Awards for excellence in editorial writing (representing the view of the newspaper) and awards for excellence in column writing (columns written by one or more individuals) will be presented Oct. 8-10 in Chicago at the America's Newspapers Senior Leadership Conference. The entry period for submitting a nomination has closed.
Contest judges will be evaluating the entries in both categories this summer — in two circulation brackets: over 35,000 circulation and under 35,000 circulation. Three cash prizes and plaques will be awarded in each bracket:
Cash awards will be as follows in each of the four contest brackets: first-place, $2,250; second-place, $1,000; and third-place, $500. This puts total cash prizes at $15,000 — thanks to the generous support of Lissa Walls Cribb and Southern Newspapers, Inc.
In addition to the top three in each bracket, America's Newspapers also will be recognizing additional finalists.
This contest has always sought to recognize strong, courageous and positive editorial page leadership. Judges will be taking the courage it took to write the editorials or columns into highest consideration.
Newspaper editorial pages, as once we knew them, may be dying. God, I hope not.
For if a newspaper has brains, it will show up on the editorial page. If a newspaper has a heart, it will show up on the editorial page. If a newspaper has courage, it will be most evident on the editorial page.
All those things — brains, heart and courage — are ephemeral, impossible to measure, and impossible to teach in a journalism class.
Yet those things are the building blocks on which any news organization builds its relationship with its community, its audience. That relationship is built over many years. It’s a lot like a marriage. Seriously.
Any lasting human relationship requires honesty. There will be mistakes, failure, occasionally broken trust. Marriages require forgiveness, over and over, and sometimes courage.
Building that kind of intimacy with a family of readers has been at the heart of newspapers’ success in the past. I think it may be an important key to how we rebuild relevance and excitement among our readers.
Many corporate owners of newspapers these days obviously disagree.
Some have banned editorial page endorsements as being more trouble than they’re worth. It’s rare today for newspapers to invest much in staff or other resources for editorial pages. No ads on that space equals no expenditures for it.
That’s as tragic, and as hopeless, as any form of suicide.
Publishers should see newspaper commentary as a vital means to build trust and to reinforce deep, lasting relationships with readers, even when it’s difficult and troublesome.
I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the newspaper’s publisher was Pulitzer winner Buford Boone. My conservative parents did not always agree with the more liberal Mr. Boone, but they read the paper and respected it while disagreeing often.
As I recall the dinner table conversations, their feelings often were intense, even passionate. Their loyalty over decades was in direct proportion to that passion.
When I retired as publisher of The Daily News in Galveston, Texas, a reader paid me what I still see as the ultimate compliment.
“I really didn’t think you were always right,” he said, “but I thought you were always trying to be.”
It was my friend’s way of saying he admired the newspaper’s willingness to take the risk of leadership, even when it was controversial or inconvenient. I still believe that risk is worth it.
Newspaper leaders have to make themselves vulnerable to risk. They must have the bravery to boldly argue for a better tomorrow. Otherwise we’re just a bunch of damn bulletin boards. The internet handles that role better than we do.
Newspapers, to have a future, must engage the brains, hearts and hopes of their readers. And if we don’t, shame on all of us.
Dolph Tillotson is chairman of Southern Newspapers, Inc.
You might ask yourself, what is the difference between a column and an editorial? While both represent the heartbeat of a newspaper, each includes a different objective and road to accomplishing a goal. While a column is generally a first-person account, an editorial represents the newspaper as an institution. Additionally, columns extend a latitude to the writer of choosing a profoundly personal matter or to give the reader a chuckle.
Consider a column as a personal conversation with the reader. An editorial is all business — much like putting on battle paint and heading into the world to make a difference. Editorials are not written to take up space but to create thought, generate discussion and lead to change. Both are critical to a great newspaper's DNA, each bringing tremendous value to our institution.
This year's Carmage Walls Commentary Contest is an opportunity to show off your chops: wordsmithing, insightful observations, and moving a reader or stranger to action. Get in the game.
Leonard Woolsey is president of Southern Newspapers, Inc., and president and publisher of The Daily News in Galveston, Texas.
Many qualities can contribute to an excellent column or editorial, including eloquence, clarity, perceptiveness, humor, empathy and outrage, but the rarest and most compelling quality is courage.
Editorial courage isn’t about being reflexively contrarian or provoking readers with partisan views. It’s about taking a risk to tell the truth. It’s saying what many readers won’t want to hear or taking aim at powerful local institutions. That’s a hard thing to do and the reaction can be hard to endure. But it’s essential to the value and integrity of journalism.
The Carmage Walls Commentary Prize seeks to recognize, reward and foster editorial courage.
Ned Barnett is associate opinion editor for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Five additional entries also were identified as finalists by the contest judges.