By John Bednarowski, APSE President

Judging in the APSE annual contest is complete.

After a week at the the DoubleTree Suites in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, what have we learned?

First, if you sit in the sun too long, your legs will look like a cherry red fire truck.

Second, there is such a thing as a $150 appetizer.

But third, and most importantly, there are a lot of people in our industry doing a lot of good work. It showed up time and time again last week.

This year’s contest featured a few changes. The most significant was dividing the circulation divisions into four equal categories. That made for more competition in the upper divisions, and it proved to be the right decision.

Now, instead of 24 papers making up the A division, there were nearly 50, and we learned that there are a lot of news organizations that can compete with anyone.

The Seattle Times, The Buffalo News and Omaha World Herald moved into the top category and earned at least one section award. I think a special shoutout should also go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which earned honorable mention in the daily section contest.

The Review-Journal was the smallest paper in the A division with a circulation of 88,000, and yet it was a contender with news organizations five and 10 times bigger than itself.

The quality of work in the new divisions wasn’t just seen in the section contest. The writing contests showed similar results, especially in the investigative category.

Nearly double the normal number of entries were received in investigative this year, and while the top 10 had some of the usual contenders — USA Today, The Boston Globe, Newsday, ESPN.com and Yahoo.com — they were joined by the Idaho Statesman, the Oregonian/Oregon Live, the Casper Star-Tribune, the Southern California News Group and the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Want to know where a lot of the incoming reporting talent is coming from? Look no further than the Columbia Missourian. The paper that is affiliated with the Missouri School of Journalism led the way with 11 writing awards. And while you would think with that much talent at the paper, it would mean the Missouri teams would have to have the best beat coverage in the country. Not so fast.

Not with Mike DeFabo, from the Anderson Herald Bulletin, and Nathan Baird, from the Journal & Courier from Lafayette, Ind., on the case. The two Purdue beat writers, competing in the same division, each won writing awards in the same six categories — column writing, game story, explanatory, features, breaking news and beat reporting. It appears the fans of the Boilermakers were in good hands.

In all, I believe we had the most competitive contest since I joined APSE in 2007. Last year we had seven organizations win a Grand Slam and 17 earn Triple Crowns. This year, those numbers dipped significantly.

Only two Grand Slams were awarded — The New York Times in Division A and The Advocate of Baton Rouge in Division B — and only 10 news organizations earned a Triple Crown.

There is a lot of talent within the APSE membership, and if there is anyone that thinks that quality journalism is on the decline, just show them our contest winners. It should change their minds in a hurry.

WELCOME HOME: First Vice President Todd Adams did a great job of recruiting judges to come to Orlando last week, but two of the best names on the list were Jeff Kuehn and Ben Brigandi. Both were mainstays at judging and the summer conventions for years, but found themselves out of the industry through no fault of their own.

I have been told both gentlemen got a lot out of the week, and hopefully, it leads to some new doors being opened. It was great seeing them, and it made this year’s judging that much better.

ON TO ATLANTA: In about two weeks, we will start turning out the winner’s stories.

Each person who earns a first-place nod in the contest will have a plaque waiting for them at the summer convention in Atlanta.

We are planning a great convention. Here are a few details that may entice everyone to come South. Over the course of the week, it looks like there will be a reception at the College Football Hall of Fame and a trip to SunTrust Park to see the Braves host the Mets.

The first family of Georgia football — Vince and Barbara Dooley — will be our keynote speakers, and we’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn how to better ourselves in our jobs and day-to-day lives.

We will be staying at the downtown Omni, which is connected to the CNN Center. Registration will begin near the end of the month. Please make it a point to attend.

Who knows, there may even be baked goods from Mo Bednarowski.

BURYING THE LEAD: One of my goals as I enter the last three-plus months of my presidency is to create the APSE Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization to better serve our diversity program and educational efforts.

To do this, we will need a separate board of directors, bylaws and the approval from the IRS.

I hoped to bring it to a vote last week, but received some good advice from some former officers to hold off until we can show the membership who would make up that board and what the bylaws would say.

We will begin working on it this week. This will be an important step for the future of our organization. We are going to get it right, and we’ll do it together.

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