Wednesday, August 02, 2006

McClatchy President's Awards

We've just announced the results of the competition for McClatchy President's Awards for the first half of 2006 – a period that obviously covered only the "McClatchy Classic" papers, but which I thought would be of interest to you all. I thought this was a particularly broad and strong set of winners.

Results are posted at under the "Newspapers" drop-down menu. Here's a summary from the press release:

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 2, 2006 – McClatchy President’s Awards for excellence have gone to eight different organizations in recognition of superior work in the first half of 2006.

Three of the award winners were powerful examples of reporting that holds government accountable and brings needed change. The Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star’s uncovering of abuses by the county district attorney; exposure of a questionable program that lets some defendants substitute charitable contributions for jail time in the Tri Cities in Washington state; and a comprehensive, condemnatory report on untested, unsafe water wells by The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., were all honored by the judges. In each of those cases, substantial change came about as the result of their journalism.

Two winners were praised for powerful storytelling: a dramatic series about a tragic shipwreck in Alaska, and a touching portrait of cloistered nuns in Fresno won for the Anchorage Daily News and The Fresno Bee.

A McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter and a Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer were honored for telling about how the economic fortunes of Axochiapan, Mexico, are entwined with the Twin Cities; and a Minneapolis reporter and photographer also won for their gripping, real-time account of the separation of cojoined twins at the Mayo Clinic.

The Sacramento Bee’s website also won a President’s Award for an extensive redesign that judges said greatly enhanced its journalistic presentation and helped ensure that online operations stay in touch with the way audiences choose to access information.

By way of background to those of you unfamiliar with the contest, it's a free-form exercise designed solely to recognize excellence. There are no categories, no circulation size classifications, no established number of winners. Here's a summary of info that I usually send to the judges (from outside the company) to explain our intentions:
The contest is open to all 12 McClatchy dailies and their websites. Whether an entry is a humor column, government investigation or web feature, it is judged on a single, subjective criterion: does it represent the highest levels of journalistic quality and excellence to which we aspire at McClatchy?

The papers compete to reach that standard, not against one another. Beaufort, with 12,000 circulation, isn't expected to match the resources Minneapolis brings to bear. In theory, every paper could win -- or none could. In practice, we generally come up with six or eight fine entries that win recognition.

The fact that our award is so entirely subjective and qualitative
underscores the need for judges who themselves embody solid journalistic judgment and high standards ...

So, will we be continuing the contest for all 32 papers in the future? I believe the answer is yes, though I haven't yet decided if we can do so in precisely this form. Our rules allowed a maximum four entries per paper and two per website, typically resulting in 50-60 entries. Do the math with 32 papers and the result (192!) seems unmanageable. We may need to refine the contest somehow.

Any ideas?
–Howard Weaver


  1. Howard, I might be in the minority among my small-paper colleagues, but I would recommend keeping the one-category format and cutting the entries in half rather than creating additional categories along circulation lines.

    When we won our President's Awards in 2005, it was even more meaningful to my staff members who knew they had competed against the Star Tribune, the Bees, the News and Observer ... legitimately great papers that regularly show a level of work to which we aspire. The shot in the arm the awards gave my entire staff's morale was noticeable.

    With the former Knight Ridder papers now on board, it will be even more difficult for any individual paper or Web site to win. But for those that do, it probably will be even a bigger deal than it has been.

    - Steve Blust

  2. A McClatchy President's Award is a great thing, probably all the sweeter the smaller one's paper.

    I always liked the Indiana state basketball tournament model: a single open division with schools of all sizes competing.

    So I prefer the present format.

    FYI, Modesto is smack in the middle of our circulation ranks.

  3. Howard:
    I agree with Steve. I suggest sticking with the one-category format and reducing the number of entries -- maybe even to just one per paper per cycle. Then there'd be only 32 entries to judge.
    I sometimes wonder, though, if the judges are really taking to heart the way the contest is supposed to work — that is, papers are actually competing against their own standards, and not competing against each other. If they hew to that, then the one-category isn't disadvantageous to the smaller papers.