Press associations spend a lot of time and effort ensuring their annual contests reflect the best of local newspapers.
But sometimes, the spirited competition needs to make an exception, or two.
That’s certainly the case in Washington where the Newspaper Publishers Association will showcase reporting and storytelling about COVID-19 with a special new category for 2021.
The Pacific Northwest association also added a category devoted to stories about history as well as one that rewards good tales about, well, tails.
Cheers to Washington for making its Better Newspaper Contest more Relevant.
Executive Director Fred Obee said the pandemic is such a big story that it deserved its own spotlight when celebrating the best in local journalism.
“There really was a lot of excellent coverage, from struggling business owners, to overworked hospitals, to nursing homes on high alert, to people struggling with mental health and more,” Obee said. “Mixed in were debates about the governor’s authority and the mask versus no mask debate. Really, the coverage was pretty extraordinary.”
Obee said this isn’t the first time his association installed a one-time category, but the COVID reporting is in a class by itself. “This really is head and shoulders above what we have done before,” he added.
Entrants will be judged in four circulation groups to allow papers of the same size to compete against each other. The association’s contest site opened April 1 and members have until May 3 to submit “regular entries.” A category on Tourism special section allows submissions up to June 1.
The new history-feature category confirms the local reality that the topic is a reader favorite among newspapers that cover small towns. “It seems almost every small town has someone devoted to preserving its history,” Obee said.
Also, the change “was just another attempt to break up the feature story logjam, and they often are great stories that provide context or reflections on current events (race relations, economy, environment, etc.) or sometimes they are just entertainment accompanied by old photos,” Obee added.
And that brings us to the arrival of a category devoted to animals. Was that a pet project of Obee?
Perhaps, but it was again an effort to make the feature categories more manageable for judges.
“Many aren’t thrilled when they find out they have 42 lengthy features to read and judge!” Obee wrote in an email response. “We have general feature categories, short and long, we have feature categories on lifestyles, business, arts, and personality, short and long, and now animals and history. Our contest committee chose those two to add because we were getting quite a few in that realm.”
The early bet is a dog or horse story will win. But don’t be count out a surprise.
“Dogs are pretty common. Heroic dogs, service dogs, hunting dogs, dogs who do amazing tricks,” Obee said. “But others do well. Horses are popular. And then we have the odd pet stories: boa constrictors, iguanas, and birds of every feather.”
Winners will be announced at WNPA’s convention in Bellingham on Oct. 9.
Obee hopes the event will be in person. No doubt, it will be pet friendly, too.