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The judge who matters

Don Rogers
Vail CO, Colorado

My favorite is Best Editorial Design and Layout, for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve bagged that one two out of the past three years in the state press association contest.

I care little for the contest. Preening for dummy journalists in Georgia or Pennsylvania who don’t have the slightest clue about what’s important to readers here has no hold on me.

But I do enjoy showing the award to our staff after hearing design consultants sniff at their work for the past year.

Yeah, well, Mr. First Place says …

This year, we won seven journalism awards in the Colorado Press Association contest, and six in The Associated Press for Colorado and Wyoming. The haul for 2006 was about half of 2005’s winnings. Ah, well. I know we’re a stronger paper today than even a year ago.

The Vail Trail won seven from the Colorado Press Association, too.

Short of the Pulitzer, there are no tea leaves to read in these beauty pageants for the “experts” in our business.

Plainly, if you look at newspaper readership trends across the country, our so-called experts have no clue.

Our best work won nothing. Not the reports from Hurricane Katrina’s wake on the Gulf Coast, where Eagle County made sister city arrangements with Gulfport and we sent a photographer and reporter. Not from the Olympics, where a sports writer from the smallest outfit in America to send someone to Italy did a whale of a job.

Not our series on illegal immigrants. Nor a half-dozen other worthy entries that were overlooked.

That’s fine. The stuff that won was pretty good, too.

Here’s the count.

From The Associated Press, circulation category 10,000 to 100,000 (we’re about 14,000): Scott Miller, first place for business story; Nicole Frey, second for environmental story; Chris Freud, second for sports story; staff, second for series; Ed Stoner, honorable mention for beat reporting; and Shane Macomber, honorable mention for photo illustration.

From the Colorado Press Association (7,500 to 15,000 circ): Staff, first place for editorial layout and design; Don Rogers, first for editorial writing; Nicole Frey, second for deadline news writing; staff, second for special section; Dawn Beacon, second for feature page design; Preston Utley, second for sports photography; Don Rogers, third for serious column writing.

The Trail’s loot in weeklies over 4,000 circulation: Caramie Schnell, first place for education writing; Caramie Schnell, first for agricultural coverage; Tamara Miller, second for business coverage; Amanda Swanson and Dominique Taylor, second for feature page design; Marty Lich, third for serious column writing; and staff for editorial layout and design.

I toss in the Trail’s winnings as reflected glory, since we all work together now.

For the Daily, we submitted the same stuff to both contests. Nothing that won in one contest even got a nibble in the other.

Besides all the judges missing what I know to be our best work, there was no consistency between the two contests.

And I’m pretty sure there would be a different set of winners if the same folks looked at the same work on a different day.

So, to say the least, it’s hard to take these contests very seriously if you think about this for all of five seconds. Smile, say thank you, don’t try to figure it out. It’s a lottery.

I’ve made more than one publisher cranky with the observation ” or maybe it’s the snort that comes with it ” and staff roll their eyes at old man Rogers on yet another rant.

But it’s true. Short of the Pulitzer, these things are just about meaningless. We have the better sense of our good and our poor work than some poor schleps far from here who hustle through a bunch of entries so they can get back to work.

We can’t forget the real judges, either, which is part of my discomfit with journalism contests.

The readers really are the only ones who matter.

I ought to submit this column to the contests next year. I’ll byline it Marlon Brando and promise to send an Indian princess to pick up the prize, as the actor once did for the Oscars.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOG


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