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YDR awarded for ‘Fat Battleground’

I was honored to accept the Public Service award at a recent Pennsylvania Newspaper Association event on behalf of the Daily Record/Sunday News staff for their work on the “Fat Battleground” series on obesity in York County.

Following are my remarks:

As opinion page editor, my involvement in special projects at the York Daily Record typically comes in at the tail end — essentially writing editorials and commenting on the great work produced by our writers, photographers, videographers and editors.

That’s fulfilling.

But “Fat Battleground” was one those truly special projects that gave me an opportunity to participate at the next level — beyond commentary to community action. It was a multi-faceted, multi-media, multi-platform series that looked at why we were so fat and what we could do about it.

Soon after the series ran, we got a message from York County resident Sue Schmidt. “I’m coming in on Tuesday at 10 and I’m bringing my friends John and Barb and Deb.” Or something like that. It didn’t really matter whether we had time to meet with her then. She was coming, and you just don’t say no to Sue.

She brought in her group, sat down with editor Jim McClure, me and some other editors, and went on about the image we had used in the series icon — a picture of a shirtless man with his ample gut spilling over his belt. It was an incredibly effective image, and it had helped spur Sue and her friends to action.

They had been shocked by the reporting in the series — noting that York was the fourth-fattest metro area in the nation.

They wanted to DO something about it, but they didn’t know exactly what.

We had a long discussion, and they talked about how to get people to exercise more.

They came up with the idea of a series of informal walks — which they went about organizing. The events were a success.

We told them about opportunities to blog on our site about health and fitness, and they took us up on that offer and continue to inspire the community to get in shape.

Their enthusiasm helped inspire us to produce a pamphlet that could be distributed in the community, summarizing the problem and helping to answer the question of what we could do about it.

That’s just one example of the effect the Fat Battleground series had on our community.

And for me, it was so much more satisfying than simply commenting on a story then moving on to the next thing.

As journalists, I think we all long to know that our work makes a difference, that it inspires people to help build a better, healthier community — or to be better people.

I know first-hand that’s what our talented journalists accomplished with a series that forced our community to look at itself honestly in the mirror — and promted some members to get up and do something about it.

Has York, land of hogmaw and fastnachts, where cholesterol is king, become thin city?

Uh … no, not yet.

But we’re making strides — literally, thanks to Sue and her friends and everyone they have inspired.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, next time around, we’re ranked the 5th fattest metro region in the nation.

You gotta take it steady. Crash diets never work.