Justin Park, the first winner of the Connye Miller Award for Media Reporting, says he’s a jack-of-all-trades at Syracuse New Times. The 24-year-old reports on a variety of subjects: politics, the environment, sports, books and more. He is also the calendar editor so he has to schedule interviews and research around his editing time.
With his nose to the grindstone, Park didn’t even realize that his cover story about a 24-hour local news TV station in Syracuse had been entered in the 2004 Alternative Newsweekly Awards competition until he learned he was a finalist. And it wasn’t until after the Awards Lunch in San Antonio June 25, which he couldn’t attend, that he discovered that his story had won the Connye Miller Award. It is the only cash award in the nine-year-old competition as well as the only named award. The prize goes to the winner of the Media Reporting category in the under-50,000 circulation category.
Matt Spaur endowed the $300 award in the memory of his wife, Connye Miller. She was the founding editor of The Local Planet Weekly in Spokane, Wash., and, along with him, its co-publisher. In June of 2003, she died of complications of a rare illness, porphyria. Her loss took its toll, and in July, Spaur closed the four-year-old paper.
Writing about the debut of an all-news station was a natural assignment for a jack-of-all-trades; Syracuse doesn’t have enough media for anyone at the alt-weekly to be designated a media reporter, Park says. But the small size of the market didn’t stop Time Warner from bringing round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week local news coverage to the area via its station, News 10 Now.
“It’s totally part of a larger plan to blanket the country with these 24-hour news stations,” Park told AAN News. His cover story, “News Kid on the Block,” conveys a sense of wonderment at the scope of the project: “So why does Syracuse get an all-day-and-night news station before Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston?” he wrote. The answer is that even though Syracuse is only a mid-size city, Time Warner has achieved near-dominance in the cable television market in the area. So it’s not demand so much as opportunity that inspired the project.
Park says News 10 Now was eager for press and gave him generous access. His story, which is rich with detail, includes a long, informative section describing the workday of a video journalist. Unlike her rival at another Syracuse station, News 10’s Casey Kelly must perform both reporter and camera duties. Park’s description of how she scrambles to set up her equipment while preparing interview questions in her head and then struggles to edit tape before composing herself for a live update is a portrait of the modern worker, who is less specialized than her earlier counterpart and must draw on professional and technical skills simultaneously.
From what Park hears, News 10 Now is still scrambling to come up with 24 hours of local news and, in some viewers’ opinion, relies too heavily on car crashes to fill air time. “I don’t have cable so I haven’t seen as much as some people,” he says. Park doesn’t plan to squander his award on cable service but will probably save most of it. Just two years out of school, he describes himself as “still wet behind the ears” and is eager to develop his writing skills. His ambition is to move away from doing calendars and editing so he can report full time.
Syracuse New Times editor-in-chief Molly English says she was thrilled when she learned Park had won an award that is not only the first of its kind but carries a special meaning because it memorializes Miller. English credits Park with taking the time to do his story well, making several visits to the station and asking the right questions. “He’s just real astute and a good observer,” she says.
The special media-reporting award reflects the values Miller espoused during her lifetime. “Connye believed strongly in the alternative press as media critic and made that role central to her plans for creating compelling reading in The Local Planet Weekly,” Matt Spaur wrote in an e-mail to AAN News. “Connye also believed strongly in encouraging writers the way she was encouraged along the way.”