Editorial Contest Renamed “Alternative Newsweekly Awards”

Members vote not to name contest after George Seldes or Andrew Kopkind.

George Seldes got the most votes, but, like Al Gore, he wasn’t elected.

AAN decided not to name its annual editorial contest after Seldes because a significant number of AAN members, given a choice between Seldes and fellow late journalist Andrew Kopkind, voted in favor of not naming the contest at all.

So, instead of the George Seldes Awards, the contest will be rechristened simply the “Alternative Newsweekly Awards.”

The process of developing a name for the contest began last fall, when the Editorial Committee authorized AAN to poll members to gauge their interest in such a move. In December, over 90% of the publishers and editors who responded to an informal e-mail ballot approved of the concept.

Members were also asked to submit potential names. Besides the late journalist I.F. Stone, who already has a journalism contest named in his honor, Kopkind and Seldes were the only individuals who received multiple nominations.

In April, AAN mailed and e-mailed ballots to publishers and editors, and asked them to vote on naming the annual editorial contest after either Seldes or Kopkind. They also were given the option of voting to “not name the contest.” Less than one-third of the ballots were cast; nevertheless, Seldes outpolled Kopkind by a margin of greater than 3-1. However, more than 25% of the members who cast a ballot voted not to name the contest at all.

“When we started this process, we said that we would name the contest after someone only if that person received unqualified support from the membership,” says AAN Executive Director Richard Karpel. “That wasn’t the case with either Seldes or Kopkind.”

Karpel says he spoke with several members who cast their ballots in favor of not naming the contest, and all of them indicated that they weren’t persuaded that either Seldes or Kopkind had enough of a real connection to the alternative newspaper business to warrant the selection.

Seldes reported for daily papers and his own newsletter during the first half of the 20th Century, and left everyday journalism in 1950 to write books. Kopkind wrote for The Village Voice and Boston Phoenix, but he is best known for his work at The New Republic and The Nation.

According to Karpel, the association is interested in developing a name for the contest to make it easier to promote each year’s winning entries. When the contest was initiated in 1996, there wasn’t a lot of thought given to a name, he says, so its de facto moniker became the “AAN Editorial Contest,” a designation that is inscrutable to anyone who isn’t a member of the association.

After the members demonstrated that it isn’t possible at present to settle on a proper name that will generate near-unanimous support, the Editorial Committee last week approved of changing the contest name simply to the Alternative Newsweekly Awards.

In an e-mail message to the committee suggesting the change, Karpel said the new name is “niche-specific (and therefore somewhat memorable) and all-encompassing, kind of like the ‘National Magazine Awards,’ which is presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors, who have done a pretty good job of generating attention for their contest.”

Meanwhile, this year’s contest is now in the hands of second-round judges, who have a mid-June deadline to select the winning entries. The entry-evaluation process is organized in two rounds, with first-round judges culling the best work and passing it on to the second-round, where three-judge panels pick the winners in each category. In this year’s contest, 91 papers submitted 1,019 entries, each of which were reviewed by at least two of the 43 journalists who served as first-round judges.

The award-winning entries will be announced by June 29, and the order of finish will be revealed at the Alternative Newsweekly Awards lunch at the AAN convention Thursday, July 12.

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