One of the cool kids.

(Of note: We have decided that Sunday Top 10s will also qualify in the Print category — along with Daily — for the Triple Crown and Grand Slam. A Top 10 finish in either Daily or Sunday will meet the criteria for the first leg of the Crown and the Slam. In addition, we are permitting “weekend sections” that publish on Friday or Saturday to be entered in the Sunday category.)

Dear APSE members,

Thank you for your patience as we work through the guidelines for the 2021 APSE Contest.

Many of you are curious about key deadline dates and any big changes, and though there will be a few new elements as we evolve, you’ll be happy to know that much of the fine work put in place by our esteemed president, Gary Potosky, will remain in place.

Links and folders will soon be available, with which you can submit entries and entry keys. Below are the highlights.

With most changes, we tried to err on the side of inclusivity.

  • The Triple Crown and Grand Slam categories are changing in an effort to be less print-centric. The Triple Crown categories will be Print (Daily Top 10 or Sunday Top 10), Digital and Long Features. To win the Grand Slam, your publication will need to add a Top 10 in the revamped Projects category (which will allow Special Section material to be entered). The reasoning: Our most celebrated awards must consist of more digital content. Special Sections are becoming obsolete at many publications and are being eliminated from the Triple Crown criteria.
  • Special Sections will be eliminated in the A and B divisions but continue in C and D. In addition, all divisions will be able to enter special material in Projects (preferably in the form of links to special section content, and not the entire section PDF). The reasoning: Many large-circulation publications aren’t doing special sections, though many smaller-sized pubs still feature them. Allowing special section content to be “cut up” and entered in Projects (in all divisions) also will help beef up a category that didn’t have enough entries in last year’s contest. Note: Small-circulation publications might need to choose between entering special section material in Projects (in order to qualify for Grand Slam recognition) or in Special Sections. You can’t enter the same special section content in both categories.
  • Long Features becomes the third Triple Crown category in a close call over Columns and Breaking News. The official word counts for entries are more than 1,500 words in A and B divisions and more than 1,150 in C and D. Sidebar plus graphics/charts that supplement the story can be included as optional information.  The reasoning: A great, well-reported, enterprisey feature with accompanying visual elements can be a work of art, and all publications endeavor to do them well. It’s also a tough category in which to win Top 10 recognition, and it could make for a more wide-open field. The best long features require planning, reporting, great writing/editing and expert storytelling.
  • The Video category is going away and folding into the Digital contest. The reasoning: There were too few entries last year, and it strengthens the Digital competition by making it an optional element.
  • Event Coverage becomes a new category this year with an eye toward it possibly being a Triple Crown/Grand Slam category one day. One entry per publication. An entry should consist of five elements that best show live one-day coverage of a newsworthy event. A 24-hour cycle beginning with the event – no Super Bowl or other preview material, please – will be considered by the judges. In this category, a prominent death is considered an event. If there is a pre-written obit, it can be entered as part of the coverage as long as it also contains live coverage/reaction. Entries may consist of content that appeared in print or digital formats. The reasoning: Every publication covers events, and there are many creative ways to present news and other angles/developments to audiences. It should be fairly easy to identify your top event entry and submit the best elements (breaking news story, analysis piece, video, chart, column, radio/TV, etc.), so hopefully it’s not too much extra work to enter.
  • Digital contest entries will be judged on their totality. Last year’s rules had a points grading system that resulted in some questions and confusion. While those guidelines (85 percent weight on the five components entered/15 percent on live website judging) are still good ones to consider, it will be up to the judging groups to determine where to place the most weight. Editors may submit any combination of five work examples: It can be a story that is particularly effective online; a sharp staff-produced video; creative multimedia … anything impressive that pops out. Other possibilities include multimedia content such as a newsletter, a Reddit AMA, a creative podcast or even live blog (at your own risk). The reasoning: With some sites looking similar and the timing of events and stories making for an uncertain barometer of a site’s quality, live website judging will be discounted but still reviewed during judging and factored into an entry’s overall ranking. Judges will also consider a site’s flair for audience engagement.
  • Cover letters will be greatly reduced and optional. We will accept them for the Breaking News, Beat Writer and Investigative categories. The reasoning: It’s more work for everyone, and cover letters often don’t add much other than “spin,” which can uneven the playing field. Letters will be accepted in the above categories only if they are kept to less than a page and add important information that judges otherwise wouldn’t know (such as factual clarity as to the timeliness or exclusivity of a story). No campaigning, please.
  • Action/feature photos will require a snipping procedure. No galleries will be accepted. The reasoning: It is very time-consuming for our friends at AP – who judge this category – and they have voiced their displeasure. It should not be difficult to submit entries of individual photos.
  • The entry deadline for all categories is Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 11:59 p.m.

This year’s lineup: Section categories will be Sunday (all divisions; Fri/Sat “weekend” section entry permitted), Daily (all divisions) and Special Sections (C and D divisions). Writing categories are Breaking News, Beat Writing, Explanatory, Long Features, Short Features, Columns, Projects (all divisions, special section material may be included), Action Photos, Feature Photos, Game Stories (C and D divisions), Event Coverage (new, all divisions) and Investigative (one overall division). There will be a Digital contest (all divisions). A Triple Crown will consist of a Daily Top 10 or Sunday Top 10, a Digital Top 10 and a Long Features Top 10. A Grand Slam will consist of those three honors plus a Projects Top 10.

Please let me know if you are planning to be an in-person judge in Lake Buena Vista. We would love to have as many people attend as possible to share in the joy, pain, collaboration and learning. Please also let me know if you have interest in being a remote judge.

Questions? Feel free to ask.

Thank you!

Jorge Rojas

APSE first vice president