The award is given annually to recognize a local professional in a communications-related field like advertising, public relations or journalism.
Allen Mincey, vice president of communications at the United Way of Bradley County, nominated Norton for the 2013 award.
“Norton, in his profession, adheres to the ethical standards a conscientious media person should,” Mincey said in his nomination. “This carries into his personal life, as he has always maintained a professional visage in all he does.”
A native Tennessean, Norton’s career path started at the Cleveland Daily Banner in 1977 after his graduation from the University of Tennessee at Martin.
He held a variety of positions at the Banner in the earlier years of his career, climbing the ranks from staff writer, assistant managing editor, managing editor and interim editor.
He left to spend about 31 years in the public relations industry, working for employers like the United Way of Bradley County and what is today known as Whirlpool. In 2010, he returned to the newspaper as an associate editor.
Past recipients of the Excellence in Communications Award include Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and last year’s recipient, Dan Howell, the former executive assistant of Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.
The recipient of the award each year is known only to a subcommittee of the association before the award is presented, making the person’s identity a surprise for many in attendance.
After giving several clues as to who the award’s recipient might be, Cameron Fisher, communications coordinator for the Church of God International Offices, announced that Norton was the one for 2013.
Fisher than shared several comments from those who had worked with Norton.
“Rick is one of those journalists who takes every story seriously,” Rowland said in prepared remarks read by Fisher. “When you talk of ‘fair and balanced,’ you think of Rick.”
In similar remarks read at the meeting, Cleveland Daily Banner editor and publisher Stephen Crass called Norton the “perfect example” of a community newspaper editor.
“He has the talent to weave words into stories that last long after the ink has faded from the page. It is a privilege to work with someone who has the desire to do the best that he possibly can every single day.”
With a surprised look on his face, Norton gave a short speech after he was handed the shiny blue and gold award plaque.
Norton said the list of those who had received the award in the past included some of Cleveland’s best, which he said made receiving it even more of an honor than just the title of the award would suggest.
“I am truly humbled and honored,” Norton said.
Though he said newspaper work was not an easy profession to be in all the time, he said the constantly-changing work environment was what drew him back to the newsroom after years away.
His job duties currently include writing and editing newspaper articles and columns and supervising reporters on a daily basis.
“Someone told me that ink gets into your blood,” Norton said. “I’m having fun every day that I come to work.”