David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, sits down in a seat to my left.
He's running late to the ceremony. He quietly says hello and scans the program. "I didn't know we knew who the winners were," he says across the table to Anna Quindlen, who returns a raised eyebrow.
"What the hell? Do people dress you in the morning?" she asks.
"Yes, we know the winners!" she says.
Quindlen points out to him that he is, in fact, seated with the winners. I say hello. My reporter, Andrew, says hello. Remnick, the man who edits the most revered bastion of long-form journalism in America, says simply, "Mazel tov."
I was a long way from Texas.
Specifically, I was in the banquet room in the Yale Club on Vanderbilt Avenue, across the street from Grand Central Station in Manhattan. The newspaper I had edited for the past 5 years had won the 2012 Livingston Award for Local Reporting for our three-part series on the exoneration of a Williamson County man wrongfully convicted for the 1986 murder of his wife. We were in New York to accept the prize, one of the most prestigious in American journalism.
Community journalism can take you places - from the hipster-filled Hill Country of central Texas to the concrete canyons of Manhattan. And it now takes me to even greater heights, literally and figuratively.
I couldn't be happier.
I snuck into town last Wednesday, but today marks the start of my first full week as the managing editor of the Summit Daily News. I'm still getting settled in, but I would love to hear from you.
First, a little about me. I was born and raised in Dallas, just east of downtown. Growing up, I would wait impatiently for each school year to end. You see, we Trollingers - like many Texans, no doubt - had a family tradition: Every summer, we'd load up our boxy, burgundy Toyota van and head to Rocky Mountain National Park.
To me, it was heaven.
Throughout my life, Colorado's landscape has been a moveable feast that has nourished my imagination and whetted my appetite for natural beauty. I always told myself I would live there one day.
Now reality hits and the lessons begin: Interstate 70 is scary, even in a Subaru with winter tires; I have no idea how to dress (layers, yes, I've heard. Still cold); elk, apparently, can kill you (I'll steer clear, although someone recently offered me elk steaks. How could a Texan refuse that?).
But here's another important lesson: Summit County is a deservedly proud and close-knit community.
I will do my best to serve its interests.
As the executive editor of the Williamson County Sun, a 10,000-circulation, twice-weekly just north of Austin, I'd come to believe that small newspapers can do big things. Winning awards is a welcomed validation of quality work (yes, I admit I was trying to impress you a bit in my lead-in), but it isn't the ultimate goal. Becoming indispensable to a community of readers is a newspaper's true mission - especially in a time of uncertainty in the news industry.
The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, a big believer in community news, recently said, "In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper."
That's what I've learned as a newspaper editor, and that's the gospel I preach. Every vibrant community deserves a paper they can be proud of. That's why I'm here.
Now, tell me, are these skis on right?