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February 14, 2008

Tis the season....to complain about contests

Joe Nickell

Yes, it's contest season for us daily newspaper reporters, the time of year when we break out the glue-sticks and tape to assemble our personal best-of work from the past year, in hopes that someone, somewhere, will give us the thanks and recognition that we so rarely get from our own employers.

Do I sound cynical? Well, I guess I am a bit cranky about the whole thing. After all, as an arts journalist, my chances of winning an award are slim to none. While some might assert that that's a function of my lousy writing, I find myself stuck at the starting line.

Where are all the arts journalism contests?

Oh, there are a few out there. The Pulitzer, notably, has categories in music, theater, and letters (books). But look at the list of past winners, and it's clear that a daily reporter whose job entails writing about arts-life in a small town, for a small-circulation newspaper, does not a frequent winner make. I would be competing directly against writers at the New York Times and elsewhere, where reporters are actually given more than a couple of days to write a given story (not the case, generally, at my paper or other small papers I know of).

Beyond the Pulitzer, though, there are scant few national awards that specifically and exclusively focus on arts writing. In fact, I had an easier time finding an award for reporting on colon and rectal disease than reporting on the arts. And yet again, as I noted here last year, the Montana Newspaper Association failed to include an arts or entertainment category in its annual contest, despite the fact that every daily paper in the state has a weekly arts page or section (not true for agriculture, which still gets its own category).

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places?

Or maybe it's just the same lack of respect that plagues the American arts world in general -- the sense, broadly held, that it is frivolous and secondary to the big issues in life and society. Ah well.

Posted by Joe Nickell at February 14, 2008 11:48 AM


Someone needs to write a grant to a big foundation to endow an arts journalism award!

We don't even have decent arts coverage here in Sacramento CA. the weekly doesn't cover the visual arts anymore and the hours of one 1 freelancer at the daily paper (The Bee) has been cut in half.

I'm half thinking that I'll put an ad on craig's list and see if I started an arts review blog if I could get a few other writers to submit as well.

Joe Nickell responds: That's an excellent idea, Ann. In fact, if you get it going, let us know. That's the kind of DIY stuff we love to highlight!

Posted by: ann tracy at February 18, 2008 5:12 PM