Press contests: Love ’em AND hate ’em

Journalists love press contests. And we hate them, too.

January is contest time of year in my newsroom. By Monday, we have to turn in a list of our best stories for about 8, 724 different categories for the state press association.

(OK, technically it’s the press association for Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia … three small states combined is kind of like one normal-sized state. And it’s technically not 8,724 categories, of course.)

The categories really do seem endless: business story, environment story, feature story, profile story and so on. There’s now even a category for weather and natural disasters. (That should be an interesting competition this year!)

Sometimes journalists would like to skip the whole contest thing altogether. But you never know how much current bosses or prospective bosses might like to see those awards on your resume. So it’s smart to take the time to thoughtfully enter contests.

It’s daunting to sift through 200-plus stories to find a few gems.

The best of the best are obvious. Off the top of the head, I immediately thought of my profile of a skipjack captain and my many stories on the late Gov. William Donald Schaefer as my best work of 2011.

But what about other good — but not necessarily spectacular — stories?

Often, reading through old clips reminds me of stories I enjoyed reporting and writing. Or I find stories that were better than I remembered. I remembered meeting Orioles superstar Adam Jones at the local Boys & Girls Club. And I remember how a budget dispute highlighted how power works in the state capital.

But are those stories good enough for awards? Maybe, maybe not.

One thing I thought I did well this year was covering many citizen challenges to a proposed crematory. I covered every step of the way and I felt my stories were thorough and readable and fair. Other news outlets covered the issue somewhat, but no one was as comprehensive as my newspaper.

But is that worthy of an award? Or is that just what I should be doing every day? Solid work isn’t worthy of awards.

So the self-evaluation will continue.

In between interviews and meetings and phone calls, the reporters in my newsroom read and reread. And reread some more.

And after Monday, we’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

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