I pretty much never write about the office for a variety of reasons, but I wanted to do so today to recognize a victory for one of the good guys as well as a ton of hard work by, and overdue recognition for, a friend. Nancy McLaughlin, a reporter for the N&R since late 1989, won first prize in feature writing yesterday at the N&R’s annual Landmark Awards, which recognize outstanding news and feature writing, copy editing, page design, sports writing, photography and graphic design. (The N&R story isn’t online.)
Nancy will be the first to tell you that she is not the most gifted reporter or writer on our staff. But in an industry where a lot more people TALK about getting better than actually DO it, she does it — and has been doing it for years. Even her editor, Susan Ladd (also a longtime colleague and friend of mine), whose own work ethic and record for winning feature-writing awards are monumental, speaks in awe of how hard Nancy has worked to make herself better as a reporter and a writer. In fact, at the moment, Susan can’t talk about it without breaking into tears.
My first lengthy exposure to Nancy’s work ethic came in 1993. At the time, I was the N&R’s investigative-projects reporter and she was the consumer-affairs reporter, and we were teamed to produce a package of stories on flaws in the state’s motor-vehicle inspections program. The reporting involved not only crunching data, my specialty at the time, but also a lot of footwork and face time with people ranging from overworked state officers who oversee the program to service-station managers, some reputable and some not, who actually do the inspecting. Nancy was patient, tireless and devoted to the story; moreover, in her courteous, unassuming way, she got into some bad people’s faces and kept asking questions until either she got answers or it became abundantly clear that no answer would be forthcoming.
Like most of us, Nancy has had both good and not-so-good editors over the years, and we’d both be lying if we said she hasn’t learned a lot from Susan. But she also has learned a lot on her own, apparently deciding that what God hadn’t given her she was going to have to go out and get herself. Her attitude would be a big improvement in a number of writers I know who have far more God-given talent.
After the 1993 package, I only rarely saw Nancy’s raw copy, so the next time I had the chance to do so regularly, I was mightily impressed. It was the fall of 2001. I had taken over for Susan as acting cityside assignment editor while Susan was out on maternity leave, a gig that began Sept. 10, 2001 [2007 UPDATE: It might have been a week or two earlier.]. It was an intense, emotional time even for those of us with no direct connection to the events and victims of 9/11 (and a flight attendant, Sandy Bradshaw, who died in the Pennsylvania plane crash had belonged to the same church as many of our staffers). As the cleanup at Ground Zero began, a local demolition company became the project’s lead consultant, and Nancy got to interview its head during one of his infrequent trips home. He gave the paper a bunch of photos he had taken at the site, and we published them as a package, with a text block written by Nancy.
It took my breath away, and the only editing it needed was to relocate a misplaced comma.
Since then, Nancy has won an N.C. Press Association award for her writing [2007 UPDATE: That award is for the best-written article by any newspaper reporter, anywhere in the state, for the entire year -- and she just won another one last week, working with a different editor, Betsi Robinson -- who also won the comparable editing award as Susan Ladd did with Nancy's first NCPA writing award.] and received other recognition. And she has done so through a raft of personal problems — not of her making — that could have swamped anyone.
So here’s to Nancy, friend and colleague. She has labored hard, well and devoutly in the vineyards, and she’s finally getting to reap a bit of the fruit.