Tom Miller, a sports reporter at the Herald, knows his beat.
Like most sports reporters, he knows what it’s like to wrap up a game, hit a post-game press conference, sprint back up the stairs and – with a deadline hot on his heels – rattle off 500 or 600 words in minutes. He also knows how to work the more time-consuming channels of reporting, such as finding facts deep in public records and crafting investigative pieces that transcend his usual beat.
Unlike many of North Dakota’s reporters, Miller has been honored with a statewide award for his work. The Grand Forks native is the 2019 North Dakota Sportswriter of the Year, an honor given by the National Sports Media Association. And this year’s honor, the 18th time a Herald reporter has won it, means the Herald has brought home the award more than any other newspaper in the state. Reporters at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the next closest, have won the award 17 times.
"For me, it means something special this year, being that we just had a young kid, Oscar," Miller said. "I'm trying to be a writer and a dad.”
And Miller is quick to emphasize that he’s only the latest in a long line of other reporters at the paper that have won. Sports Editor Wayne Nelson has notched the award three times for the Herald (and twice more for the Jamestown Sun); reporter Greg DeVillers has won it six times. Brad Schlossman, who covers college hockey for the Herald, won it in 2016.
Others from the Herald who have won the award are Ryan Bakken, who won three times; Abe Winter, who won twice for the Herald (and also two other times for the Bismarck Tribune); and Virg Foss, who won twice.
The inaugural award was given in 1959; the Herald didn't win, however, until Foss received it a decade later.
The reporters on the sports desk say their output over the years – especially of late – is a testament not just to individual ability, but to a team effort to support one another and keep learning. Schlossman pointed in particular to the counsel of Foss, now retired. Schlossman said he remains in constant contact with Foss to talk about stories, ideas and tips. It helps give the sports department an institutional memory that goes back to 1969.
"He's always willing to help me out. He doesn't have to take the time to do that,” Schlossman says. “But he has, from day one right up until today. I can't express how grateful I am for everything he's done for me."
Nelson praises the work of everyone on the sports staff.
"I don't think we sit around and think about (awards) until they pop up at the end of the year. The commitment the guys have here on staff, it's pretty strong on their beats,” he said. “Those guys are pretty committed to what they do, and the work shows."
Miller thinks back to two stories in particular over the past year that made him proud. One of them closely chronicled the story of the closure – and eventual scheduled reopening – of Ray Richards Golf Course, a beloved community gem that was nearly the victim of budget cuts. The story relied on multiple Herald reporters and university documents that, in the story’s telling, revealed "disgruntled donors and a costly change of direction.”
The other, Miller said, is the story of Teddy Sherva, an emigré who fled Africa via Liberia and won adoption from a local family, eventually becoming a running back on the UND football team. His animating force is his mother, who couldn’t come with him to the United States – forcing a long-distance bond he tends from thousands of miles away.
"Wayne Nelson has created the type of environment that people want to stick around,” Miller said, noting the long tenure of all the Herald’s sportswriters. “We enjoy each other, and in the current climate of journalism, I think that's extremely rare. Wayne does a really good job helping us write the things we love to write."