Awards and contests

We’re thrilled when our work wins contests. But what contests should we enter, and what awards should we accept?

First, it’s rarely a good idea to write a story specifically to win a contest. “Tuning” a story to specific contest entry rules makes the length and approach of the story or video more a response to the judges’ requirements than to the reader’s needs.

Most journalists are happy to enter contests organized by journalistic groups, with journalists as judges. The journalistic groups should reflect your own principles; that is, if your organization follows the objective journalism model, you should enter contests that value objective journalism.

If your journalists write opinion, you can seek and accept awards from organizations that value opinion journalism.

But what about awards from non-journalistic groups?

Many news outlets are wary of awards from advocacy groups, political groups and corporations, even if their judging panels consist of journalists. These outlets feel that accepting awards from groups they cover, or that have a strong political or policy position, bring their credibility into question.

However, a journalistic organization that has a commitment to a particular political or social point of view may have no problem accepting an award from an advocacy group that endorses that cause.

Some journalists also do not accept awards from corporations other than media companies, even if the company does not have an ideological position, because they feel accepting the award would amount to free publicity for the company. Some are also wary of any award that bears a company’s name or carries a cash award from a company, even if it is awarded by a journalistic group.

Sometimes a news outlet will receive news it has won such an award, even if it didn’t enter the contest. In this case, the organization has the option to publicly decline the award — by issuing a statement or sending a letter to the sponsors — or simply to disregard the award, neither accepting it nor publicizing the fact it was given.

This main author of this section is Thomas Kent.