HARTFORD, Conn. — Chicago’s late movie critic-cum-blogger Roger Ebert has hit one last national writing contest ball out of the park. The longtime Chicago Sun-Times writer, who died of complications of cancer last April at age 70, won first place for online columns or blogs on large websites in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual column contest.
Winners were announced Saturday night, June 29, 2013, at the awards banquet of NSNC’s annual conference, held this year in Hartford, Conn.
Below are listed all the winners and any comments their judges made. Honorable mentions were not chosen for all categories. Judges did not write comments for everyone.
Category A: General Interest — over 50,000 circulation
First Place — Tom Rademacher, The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press. Judge’s comment: Thomas displays a quality of insight and a sense of compassion that helps bind every reader through their basic sense of humanity. There is power in his writing and the compelling stories filled with overcoming and hope that he chooses to tell. I am certain his work is among the best read in his newspaper as it should be.
Second Place — Dave Lieber, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Judge’s comment: In his watchdog column, Dave displays courage and a willingness to challenge injustice and illogic wherever he finds it. He also gets positive results for others, which is always a hallmark of everyone who expresses their opinion for a living. And his work shows a willingness to even challenge himself and his own fallibility. He writes very well and fulfills his mission in a way deserving of national recognition. Were but more columnists blessed with his sense of outrage over even small injustices.
Third Place — Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times. Judge’s comment: Rick Telander is an absolute master at turning sports (and its celebrated figures) into very real people with all the human frailties we all possess. His well-written entry lays out many hypocrisies and weaknesses as well as the successes by those who give of themselves to the at-risk youths of Chicago. Exemplary work and richly deserving of national acclaim.
Honorable Mention — Katie Harrington, The State News, Michigan State University. Judge’s comment: Katie writes one of those intensely personal columns filled with those bright spots that prompt her readers’ to know exactly what she is thinking and feeling. She has the skill and the knack for the column she writes and her readers are fortunate to have her messages.
Honorable Mention — Marney Rich Keenan, The Detroit News. Judge’s comment: Marney’s very well written columns are filled with human interest and relevance. her subjects are everyday people doing their best to make life a better experience. She most certainly deserves to be recognized by peers and readers for her outstanding work.
Honorable Mention — Phil Reisman, The Journal News, Westchester, N.Y. Judge’s comment: Philip’s columns show all the elements necessary for a quality column worthy of national recognition: humor, compassion and a willingness to challenge the establishment. Those are always a terrific combination for everyone who writes opinion.
Category A judge — Mike Masterson, independent correspondent and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Category B: Humor — over 50,000 circulation
First Place — Bob Dyer, Akron Beacon Journal. Judge’s comment: My choice of first place was Bob Dyer, a thrice-weekly general interest columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, who is not saddled with the title “humor columnist.” But his three submitted columns were the freshest and funniest of the entries. He worked with the material he met that day, such as when he was drafted to substitute for the food editor as a judge in a pickle tasting contest. “Don’t be too easy,” the food editor coached. “Don’t be afraid to be the East German judge.” In another column about April being National (Your Cause Here) Month, Dyer wrote, “‘April is Primary Immunodeficiency Awareness Month!’ Yes, with an exclamation point. Woo-hoo!” On a proposal to combine a race track with a casino — a racino — Dyer quotes a reader who said, “I’m against all forms of racinoism.” And in a column about a 76-year-old granny gone wild in frustration at a local Sears store, when a plus-sized clerk told her to calm down or she’d have a heart attack, granny responded, “You’ll have one before I do, Fatso.” Three policemen were dispatched to the scene. Notice that Dyer’s best lines come from reporting the words of others.
Second Place — Brian O’Connor, The Detroit News. Judge’s comment: Second place honors went to a Detroit News business page columnist. Brian O’Connor, who spiced up a dry story about an online survey reporting that 36 percent employees moonlighted at other jobs by citing the experience of the society reporter for the Houston Chronicle who was fired by the paper for working nights as a stripper. “Stop and think how [(the fired reporter's] mother must have felt reading those stories about her daughter’s tawdry second job,” O’Connor wrote.” All this time she thought her daughter was just a stripper.”
Third Place — Samantha Bennett, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Judge’s comment: Third place went to Samantha Bennett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who offered timely advice of what NOT to say in front of your boss including “I am so hammered,” and “As soon as I finish my parole, I am SO outta here.” In another column she wove a Star Wars fantasy using prescription drug brand names as characters such as “Dark Emperor Xanax of Nexium ” and 16-year-old Yasmin Epipen, a girl from the Adderall System.”
Honorable Mention — Tracy Beckerman, Gatehouse Media. Judge’s comment: Honorable mention to online Gatehouse News Service “Lost in Suburbia”: columnist Tracy Beckerman who detailed her months without facial expression due to saying yes to botox injections.
Honorable Mention — Jim Shea, Hartford (Conn.) Courant. Judge’s comment: Honorable mention kudos to veteran Jim Shea of the Hartford Courant who fantasized about sexy-voiced Siri, the genie of the Iphone, as well as what he’d do with all the money he didn’t win in the Powerball jackpot, and whether SAT’s will now be required before admission into quality Manhattan kindergarten programs.
Category B judge: Clark Deleon, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and college instructor
Category C: General Interest — under 50,000 circulation
First Place — Kevin McKeever, The Advocate, Stamford, Conn. Judge’s comment: Kevin McKeever’s beautifully-written columns range from the serious and emotional to amusing. A sad and thoughtful account of the death of a high school classmate went beyond a newspaper’s typical and predictable Memorial Day coverage. His lessons on losing, from experience as a Mets fan and a former Little League baseball player, transcend sports. The good-natured jabs at his beloved home state are a delight.
Second Place — Telly Halkias, The Portland (Maine) Daily Sun. Judge’s comment: His columns tell important stories about the community and the world. Immigration is a divisive issue and Telly Halkias manages to explain it without the hysteria that typically dominates the discussion. His elegant writing style is evident in a column about the importance of an Army friend — a sergeant who mentored a young lieutenant — decades earlier. His columns are powerful and sensitive.
Third Place — Amanda Beam, News and Tribune, Jefferson, Ind. Judge’s comment: Amanda Beam’s columns are personal, emotional and thoughtful. Her description of a walk through a cemetery and memories of a friend was handled with style and sensitivity. So was her description of the people in an Indiana community devastated by a tornado. Her serious columns speak of hope, her amusing stories have a message.
Honorable Mention — Jeff Girod, Inland Empire Weekly, Corona, Calif. Judge’s comment: Jeff Girod’s columns hit the issues of the day — hard — but make the point with a perfect mix of disgust, humor and intelligence.
Honorable Mention — Harriet P. Gross, TexasJewishPost.com. Judge’s comment: Her columns are intense and smart, their historical lessons relevant.
Category C judge: John Carlson, retired as Des Moines Register columnist
Category D: Humor — under 50,000 circulation
First Place – Laura Rafaty, St. Helena (Calif.) Star. Judge’s comment: I thought the best of the bunch (first place) was Laura Rafaty, one of the columnists whose work actually produced multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Very conversational style, with a wide mix of subject matter (not just kids and insufferable spouses, as is the case with many of these entries). Her writing allows readers to sail along on a sea of mirth, a skill I saw lacking in many other entries. Like all good writers, she takes readers from the first to last sentences without them being aware they have just made the trip. Good journalistic writing is invisible.
Second Place — Beth Bartlett, Lovely County Citizen, Eureka Springs, Ark. Judge’s comment: Second place should go to Beth Bartlett for her “Wisecrack Zodiac” column. Very unusual and clever template for humor column construction. She writes in a style that is somewhat oddball and irreverent and, at times, rude, crude and socially on the edge, all of which is good. This is a woman who could do stand-up (and maybe does). This is a column that, as a reader, I would look forward to with each new edition of the paper.and may even be a reason why I bought the paper at all. A publisher’s dream-come-true.
Third Place — Ginger Truitt, The Lebanon (Ind.) Reporter. Judge’s comment: Third place should go to Ginger Truitt, whose columns not only are grounded in a very engaging conversational style but actually evoke both smiles and LOL moments. This is a column that I would seek out in each new edition of the paper and actually read from first graph to last. Interesting — and unpredictable — mix of topics, which is always a plus.
Honorable Mention — Tiffany Roach, Akers Media Group. Judge’s comment: Honorable mention to Tiffany Roach. Her writing style is very engaging, but every column submitted was grounded in conversations with her kids. While often entertaining, I would hope she tackles other subject matter. As an aside, I thought the illustrations that accompanied each piece were very well done and helped to draw readers into the columns.
Category D judge: Tom Walsh, writes for the Bangor (Maine) Daily News
Category E: Online, Blog, and Multimedia Column — over 100,000 monthly unique visitors
First Place — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. Judge’s comment: This year’s wondrous entries by Roger Ebert in the columnist contest sadly will be his last. But that is not why he has won the top prize. Even in his final year, Ebert’s transcendent meditations on the pleasures of experience and the nature of human consciousness — what it truly means to exist — are a fitting coda for a life of unparalleled column writing. But recently he might have gotten one assertion wrong. In his column “I Remember You,” he writes, “[I]n a century the human race will have forgotten [my friends], and me as well. Nobody will be able to say how we sounded when we spoke.” I have no doubt that 100 years from now a new generation of readers will come to know and appreciate the sound of Ebert’s spectacular voice, physically decimated years ago by disease but made immortal through his writing.
Second Place — Richard Parker, The New York Times. Judge’s comment: With his keen observations and spritely prose, Richard Parker shows he can bring a reporter’s sensibility to any topic – from the famed counterculture of Austin to a sharp piece of presidential campaign analysis and even a richly woven Civil War battle story. Parker lathers his pieces with detail and immediate facts, exuding the persuasive voice of someone who knows what he’s talking about.
Third Place — John Avlon, The Daily Beast. Judge’s comment: John Avlon’s fascination with the nitty-gritty of politics and his tenacious truth-seeking make his a stand-out voice among news commentators. His calm-headed, thorough approach is a service to readers in making sense of a subject area afflicted by hyperbole and spin and distraction.
Honorable Mention — David Cay Johnston, Reuters.
Honorable Mention — James Kirkchick, New York Daily News.
Category E judge: Chad Lorenz, news editor at the online magazine Slate
Category F: Online, Blog, and Multimedia Column — under 100,000 monthly unique visitors
First Place — Suzette Standring, The Patriot Ledger (Mass.). Judge’s comment: Standring’s writing is compact but eloquently evokes emotion, and gently invites the reader to ponder their own personal involvement with the issues. She adeptly explores the humanity and challenges in dealing with a distant father, a same-sex marriage and a 40th high school reunion. She writes about her reunion: “Yet that’s what a 40-year reconnection is for; to travel back in time to the bloom of youth and camaraderie, and to feel nothing but gratitude.” She is a thoughtful writer.
Second Place — Lisa Molinari, The Meat and Potatoes of Life. Judge’s comment: Molinari’s writing is accessible and witty and her approach to analyzing family matters is insightful and honest. Among people with young children, who doesn’t understand when she writes: “We had yogurt in a tube, cheese in a stick, chicken shaped like fingers, nuggets and dinosaurs….Pigs were rolled into blankets, and pizzas were stuffed into rolls. Just about anything was wrapped into a pastry pocket…” Her columns make you smile and chuckle out loud.
Third Place — Mike Farley, Farley In Writing. Judge’s comment: Farley’s writing engages the reader in a seeming three-way conversation. While his style is to create dialogue between characters, the writing is pithy, humorous and captures the essence of issues that many of us deal with often. In a column about trying to punish a teenager by taking away electronics and then losing the battle, his storytelling is the kind that makes the reader nod in agreement.
Category F judge: Mae Israel, independent journalist and blogger formerly of The Washington Post