Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CCMA Contest: Lessons Learned

One of the great things about entering journalism contests is that the results give you a chance to reflect on what a paper has been doing well and where it can focus its efforts to improve. Taking home more than a dozen awards in the California College Media Association contest shows that The Orion continues to be one of the best college papers in the state, and being shut out of the website awards shows that theorion.com could use some work.

So, some lessons learned:

1. Looking at it from week to week, I don't see The Orion as a photojournalism powerhouse, but Liam Turner and Kevin Lee showed that doing a great job on an assignment can result in prize-winning photos. The judges accurately called Kevin's shot of a yo-yo champion the best in the contest's feature category.

2. Page design probably kept The Orion from winning first for general excellence in its category. The judge's comments made it clear they were focused more on the visual than the content (remember that judges are different from year to year and have different likes and dislikes), so the cleaner and more consistent design of The Guardian at San Diego State was probably the reason for its first-place finish.

3. Infographics are a strength of the paper. The time and effort to give readers a visual representation of the news and a strong point of entry to stories pays off in prizes. Lindsay Smith's first-and-second-place showing helped The Orion dominate this category.

4. While writing is a strength of the paper, feature writing was not for the two semesters covered by this contest. Without seeing the competition, it's hard to know what the judges were looking for, but stories that focus on people's lives are usually the strongest entries in feature-writing contests. The Orion's features tend to focus on interesting things rather than interesting people.

5. Concentrating on a few strengths is not the formula for success in college newspaper contests. It would be a good strategy to make a GoogleDrive spreadsheet of the CCMA contest categories and share it with every editor so everyone is thinking about what the paper can enter next year. A strong entry in every category will make a strong argument to judges that The Orion is the best student newspaper in the state.

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