by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A community’s response to natural disaster and a family’s response to personal tragedy were among the stories The Leaven staff was honored for at the annual Catholic Media Convention, held May 27 to 29 in Anaheim, Calif.
Kara Hansen brought home the gold with two first-place awards from the Catholic Press Association — one for Best Feature Writing with a piece entitled “Love Me Tender, Love Me True,” a story of how a family dealt with the impending death of a newborn child.
“This was a beautifully crafted story, and it entails risk, because it forces the reader to work and to feel and to grapple with a harrowing decision,” the judges wrote.
Harrowing, indeed, agreed Hansen. “There was so much emotion and challenge involved in writing [‘Love Me Tender’],” said Hansen, “that it was gratifying to see the article come together and, even more so, to know the kind of response it had from readers.”
Hansen also shared a first-place Best Sports Journalism Sports Feature with freelance photographer Susan McSpadden for “In the Hunt,” a photo essay and story about the Bishop Ward baseball team’s quest for a sixth straight state championship. The judges called it “well-written, crisp and clean.”
This was McSpadden’s first CPA win, and she clearly remembers the day that yielded the prize-winning photos.
“The day I shot the images for the story was an unseasonably cold day in April,” she recalled. “Everyone was freezing! Players, spectators — and especially me, holding metal cameras and lenses — all shivered our way through the game.
“It feels good to know the suffering I did out in the bitter cold paid off!”
Topeka freelancers Marc and Julie Anderson also earned a first-place Father Michael J. McGivney Award for Distinguished Volunteerism in Journalism, awarded by the Knights of Columbus, for “Let There Be Light,” their story of the recovery of Nemaha and Marshall counties from a devastating ice storm.
“While we knew from personal experience and family relationships that the people of the Nemaha-Marshall County region are faith-filled, humble, kind and generous, we were overwhelmed and moved almost to tears by the stories shared with us during the writing of this piece,” said Julie Anderson.
Marc Anderson also paid tribute to the people of the region.
“While my wife and I wrote the story and are being honored for our journalism, we feel the award also belongs to the people of the Nemaha-Marshall County region, and our hearts are full of gratitude toward them.”
The Leaven’s most surprising win might have been its first-place finish in the Best Web Site category, considering the considerable resources dedicated to the sites of some the competition. The judges, however, had high praise for web-master Darin Hansen and the multimedia work created solely by The Leaven print staff.
“Great use of storytelling,” wrote the judges. “This site is friendly, engaging and informative. . . . Way to think outside of the box.”
A third-place win for Best Multiple Picture Package went to “Joy in the Midst of Silence,” a photo essay and story on the convent life of the Sisters, Servants of Mary of Kansas City, Kan. The piece was the joint work of freelance writer Jill Ragar Esfeld and freelance photographer Elaina Cochran.
“I had a wonderful time with the Sisters,” said Cochran. “I basically just approached [the assignment] from an observational perspective — not wanting to intrude on their day as much as possible, so I could really get a feel for a typical day in their life.”
Finally, an honorable mention was won in the category Best Scenic, Still Life or Weather Photo by freelance photographer Don Wolf for “Umbrella Nun.”
Father Mark Goldasich, editor, and Anita McSorley, managing editor, said the victories were the result of the collaboration of a lot of people — many of them freelancers.
“The win by Marc and Julie Anderson is a good example,” said Father Goldasich. “Marc and Julie have been covering the Topeka region for us for years. But the events that they cover don’t usually yield stories that fit into competition categories.
“Fortunately, one of the stories they pitched to us was the effects of the Nemaha-Marshall ice storm story — and that’s the one the Knights picked as their first-place winner.”
The Web site, added McSorley, was another example of collaboration.
“The redesign of the site,” she said, “was the work of Kara Hansen’s husband, Darin. But all the multimedia efforts posted to it were the work of the rest of the staff combined.”
“It represented a steep learning curve for us at the beginning of last summer,” she concluded, “so it was nice to see it all pay some dividends.”