for the 2008 Kempton Awards
We were impressed with the quality of entries that we considered for this first Murray Kempton Award competition. Clearly, there is good student journalism happening at campuses across CUNY. In each category we came down to three or four finalists and chose the winners only after extended discussion of their relative merits and significance. We therefore thought it would be useful for future entrants if we briefly explained some of the factors that went into our decision-making.
The contest rules state that "the journalistic work must be about matters of importance to the college community, interpreted broadly." The evaluation criteria include "originality; creativity; clarity in presentation; readability or audio/video storytelling; enterprise in reporting; journalistic significance, and accuracy of spelling and grammar."
Beyond those considerations, we gravitated toward stories and commentaries that were most directly relevant to campus concerns, rather than those that dealt with often significant issues affecting the broader society. Nevertheless, several stories about external issues made the final cut (including such important matters as government financing to universities, financial aid to students, higher education and the ongoing U.S. presidential campaign, the perceived failure of men to stand up for women's rights, and the significance of a foreign-language newspaper to the immigrant community it serves). With a different mix of entries, different judges and a different flow to the judges' discussion, some of those could have been winners, and we encourage entrants to future competitions to continue to tackle non-campus issues.
We looked for stories that showed enterprise in reporting. We tended to lay aside stories that appeared to have come in large part from press releases. Some use of canned quotations is unavoidable in student journalism, as well as in professional journalism, for not every student can get a one-on-one interview with the University Chancellor. However, students can flesh out canned quotes with interviews of their own and make the extra effort to secure first-hand accounts. We read several well done articles that used a press release or a newspaper story as a starting point and then focused on student and/or faculty reaction to it.
We looked for smooth and cogent delivery of information, good writing style, telling detail and the human factor. For example, the best news story about the SEEK program moved us with detail about two brothers who not only shared a suit for job interviews, but also alternated wearing a winter coat, because they could not each afford to have one. And in the best feature story, we were drawn into the personal account of how a young man's death transformed a child who is now raising money to fight cancer.
For commentary, we favored sharp, well argued assessments of problems and possible solutions. Several entries succeeded in delineating a problem, but offered only vague, general or impractical solutions. The winning commentary crisply laid out a problem - the college's failure to alert the campus to two assaults - then cited the federal law requiring disclosure and gave good advice about how to avoid the problem in the future.
With the caveat that a different panel of judges could weigh such factors differently, we hope these thoughts will provide insight to future entrants in the Murray Kempton Awards competition. Each of us had the privilege of working with Murray, and we feel comfortable saying that he would have been proud to have his name lent to this competition and to these three winners.
Neill S. Rosenfeld, curator, the Kempton Awards
Lonnie Isabel, associate professor, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Sheryl McCarthy, distinguished lecturer in journalism, Queens College.