Why Journalism Awards Are Too Much Like Dog Shows

By Jack Limpert

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Cruiser may not be trendy but golden retrievers are very popular dogs.

Another February and time to read through a big stack of magazines for a journalism contest and sit with Cruiser, our golden retriever, and watch the Westminster Dog Show.  And again think about how journalism contests and dog shows are too much alike.

Our neighborhood’s two most popular breeds, golden retrievers and Labs, have never won Westminster. They’re great dogs but not new or different. I’ve judged a lot of journalism contests and the tendency among judges is also to reward entries that are not the same old good stuff. Many times I’ve heard a judge say, “It’s great but other magazines also do that. What’s new about it?”

At The Washingtonian, trying to come up with stories to win contests was never on our radar screen. We understood that journalism award judges rarely reward the kind of solid journalism that’s most appreciated by readers.

I got the most reaction from readers on stories that had great reporting and clear writing, that helped them better understand their world, that made them laugh or cry, that helped make their lives better, that helped make the city better. It always seemed the equivalent of an athletic team winning with good fundamentals, not running trick plays.

We did stories that won awards but I never thought journalism awards had any impact on readership or the bottom line—the bottom line being finding new readers, getting subscribers to renew, and having the money to hire talented writers. Winning awards may impress other journalists but in my years at the Washingtonian I had a lot of readers talk about a story they loved but never had a reader mention the National Magazine Awards or any other journalism contest.

So I’d argue that golden retrievers are better dogs than those cute designer breeds and doing the kind of good journalism that attracts and keeps readers is a lot more rewarding than trying to win journalism contests.



  1. This year’s winner was not a “cute designer breed,” nor are recent past winners that have included beagles! “Better” may well be in the subjective eye of the beholder.

  2. John Corcoran says

    I also watch the annual Westminister Kennel Club extravaganza because I love the doggies. But if there has ever been a more ridiculous selection of winners, I’m not sure what it is. One person looks through his or her pince nez glasses, occasionally grabs a fondle, checks the pooch for working canines, utters “once around” and we all watch breathlessly waiting to see if the Breeder-Owner-Handler-Manager-Consultant-Gynecologist with the silly trot falls on her keester.

    Meanwhile a play-by-play/color team that hasn’t been up to the level of legends like Joe Garagiola or Fred Willard prattles on about the breed’s great sense of humor and appreciation of Shelley and Keats, and says that it was bred in Shropshire on Grommet to hunt foxes and give them a stern talking to.

    Then through inexplicable magic the pooches are tossed aside until there is only one.

    I say hire a panel of judges so they can toss out the Russian judge’s underscore and gripe about block voting. And how about a Miss Personality? What about a Talent portion?

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