Optimism is in short supply in our business lately. Between a year’s worth of dismal economic news and the pounding that “old media” gives itself despite worthy efforts, you’ve got to be one determined optimist to stand up and say, “We believe, more than ever, in community journalism.”

Well, we believe. We at Wednesday Journal, Inc., with six neighborhood newspapers and their Web sites, believe in community journalism. And our belief was reinforced Friday in Peoria, where the Illinois Press Association handed out its annual awards for excellence. 

We won 55 of them, plus bragging rights for two of the best papers in the state. The big old trophies we lugged home look like we just won the 16-inch softball tourney in Forest Park. They’re just about as big as one of us, and they even have names. The Will Loomis Memorial Trophy, awarded to the best big weekly newspaper in Illinois, went to Wednesday Journal. That’s the second year in a row we’ve won the right to display the Loomis trophy. And the Verle C. Kramer Memorial Trophy, awarded for the best little weekly newspaper in Illinois, is returning to the Forest Park Review. We last won that trophy in 1993.

Beyond the trophies, our papers won kudos for design, reporting and writing, photography, editorials, columns, special sections, and storytelling on the Web. Two of our awards were for community service.

Every one of the six papers we proudly publish was honored: Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, Chicago Journal, Skyline and Austin Weekly News joined the Journal and Review in our shared success.

Here’s the secret. Community journalism – news that really feels genuine, like it was created for the neighborhood you know and live in – is a lot of hard work. It takes time to get to know all layers of a community. It takes reporting, writing and editing instincts to get the context right. It takes respect and caring to understand the power that a strong story can pack in a tight-knit community. It takes enthusiasm and untold energy to keep at it every day on the Web, every week in print. It takes pride, and doing your homework, to write editorials that actually speak to the heart of neighborhood issues. 

We’ve been at this now for 29 years. And we’ve never been more optimistic about the power of community. We’ve never been more enthused about the possibilities of print and the Web to connect with neighborhoods.

We are thankful for every reader who re-ups their subscription or makes a habit of picking up a paper each week. We are thrilled when we break news on the Web and see it crackle across town and then come back to us with your comments and insights. We are grateful for every advertiser who trusts us to connect them to our dedicated readers. We thank you for supporting our work.

Optimism. We’ve got it. Stick with us.

Dan Haley