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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A journalism award for enlivening dull assignments

Posted By on 05.08.12 at 02:35 PM

Rumpelstiltskin
  • Anne Anderson
  • Rumpelstiltskin
Eric Zorn of the Tribune just e-mailed me an excellent idea. Zorn was reading my post on the new Anne Keegan Award, and he responded to its emphasis on journalism that refuses to call attention to the journalist. Inherent in the award is a sympathy for the unsung reporter, and Zorn took that idea and ran with it. He writes:

“The award I'd like to see given every year would be the Rumpelstiltskin Prize to the [general assignment] feature reporter who, given the straw of dreadfully dull assignments (warm weather, snowstorm, parade, new baby at the zoo, people lined up for tickets or sales, and so on) routinely spins them into gold. I don't know that there's one writer who deserves to have this named after him or her, but such work requires real imagination and craft, particularly on deadline. And the prize would honor the unsung heroes of newsrooms.”

Zorn's description is on the money. Nothing awakens Chicago’s eager young reporters to the grim realities of the life they’ve chosen like their second Saint Patrick’s Day parade, when they realize there will be another parade every March until they retire and unless they get one of those glamorous overseas assignments that don’t exist any longer they will probably be out there covering it. Yet some skilled practitioners can actually make each parade sound interesting. There's no Pulitzer for a gift like that, but there could be a Rumpy. In addition to GA reporters, the prize could also be offered to the most unsung of the unsung, the rewrite men. But I'm not sure they exist any longer. It's probably too late for them.

Zorn has named his award shrewdly. Despite his knack for spinning straw into gold, no one is more unsung than Rumpelstiltskin himself. Do you think of him simply as a nasty little piece of work who stomps on the ground when he’s outwitted and disappears into the earth? Give his fairy tale a closer reading and you'll discover he’s actually the most appealing character in it. The miller who boasts to the king of his daughter’s spinning ability is a blowhard and a liar, the king is a greedy sadist, and the daughter’s a useless sniveler. Only Rumpelstiltskin does anything useful with his life; and although he demands the daughter’s firstborn in return for the gold he spins, surely the child would have grown up stronger and straighter in the forest than raised by monster parents in a cold and loveless castle.

As named, and as given out, the Rumpy would redress ancient slights.

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