Any gathering of journalists these days is, inevitably, a bifurcated affair: half-liquor-fueled bonhomie and half-dark talk of an uncertain future.
The Rhode Island Press Association's annual awards soiree, held on May 6 at the Quonset O Club in North Kingstown, was no exception. But thankfully, it tended more toward the former.
Of course, if alcohol helps to lighten the mood, a little self-congratulation does the same. And there were plenty of awards to go around, including a couple for the Phoenix.
The paper took a first-place prize, in the religion and spirituality reporting category, for a piece by news editor David Scharfenberg on Brown University biology professor Ken Miller, who has attempted to reconcile evolution and faith — pissing off some prominent atheists along the way.
Scharfenberg also took a third-place prize, in the education reporting category, for a story on Teach for America's controversial push to save Rhode Island's beleaguered public schools.
But the highlight of the night was the induction of three new members into the association's Hall of Fame.
The first inductee, Kimball Burgess, took over the Greenville Observer from his parents in 1979 and started papers in North Providence and Johnston before selling the business in 2006 to Breeze Publications.
His speech was a sort of love letter to the suburban weekly — at once, a quaint relic of the old newspaper days and, perhaps, better positioned than its larger cousins to survive the disruptions of the Internet Age. Local sells, after all.
Linda Levin, a one-time Providence Journal reporter and long-beloved journalism professor at the University of Rhode Island, accepted her plaque from her husband, who was emceeing the inductions portion of the event, and promptly chalked up the honor to one of the state's most revered institutions: nepotism.
She got a standing ovation as she returned to her seat.
Finally, it was Carol Young, who retired as deputy executive editor of the Journal last year — a pioneer for women at the paper, a strong advocate for local news and education reporting, a mentor for a long line of young reporters.
She told a couple of amusing stories about her early days at the Journal and spoke to one of the joys of retirement: picking up the paper in the morning and not knowing what she might find inside.
It is a skip-through-the-pages, tactile curiosity that seems not long for this world. But everyone in that room knew just what she meant.