May 09, 2011

Craft wins newspaper feature writing contest

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Stories that celebrate a 105-year tradition of a community band and an award-winning artist from Eureka won the top prize in the annual Polly Robinson Feature Writing Contest at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Dan Craft, the arts/entertainment editor and columnist with The Pantagraph in Bloomington, gave readers insight into the Danvers Town Band, and former teacher-turned-artist Bob Emser in submissions that won the award.

Craft’s story on the community band, “Century Club,” not only spoke of the band’s history and its iconic summertime performances every Sunday in July, but about its band members, who ranged from 86 to 12 years old. The community band is open to players of all ages and skill levels. The story appeared July 1, 2010.

Craft’s story on the passion that Emser, a 2010 Pollock-Krasner Award recipient from Eureka, has for his sculpting appeared Feb. 12, 2011. Craft will receive $150 for his effort.

“At a time when feature writing seems to be in jeopardy, the Polly Robinson contest is a welcome reminder that the tradition still has proponents seeking to maintain quality standards on the embattled daily newspaper front,” he said.

“Being recognized with this particular award is especially gratifying to me since a number of my respected colleagues here at The Pantagraph have been recipients of the honor over the years,” he said. “I feel that I am in some very good company.”

Craft said the entries are the first time he has submitted anything to the contest in his 25 years as the entertainment editor and writer. He credits Chuck Blystone, the newspaper’s features editor, with encouraging him to submit the entries.

The Pantagraph also earned second-place honors in the competition. Paul Swiech, the newspaper’s health editor, also submitted two entries. Swiech’s July 27, 2010 story, “Scrappy Kid,” detailed the achievements of six-year-old Jace Berndt-Knecht of Normal as he battles through a rare hip disease. The second entry, “Jake’s Journey,” is a profile of 19-year-old Jake Kern’s battle against leukemia, six years after Kern’s younger brother died of T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The story on Kern, a community college student and member of the Illinois Air National Guard, ran Nov. 5, 2010. Swiech will receive $75 for his effort.

“Called to Action,” a story by Tamara Browning, a feature reporter with the State Journal-Register in Springfield, earned third-place honors. The May 14, 2010, story profiles Jim Pauley of Auburn, who began “Compassion in Action, Inc,” a group that provides food and clothing to homeless individuals throughout the Midwest, including Springfield, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Browning will receive $50 for her effort.