Contest Corner: Selecting and organizing entries

Jeff Grant, editor of the Sheldon N’west Iowa REVIEW, has watched the newspaper garner plenty of accolades over the years—17 Newspaper of the Year awards over the past four decades to be exact—and was kind enough to share how his team works together to choose what the newspaper will enter:

The first thing we do as a news department is to make a copy of the rules and hand them out to all staffers for their input. I ask reporters to recommend potential contest entries in the newswriting categories, designers to recommend entries in the best front page and best use of graphics categories, etc. I then get copies of every issue of our newspaper Oct. 1-Sept. 30 and go through each issue looking for potential contest entries. When I see a potential entry, I note the date of the issue, write down the headline or a few words of description as a reminder of what the entry is about and note the writer/photographer/designer. I put a star by any entry I think is a “must enter.”

I’ve got the process down so it does not take that long to skim each paper looking for potential contest entries. For instance, generally, the best stories and photos should be on the front page or section fronts, so if I’m considering “Coverage of Education” entries, I generally only write down the ones that are on the front page.

Once I’ve gone through all 52 newspapers, I then compare my list of potential entries with the lists compiled by the staffers. I note the potential entries that make both lists as ones we should be sure to enter.

I mostly work on contest entries on the weekends because that way I can clear my desk to work on it with few interruptions. It usually takes most of another weekend to do the actual entering on the computer. I try to complete this process a week or two before the deadline to allow some time for any questions, problems or additional entries we might think of.

We do not write stories, take photos or do designs thinking “Let’s do this because it will make a great contest entry.” However, if just doing a great job for the readers isn’t enough motive, the contest can be, as you must publish the best possible newspaper each issue because you never know which weeks the INA will choose for its “must enter” issues in some of the categories such as “Best Front Page,” “Best Sports Page” and “Best Headline Writing.”