the first two prizes. “Photos are excellent,” the judges went on. “This is the kind of content newspapers need to survive.”

Another third-place award was garnered by Hale-Spencer for best feature photo.

The black-and-white picture, titled “Class of 2013 Cuts Loose” was taken at the end of the Guilderland commencement ceremony as graduates toss their caps, tassels flying, into the air.

The page, in the July 4 edition, was designed by Christine Ekstrom as all the Enterprise front pages are.  The picture entirely filled the page with white type superimposed for the headline.

“Good timing,” wrote the judges, “makes it worth the wait for a good feature.”

Finally, Tyler Murphy, who covered New Scotland for over a year and took many superb photographs, was given an honorable mention in art photos for his May 9 picture page, “Poet’s Sanctuary.” Again, Plante laid out the page.

Murphy, scouting out the perfect place to propose to his girlfriend, visited the Christman Preserve — on land once farmed by poet William Christman. Murphy photographed a winding trail, dressed in bright spring greenery; a ragged bird’s nest set against an azure sky; a slick snake; and a frog hidden in the pattern of light dappling water-covered rocks.

Murphy decided this was the place to propose marriage. Soon after, standing by the waterfall, he asked his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes.

In-depth news

Following a longstanding tradition, The Enterprise was recognized again this year for in-depth reporting. This time, it was for a series of stories — written by Michael and Iaia — and editorials — by Hale-Spencer — on the dismissal of a popular Hilltown basketball coach.

The first story, on Oct. 17, “BKW coach fired, A.D. quits in protest, school leaders won’t say why,” filled the entire front page and included pictures by Michael and Koff.

The editorial — “What is the role of a coach? The community must decide” — was dominated by a Coogan cartoon, showing a basketball player dwarfed by a stone wall. Like all of our editorial pages, this one was designed by Ekstrom to enhance the drawing; she left a dramatic white space at the side of the wall, wrapping the text over the top.

A front page story followed the next week, detailing a rally for the coach as well as an interview with him about the list of improvements the school board had sought; he said he’d met all of the requirements.

On Nov. 7, a third story  followed as the coach’s wife calls for the resignation of the school-board president. And, finally, on Nov. 14, an editorial — “Communication lights the path to progress,” focusing on the public’s right to know — was illustrated by Coogan and laid out by Ekstrom.

Throughout, the combined expertise of Michael — who knew the coach well from years of covering him — and Iaia — who was familiar with school leaders and proper procedures — led the pack of media covering the story.

“When a popular high school basketball coach is fired and the athletic director quits, no one in the school administration is talking,” wrote the judges. “Still, the newspaper jumped on the story and pulled out all the stops, using a team approach and a wealth of sources to deliver information on a story that obviously divided the community. Editorials on the matter were well written and provided further insight.”

The judges concluded that familiarity with board members and administrators allowed the story to be covered “with depth and balance.”

Community leadership

Following another Enterprise tradition, the paper again placed in the statewide competition for community leadership, coming in second this year.

In two editorials, Hale-Spencer told the story of the first New York State Trooper to die by gunfire.

We learned about Corporal Harold Mattice when Fred Peter Bassler came to our newsroom, concerned about the condition of Mattice’s 1917 grave in Berne’s Woodlawn Cemetery. We visited the grave and our research fleshed out Mattice’s history and, quite literally, put a face to a long-forgotten name.

The editorials were illustrated by Coogan, who drew a portrait of Mattice as well as depicting his grave, and a German shepherd police dog named in his honor.

Citizens responded to our June 20 editorial and so did Kevin Kailbourne, a retired trooper who has devoted his life to memorializing State Troopers. “If we don’t remember them, nobody will,” he said.

He also said, “Every Trooper has a story.”

Kailbourne sent our editorial, telling Mattice’s story, to the president of the New York State Troopers Benevolent Association, Thomas Mungeer, a lover of history himself.

In our July 25 editorial, “Cold stone can comfort when words are true,” we opined, “When soldiers or police officers die in the line of duty, we mourn them as a society in a public way. We have a sense that they were serving all of us, even if we never knew them, or didn’t favor the war in which they fought.”

In September, we published a photograph of the new gravestone for Harold C. Mattice.  Mungerer said the stone cost upwards of $1,000, the money coming from anonymous donors. It is engraved with these words: “He gave his life in the line of duty.”

“This entry shows how a local paper plays an important role in the towns it covers,” wrote the judges. “This writing illustrates a good intertwining of news reporting, historical context, and advocating through editorials. It provides a strong example of the positive interaction a newspaper can have with its readers.”

Sports feature

When Guilderland’s starting quarterback broke his leg in the first game of the season, Jordan J. Michael wrote about it but went on to focus on the quarterback who successfully stepped up. Later, after hearing from the family of the sidelined quarterback, Michael realized there was an important untold story.

From his years of reporting on high school sports, he was aware of many season-ending or even career-ending injuries. He looked up those athletes, many of whom had graduated and moved on, to tell their stories.

Michael interwove those stories with the perspective of coaches and an athletic trainer, and also included surprising statistics on high-school athletic injuries. An editorial ran with the story. The story was illustrated with photographs of the athletes in action.

“A well researched and timely feature that points the reader to a subject that most high school sports fans do not give much thought to,” the judges wrote in awarding Michael a second-place prize. “Well written; great human interest is portrayed through the interviews. A great sports feature.”

Best website

We redesigned our website this year and were thrilled to be recognized as third in the state.

While Hale-Spencer sketched out a design, Iaia provided the support and care to keep the project moving.

The lion’s share of the credit, though, goes to Gavin Langdon, a recent and brilliant graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who writes code the way vacationers used to write postcards — with ease and pride, and also a sense of fun.

Langdon, who had never before used the Drupal content management system, tackled the project with aplomb, building our site from scratch. He patiently listened to our many and evolving requests, working out ways to make our dream a reality.

He’s still at it as our unique site is an ever-advancing work in progress.

“The site has a very clean design,” wrote the judges. “It is easy on the eyes and allows for focus. Good functionality. Good use of space. Content is not crowded. Layout creates a sense of ease in reading.

Environmental coverage

The Enterprise won another third-place award in a statewide competition for environmental coverage.

The award was based on five stories, highlighting a wide variety of issues throughout our coverage area.

On May 16, Hale-Spencer wrote about the reclamation of dump land by the Pine Bush Preserve, telling the story through the eyes of student scientists.

On May 22, Iaia described a project to protect Hilltown streams from erosion by planting trees.

On Aug. 8, as part of a series on Thacher Park, Murphy wrote about the difficulties in stopping invasive species.

Hayden Harwood contributed two stories to the package, both in September. On Sept. 19, she wrote about a $9.3 million mercury cleanup at Mereco in Guilderland.

On Sept. 26, Hayden Harwood wrote about the dump at the former Army depot being capped for $3.3 million. That story was the last in a series that stretched over a period of years as The Enterprise documented  areas with toxins left behind from when the Army used the Guilderland Center land as a depot, starting in the 1940s.

“Engaging and thorough articles and artwork,” the judges said.

Elections and politics

Finally, The Enterprise received an honorable mention in a statewide contest, without division categories, for coverage of elections and politics.

We consider it essential to good government to cover campaigns and their issues in depth, and so found it difficult to select just five stories for our entry. Here’s what we chose:

On Aug. 29, Hayden Harwood wrote a front-page story headlined “Ballot battle: GOP, Dems after small-party lines,” in which, through a three-page, detailed story, she outlined the races and issues that would dominate Guilderland’s elections over the next two months. In-depth, issues-based candidate profiles followed in the coming weeks.

On Oct. 31, Hayden Harwood wrapped up her pre-election coverage with a thorough look at petty and not-so-petty claims hurled by both Democrats and Republicans in what had become one of the town’s nastiest campaigns. Throughout, Hayden Harwood’s coverage was insightful and balanced.

Iaia provided a wide and rich variety of Hilltown election coverage. We finally chose his Sept. 19 story on the Berne race for highway superintendent. The incumbent, a Democrat who planned to retire, was now running on the Republican line. Iaia discovered and developed this story, as he has many others in the rural Helderberg Hiltowns, usually neglected by other media.

On Sept. 12, Iaia wrote and researched a complex round-up of Hilltown Primary Day results, complete with background context, and interpretation of the results. He featured an upset in Knox, where the longtime incumbent supervisor was bested by an Independence Party candidate. The story was illustrated with photographs that captured the tension of waiting for results.

For the final entry, we selected from among our seven Election Day stories, a follow-up on the Knox race, by Hale-Spencer. The front page was dominated with a Iaia photograph depicting a 5-year-old, standing on tiptoe to help her aunt feed a ballot into a scanner — a reminder that you are never too young to learn to participate in democracy.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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