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Contests: Why should I enter them?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Smallpotatoes, Dec 11, 2006.

  1. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    Throughout my long career in this business, I've seen more than a few friends and collagues win awards in regional and company wide contests. I, meanwhile, have never had much success in them. In my company's contest, I've earned honorable mention a few times and a first place one (oddly enough in a news writing category), but I have yet to win anything in the regional press association contest that everyone in my company is encouraged to enter.
    Obviously, everyone who enters something feels that the work he has entered is exceptional and the work that does win awards is exceptional, but there's something a little frustrating about entering what other people have told you is exceptional work only to come up empty time after time.
    I know everyone says "You can't win if you don't enter," but the reality is whther you enter or not, you probably won't win, or at least I probably won't.
    If in all probability you won't win, what's the point of entering? Is there something to be gained from entering and not winning? Is there some value in doing it just for the sake of keeping yourself humble, in knowing that as good as you think your best work might be, when you hold it up against other people's best work, it isn't quite that good?
    I've known so many people who have won awards, it almost seems like they're handed out like candy. Does it mean that I'm really not that good?
  2. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    Not sure if anything is gained other than something to put on the resume. I found out I'm going to win something regionally in a few months. Funny, I won 1st place in the state last year and didn't even make top 3 this year, but this year I'll be top 3 regionally, maybe even 1st place. It's all a big steaming pile of you know what.
  3. Bob Slydell

    Bob Slydell Active Member

    Resume definitely.

    But some companies also dole out some cash for earning an award. So you got that going for you.

    But for the most part, it is a big steaming pile.
  4. kingcreole

    kingcreole Active Member

    Contests are utter crap. One year, the ASE at the paper I used to work at won first for column writing in our company contest while I was shutout, yet in the state contest, his same piece didn't win anything while I took second place. You figure it out.

    What's more, it always seems to me the people who do the least amount of work usually win. That's been my experience any way.
  5. Editors love them. That's why. I made an editor do a 180 on his opinion of me once by getting a first place in a contest. I wasn't any better the day after I won than I was the day before but he thought I was. So it was definitely worth the time to pull a few stories out of the file and tape them to a piece of paper.
    Contest judging is utterly subjective. I've won with stories that I thought were my second or third-best entry in a category and not gotten a thing for entries I thought at the time were so good that a Pulitzer Prize winner would weep with envy if he or she saw them. I've won in APSE national contests with stories that did not even get honorable mention in state contests. It's not worth spending a minute second-guessing your losses, but it's certainly worth submitting entries.
  6. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    But you can't put it on your resume if you didn't win anything, right?
    If you don't win over and over again, after a while, it's just a kick in the nuts, isn't it?
  7. Bob Cook

    Bob Cook Active Member

    If someone else (your employer) is paying for you to enter, or you don't have to pay, you might as well enter them. You're right that, depending on the contest, it's highly subjective as to who wins. Sheesh, one of my few "winners" was a simple interview with a D-Day vet, which was nice but hardly the most strenuous thing I've ever done. But it can put you in a new light with your editors, and even protect you in case there's ever a problem. Just don't wrap up your self-worth in winning or losing -- although if you are always falling short and feeling bad about it, maybe there's an editor or an old professor or someone you can talk to who can review your work and see if it's an issue of what you're doing, or an issue of judges being morons.
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    One good thing about a contest is that -- in general -- the out-of-the-ordinary tends to win.

    You can write up a 21-7 high school football game like Earnest Faulkner and it ain't gonna win.

    You can make that make that high school wrestling tournament advance shine like Isaac Vonnegut and it ain't going to win.

    So if you see a unique story angle, or scandal to sniff out, go after it and do your best. That's good advice always, and you may just win.
  9. jambalaya

    jambalaya Member

    That is spot on. With one exception in my experience. In our regional association's contest, the smaller circ'd papers often win with everyday coverage. Certainly not with the large papers.
  10. PaperDoll

    PaperDoll Well-Known Member

    It depends on how the contests are judged and by whom.

    I won one where the entries were sent out to a nearby small-town university's English department. I'm still convinced that the fact that my story was written clearly with few sports words made the difference that year.

    A lot of state and regional contests (like the SPJ-affiliated associations) are judged by newspaper people in other states, where I suspect they'll be more critical of the zillionth kid-with-cancer feature. Trend pieces probably have a better shot in that case.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    A kid with cancer feature? Why didn't I think of that!
  12. KnuteRockne

    KnuteRockne Member

    Trends and issues, baby. Those are your ticket.

    A lot of it has to do with support from above. If you have editors that allow you to eat up multiple days and pages with 50-inch pieces to go along with graphics and sidebars galore, your chances increase incrementally.

    And, DyePack is going to hate to hear this, design matters. It shouldn't, but it does. In contests where you turn in full tearsheets, presentation for some reason seems to impress judges.
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