Members Support Awards Contest, with Reservations

A recent survey shows members are generally satisfied with the eight-year-old Alternative Newsweekly Awards although they are passionately divided about this year’s results, where judges in three panels decided not to make any awards in the small-circulation division.

A survey of AAN editors-in-chief conducted in August shows that two-thirds are “very” or “somewhat satisfied” with the contest. Half rated the judging process either “good” or “very good”, with 30 percent saying it was “bad” or “very bad” and 20 percent answering they didn’t know enough about it.

When asked whether judges should be required to award a first-place in every category, 17 respondents said “no” (59 percent), 12 said “yes” (41 percent) and one had no opinion.

Comments on this question ranged from, “Who the fuck do these people think they are?” to “This isn’t T-ball where everybody gets a trophy.”

A large majority of respondents (86 percent) rejected the idea of replacing the current practice of inviting judges from outside the ranks of AAN with in-house panels of AAN writers and editors. Nearly as large a majority (72 percent) rejected the idea of barring daily newspaper employees from judging.

“If you make this an ‘in-house’ contest with only AAN members as judges, you will kill the national reputation of this contest,” one respondent said. “That decision will be read by the rest of the journalism world as an acknowledgment by alt- journalists that they can’t compete with dailies, etc. I think we can compete, and that good journalism is good journalism — and will be recognized as such by whatever group is doing the judging. The second suggestion, to bar any daily journalist from judging, makes the contest even more insular and meaningless and makes AAN members appear terribly insecure.”

Other respondents argued equally vigorously for the idea of ensuring that awards are made in each category and each division, with one suggesting that AAN, “Find judges who aren’t so elitist, fer chrissakes.”

“I have a suspicion that the judges approach this contest with a strange mix of condescension and envy that translates to their wanting to ‘teach us a lesson,'” another respondent wrote. “I don’t think non-alt journalists are especially capable of applying alt standards and sensibilities to their evaluations. Not sure what that leaves us with — except it’s discouraging for the staff when they don’t win, and clearly some smaller papers really don’t like being told their stuff is beneath contempt (the ‘no awards’ syndrome). To that end, we should wonder what good comes of this contest and perhaps consider if a ‘best of AAN’ contest isn’t better in the long run.”

Other proposals garnered solid support, including creating a new category that recognizes some of the unique formats AAN papers create, such as one paper’s graphic board-game feature to comment and report on “homeland security.” Seventy-two percent of respondents said that was a good or very good idea.

Sixty-nine percent also endorsed the idea of announcing all the entries that go into the second round of judging each year.

Respondents split (37 percent/37 percent with 26 percent no opinion) on whether judges should be required to comment on all the entries, but were solidly opposed (64 percent “no”) to paying an extra $10 per entry for written judges’ critiques.

For a copy of a Word document containing the complete survey results, click here. For a Word document collecting all of the written comments, click here.