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The award thing

Don Rogers

No question, I’m an award humbug. I can’t think of a thing less useful in my beloved profession.

Here we have newspaper circulation sinking every year for the past 50, no small amount of angst and answers it that universely turn out to be wrong, and every year my tribe preens and glows as if they actually accomplished something because they won some journalism awards. Oh, brother.

Worse, their bosses have lost themselves so far in the business ” which has been remarkably successful by contrast to the journalism ” preen and glow, and count ’em up over drinks at the parties.



It’s a sham, all fiddling while Rome burns.

Here too many of us are, aiming to write, shoot or design something that wins us awards, which lead to praise, raises and better jobs. Pretty powerful incentive, indeed. I profited by it myself.



The problem is that in our award culture we’re working for the wrong people. The hands down worst thing we could possibly do is write for the practitioners of a dying craft. But that’s what we do with journalists judging other journalists’ work. Sometimes, even greater dinosaurs do the judging, journalism professors.

No wonder fewer actual readers bother with us. So, I’m humbug about the awards. It’s the readers who count. Awards are mere gilding, tinsel. Nicer to win than not, I suppose, but meaningless in terms of the real mission.

Of course, it’s easier to talk smack as I do now when you win some. We won better than 30 this year, a record buster. Some of that was a blessing of the Colorado Press Association changing the circulation categories so the tiny Daily no longer had to compete against newsrooms eight-nine times our size. I think we collected 24 press awards this year. The Colorado-Wyoming Associated Press group stayed with the 10,000-100,000 circ category, and we managed nine awards from them. Another incredible showing.



But our journalism last year was no better or worse than the previous years, when we won fewer awards. Actually, the best journalism in Colorado since 2000 went unrecognized by the dummy journalists judging those contests. Randy Wyrick hands down did the strongest, most ground-breaking, most difficult work with that ugly, ugly, ugly Kobe Bryant rape case. The difficulty factor between the world’s media on our doorstep and covering what was actually relevant in that case was something else. Randy was the only one who managed without making a major error while sorting through a lot of nonsense, day in and day out for over a year. I know actual readers appreciated his work, even while contest judges who didn’t get it ” even if they should have ” held their noses at the subject.

But anyway, several frankly lesser works earned us prizes. Sure, I’m proud of my folks. The awards, I suppose, at least give us cred with folks impressed by such things. To me, though, that’s just a sign they can’t sort good journalism from bad on their own. And that’s a problem, too.

The real deal is readership ” readers! The award chase runs the other way too often, as the journalists lose themselves trying to impress each other instead of focusing on the real mission.

So humbug, harumph and congratulations all around. Now, can we get to work? We’re going to lose this thing while we’re so busy patting ourselves furiously on the back if we don’t get our collective heads on straight.


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