2012 NSNC Column Contest Winners; Now with Judges’ Comments

trophies imageMACON, Ga., May 7, 2012 — Winners of the annual writing contest of the 2012 National Society of Newspaper Columnists were announced Saturday, May 5, at the NSNC’s 36th annual conference, held this year in Macon.

Columnists early this year were invited to submit three works originally published in print or online newspapers, magazines* or blogs during 2011. May 14 Update: Comments the judges made about the finalists now follow the name and publication. Also added are judges’ bios.

Category A. General Interest (print) over 50,000 circulation

1. Gendy Alimurung, LA Weekly. “To begin with, Gendy Alimurang is a wonderful writer and storyteller. She also is a smart reporter with an eye for detail and empathy for her subjects. All of those talents come through in her pieces. For a columnist, she is also modest. She lets her subjects come to the fore and presents them with flair. Excellent pieces through and through.”

2. Dave Lieber, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If I were a government official in Texas and picked up the phone to hear, ‘This is David Lieber,’ my heart would skip a beat. And not from joy. Lieber is a classic watchdog journalist, looking out for the little guy — and he gets results. While it is admirable that he is an ombudsmen, it’s his flair and skill as a writer that earn him this award.”

3. Derrick Z. Jackson, The Boston Globe. “Jackson tackles a subject head on that most sports writers would prefer to ignore: the miserable graduation rates for many NCAA Division 1 teams, especially among African-American athletes. He lays out the facts, but also argues passionately about the disgrace it brings upon collegiate sports.”

Honorable mentions:

  • Mike Kelly, The Record, Bergen County, N.J. “As always with Mike Kelly, you get fine writing combined with great street reporting. His piece on 9/11 survivors deserves special commendation.”
  • Jim Schutze, Dallas Observer. “Jim Schutze writes about topics that are DBI — Dull But Important — but he does it with such a strong voice, verve and passion that he got me interested in these local matters — and I live 1,500 miles away. His lead on his column ‘Raging Rapids’ is a classic. To quote it in full: ‘The “Standing Wave” is a $4 million-plus kayaking feature that the city recently installed in the Trinity River, and it’s a failure. It’s ugly. It’s dangerous. It’s an insult to the river.'”

Judge: Tom Ferrick, Jr is an award-winning reporter and columnist who spent most of his career at The Philadelphia Inquirer, including nine years as Metro columnist. Ferrick is currently involved in a new media venture as senior editor of Metropolis, an in-depth news and information website based in Philadelphia.

B. Humor (print) over 50,000 circulation

Samantha Bennett accepting plaque from Gail Collins.
Samantha Bennett accepting plaque from Gail Collins.

1. Samantha Bennett, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “She skillfully and consistently torqued the humorous elements of at first denying the need for a phone that served as a tiny movie theater and then bought into the whole need to know right NOW technology. Her last line is a perfect Internet non sequitur, “Christopher Plummer is Canadian, incidentally — It’s conversation that’s dead.” which delivers home the columnist’s overall point.”

2. Alice Laussade, Dallas Observer. “The consistently funniest writer was Alice Laussade of the Dallas Observer, who writes a restaurant review column called ‘Cheap Bastard.’ She also uses language like ‘sweating ass cracks’ and ‘oh, my holy Jesus balls,’ which places some of her funniest lines in jeopardy of ever being quoted in her hometown newspaper. In addition, there is the issue of ‘humor column’ versus ‘humorous restaurant review,’ which could be a different category altogether.”

Kathy Eliscu accepting plaque from Gail Collins.
Kathy Eliscu accepting plaque from Gail Collins.

3. Kathy Eliscu, Maine Women, Portland. “She is drawn from the classic Erma Bombeck tradition of forensic dissection of everyday household life along with an irresistible [novelist and ex-columnist Lisa Scottoline] description of a neurotic family relationship with mom and suitable mate partner hunting habits.”

Judge: Clark DeLeon was the best-read columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 23 years before leaving in 1995. He currently writes a column for the Philadelphia Metro. During his career at the Inquirer, DeLeon was named Best Newspaper Columnist eight times by the readers and editors of Philadelphia magazine. DeLeon has also worked in television and radio and has been published online. He has also published two books: America’s First Zoostory: 125 Years at the Philadelphia Zoo (1999) and Pennsylvania Curiosities (2001).

C. General Interest (print) under 50,000 circulation

Eve Samples accepting plaque from Gail Collins.
Eve Samples accepting plaque from Gail Collins.

1. Eve Samples, The Stuart (Fla) News. “Eve Samples skillfully tells the intensely personal story of her grandmother becoming a war widow at the age of 18, and skillfully weaves herself into the narrative. This columnist also demonstrates she is a fine reporter in telling the story of an elderly couple unjustly evicted from their home. She shows compassion, hits the facts and holds the responsible parties accountable. Eve writes with elegance, humor and just the right amount of disgust.”

2. Ken Tingley, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y. “The editor of his newspaper, Ken Tingley finds the time to write what surely is a must-read column in his city. He is a fine reporter and provides immaculate details in describing a complicated situation. His outrage at the uncaring murderer was just perfectly handled. He was successful in writing a sensitive and meaningful story of himself, his son while avoiding what in too many cases were predictable ‘9/11 Tenth Anniversary’ columns. Ken is a master columnist.”

3. Saralee Perel, Cape Cod (Mass.) Times. “Saralee Perel’s columns are personal and she clearly tells it all. She provides a fine example by describing how she deals with the frustration and emotional insecurities associated with her spinal cord injury. The star of the column was not a psychiatrist or even Saralee. It was the young woman who helped her carry bags at the grocery store, providing a wonderful lesson. It is a beautiful job of storytelling with just the right amount of emotion.”

Honorable mentions:

  • Walt Brasch, Shamokin (Pa.) News-Item. “The retired professor and Sunday columnist is a wonderful writer, outraged by stupid politicians and seriously funny. Penn State University medical students should have their anatomy class in the cloak room of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, he writes. It’s where most of the legislators left their spines. Marvelous.”
  • Mary Phelan, The Howard County (Md.) Times. “She began a column breaking this judge’s first rule of column-writing: Don’t write about writing columns. Then she pulled it off, on Mother’s Day, no less, telling readers how she copes with the fact she has no children. It was, she told readers, not your typical Mother’s Day column. She was right about that. Without going into a “woe is me” rant, she provides a description of what it’s like to not be a young mother and how she deals with that great disappointment. Turns out it is with great style.”

Judge: John Carlson retired in December 2009, after 31 years at the Des Moines Register, the last 11 as a columnist. He previously worked as a reporter at the Fort Dodge (Iowa) Messenger and Cedar Rapids Gazette. A graduate of Western Illinois University, he served four years in the U.S. Air Force and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard. He has won some journalism awards but is most proud of covering the war in Iraq in 2003 and 2005. He is 62 and lives in Indianola, Iowa, with his wife.

D. Humor (print) under 50,000 circulation

1. Laura Rafaty, St.Helena (Calif.) Star. “Very conversational and readable style. Good writing is invisible — as is this. Very well done.”

2. Jerry Zezima, Stamford (Conn.) Advocate. “Still the class clown! Very readable style. Personality shines through.”

3. Saralee Perel, Cape Cod (Mass.) Times. “Great fun to read. 55-time Pulitzer winner? Well, not quite.”

Judge: Tom Walsh has worked in a 45-year career as a reporter for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington D.C. and, most recently, rural Maine. As an educator, he has taught journalism to both undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities in the United States and in Ireland, where he earned a master’s degree in science communications from Dublin City University in 2002. He now lives on the Maine seacoast.

E. Online, Blog and Multimedia columns with over 100,000 monthly unique visitors

1. John Avlon, The Daily Beast. “Avlon’s keen commentary on some of the most important movements of the year mark him as a sharp journalist whose trustworthy point of view comes from the front lines. Insightful and calm-headed, his writing penetrates the hype and conventional wisdom of popular stories to pin down original, fresh thinking on topics readers need to understand.”

2. Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. “Ebert’s humanistic reflections on the preciousness of life and the lasting value of memory challenge the imagination and stir the soul. Influenced by Ebert’s columns, a reader may develop new ways at looking at the world—and themselves.”

3. Roger Simon, Politico. “Simon’s witty political observations are as entertaining as they are true. Most columnists might hope to prompt in the reader a grin or chortle; Simon’s quips prompt honest guffaws. It’s an admirable achievement in our satire-soaked, Comedy Central-ized media world that he can find new ways to make sport of political absurdity.”

Honorable mentions:

  • Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post contributor. “Curtis continues to smartly confront issues of race and sex in the American experience without relying on the overfamiliar arguments that sometimes dominate those conversations.”
  • Russell Frank, StateCollege.com. “Frank provided a unique perspective on the tumult that engulfed Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal last year. His thoughtful analysis, illuminated by his personal sensitivities, gave clarity to the debates that evoked loud, deep passions among readers and commentators.”

Judge: Chad Lorenz is the home page editor at the online magazine Slate. He previously was a managing editor at The Washingtonian and a copy editor at The Washington Post. A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lorenz began his career with internships at The Detroit News and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife.

F. Online, Blog and Multimedia under 100,000 monthly unique visitors

Mike Farley accepting plaque from Gail Collins
Mike Farley accepting plaque from Gail Collins

1. Mike Farley, Farley in Writing. “Mike Farley’s writing captures the amusement and wonder in the everyday moments of family life. His columns about braiding his daughter’s hair and three-way conversations between husband and wife make you smile and chuckle out loud. He teases the reader into wanting more.”

Ivy Eisenberg accepting plaque from Gail Collins.
Ivy Eisenberg accepting plaque from Gail Collins.

2. Ivy Eisenberg, Schmeightschmatchers. “Ivy Eisenberg is on a mission to lose pounds, the Weight Watchers way, and takes us along for the journey with creativity and pithy writing. She writes about a common topic with uncommon cleverness.”

3. Amy White, Waiting for Merlot. “Amy White’s writing is personal and heartfelt but her stories speak to all of us who remember missed opportunities to take pictures of deceased loved ones or waiting for a big event to come into our lives. Her writing is gentle and appealing.

Judge: Mae Israel worked for nearly 20 years at The Washington Post, serving in various roles as an assistant Metropolitan editor. She also was a writer and editor for The Charlotte Observer. She has been affiliated with The National Association of Black Journalists, the Washington Area Black Journalists and helped organize the Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists. Israel, who also served on the diversity subcommittee of the Newspaper Association of America, has received awards from the North Carolina Press Association and the North Carolina Mental Health Association. She is currently an independent journalist in Charlotte, N.C. and blogs about the Sandwich Generation at myjugglingact.com.

• • •

Links to the three-column entries of each first-place winner will be posted at columnists.com soon. Not all judges selected honorable mentions. A nearly complete list of all NSNC annual column contest winners is found at this link.

*Magazine columnists have been welcomed in recent years — and online columnists since 2000 — because, as NSNC Past President Ben Pollock says, “If Time Magazine’s time.com publishes fresh material daily as does The New York Times’ nytimes.com, who are we to differentiate?”

May 15 update: Adding photos.

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