Winning Feels Good

Chris Jones, a man who has twice won magazine journalism’s highest award, recently wrote an honest (and polarizing) meditation on losing. It appeared on his blog, Son of Bold Venture, a great resource for writers—young, old, aspiring, established, cynical, naive—on writing. It begins:

“I wish I didn’t care about awards, but I do, very much. I understand from a purely rational perspective that awards don’t matter in the grander scheme of things; I get that winning an award (or not winning an award) doesn’t change the words on the page; I know that an incredibly small percentage of the world even has any idea that writers sometimes win trophies for their writing, or that people are still writing at all. I’m sure more people care about who caught the year’s biggest bass.” And then continues, a paragraph later: “But I’ve always kept score. I don’t know why, exactly. I just know that Gary Smith has won the most National Magazine Awards, with four. I know Tom Junod has won two. William Langewiesche has also won two. I like the validation of their company. I like being able to think, late at night, that maybe I belong.”

I relate to much of this: that winning matters to me. That I want to belong to a coterie of writers I admire. And that there’s some ambivalence in wanting these things. So it’s with a somewhat uneasy pleasure that I report having won the 2011 City and Regional Magazine Award for Reporting. My winning story was “Final Exit” (available here), a piece about a suicide and the people who worked both for and against it. It took some eight months to report and write, if you include the two months spent trying to get people to talk to me. It was basically the first piece of investigative reporting I’d ever done, and I’m stunned and honored to have won an award for it. I’ve always thought that reporting was the hardest part.

I write this sitting in a Tokyo apartment, back from four days of reporting on the tsunami, feeling like I have the best job in the world. Maybe even an important one. I’m exhausted and satisfied and perhaps a little high on the horse. My view from the 28th floor:

I’d like to think I’d feel the same way, sitting high up here in the sky, if I hadn’t won that award. But I’m not sure. Winning feels good.