WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Society of Newspaper Columnists proudly announces the winners of the 2014 annual column contest.
The third-, second- and first-place order was announced at the Awards Banquet during the 2014 NSNC conference on Saturday, June 28, at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
These top columnists as well as honorable mentions are below. [6/30/14 update: Judges' comments] The six category judges could select one or more contestants, or none, for honorable mention. First place in each category will receive $300, second place $200 and third place $100, in addition to certificates suitable for framing. Honorable mentions receive certificates.
Category A. General Interest, Over 50,000 Circulation
1. Ken Dixon, Connecticut Post, Bridgeport
Ken Dixon of the Connecticut Post — For his eloquently and elegantly written columns that combine painful honesty with vividly colorful descriptions on matters of significant public interest. Dixon gives his readers an original voice that is both relevant and entertaining to read. For instance, consider this wildly original lead from his Sept. 28 column: “It was pretty easy to figure out what folks are up for re-election when the issue of medical marijuana hit suburban Fairfield as if Taras Bulba the Cossack was now running amok in a Humvee with a .50 caliber machine gun.” Who among our lot, I ask my fellow columnists, even thinks like that?
2. Alfred P. Doblin, The Record, Bergen County, New Jersey
Alfred P. Doblin, editorial page editor of the Bergen Record, for his relevant and unapologetic columns in the public interest that display his capacities for logic and and a compelling style of writing.
3. James Haught, The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette
James Haught of the Gazette Mail for his thoughtful, entertaining and richly philosophical columns that, among other positive aspects, prompt readers to examine the depth, context and mysteries behind human existence.
Judge — Mike Masterson is an award-winning independent correspondent and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and previously a reporter and editor at several major newpapers and a professor. In 2012 he received the NSNC’s Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.
Category B. Humor, Over 50,000 Circulation
1. Dan Zevin, The New York Times
Best of show was the work of Dan Zevin, who captures his readers’ attention spans through his engaging and entertaining writing style. His columns are a fun read and laugh-eliciting.
2. Greg Schwem, Tribune Content Agency
Greg Schwem does a brilliant job of using humor to deliver great social commentary on subjects as diverse as Starbucks and the Vatican.
3. Steve Young, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Steve Young offers great takes on topical, timely and pervasive cultural trends, ranging from our era of “insta-news” to ageism and gender preference.
Judge — Tom Walsh is a writer for the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, after decades as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Iowa, as well as a college journalism professor.
Category C. General Interest, Under 50,000 Circulation
1. Eve Samples, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Florida
Eve Samples is a good columnist because she is a good reporter. The fact she is a fine writer undoubtedly makes her column a priority for her newspaper’s readers. A political column slams Florida’s governor for a lack of leadership. Note to the governor’s staff: Don’t pick a fight with Ms. Samples using selected bits of information. You’ll lose. She writes about gun registration with a clear point of view and treats those who disagree with respect. She goes from the hard-hitting to the gentle in a beautiful column about her stepmother’s serious illness and how the two of them developed a loving relationship over the years. Readers can relate to these columns and to Ms. Samples. Her column is successful, plus she is refreshingly unpredictable. She can make you angry, cause you to think and bring a tear. This column is a delight.
2. Ginger Truitt, Lebanon (Indiana) Reporter
Ginger Truitt’s columns are personal and sentimental without being sappy. She also has a gift for humor that is displayed in a great column about her oldest child’s birthday. She’s shocked, shocked to find that sales clerks and other strangers seem to have no trouble believing she is the mother of a 21-year-old. It’s very a very funny welcome to almost-middle-age for the columnist, age 43. A reflection on the death of Ms. Truitt’s mother 15 years earlier provides a lesson in hope and shows the bright spots that can come following the death of a loved one. Her columns are fun, thoughtful and useful to readers no matter their age. Even old-timers in their 40s.
3. Maryanne Reed, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, West Virginia
Maryanne Reed has the talent to take a usually mundane subject, such as moving to another house, into a thoughtful piece on love and what is important in our world. This column could have been a “what I did the other day” piece written to fill the space. The guess here is it was clipped by readers and saved who will study it on their moving day. It demonstrates her ability to tell a story, which happens to be the subject of another column. The stories of your life, written or spoken, help one find meaning and purpose to what may have seemed unimportant, she says. It’s a beautiful lesson from a columnist who wants to be remembered by family and friends as “a person who lived life to (the) fullest and insisted on writing her own story.” She does it well.
John Breunig, The (Stamford) Advocate and Greenwich Time, Connecticut
John Breunig writes off the news, even when it’s personally painful. A good example is a column about being Catholic in a time of scandal and what he and those in his faith expect from the leaders of their church. He also provides a firsthand account of a scary, frustrating and educational few hours in a hospital emergency room. He writes that “no one has ever had a good day in the ER.” Maybe so, but Mr. Breunig certainly made his Sunday afternoon visit with his son interesting and yes, even enjoyable for the readers.
Judith Marks-White, Westport (Connecticut) News
Read her columns and you see yourself, your parents, your kids and grandchildren. This is a fun column, and Ms. Marks-White no doubt has many devoted readers.
Kenneth Tingley, The Post Star, Glen Falls, N.Y. [city corrected]
Kenneth Tingley is tough, demanding accountability from public officials, and he has the talent to be sensitive and personal. Many columnists write about the deaths of family members. Few of those columns get beyond sharing the sadness. Mr. Tingley describes getting reacquainted with the mother he has known forever, simply by listening. It is a fine message, delivered with grace and style.
Judge — John Carlson retired in 2009, after 31 years at the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, the last 11 as a columnist. He 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.
Category D. Humor, Under 50,000 Circulation
1. Jerry Zezima, The Advocate, Stamford, Connecticut
Despite being a dead ringer for Groucho, Mr. Zezima’s very conversational style blends well with his keen sense of humor. Like most good journalists, his writing is “invisible” in the sense that the reader gets from the first graph to the last without realizing h/she has made the trip. In other words, with his work, readers enjoy the whimsy of the message, instead of stumbling over the writing.
2. Laura Rafaty, The St. Helena (California) Star
Ms. Rafaty’s work is consistently very intelligent and well-written, offering her readers insights into the quirky aspects of what passes for culture. I’m still chuckling over her line in the column “The Skinny” in which the reader is asked to “Picture Popeye’s Olive Oyl in a D-cup.” Great stuff, column to column.
3. Cappy Hall Rearick, The Low Country Sun, Charleston, South Carolina
Ms. Hall Rearick’s columns are consistently well done, focusing on quirky experiences with family and friends that I expect her readers are grateful that she shared. Of the nearly 160 humor columns reviewed for this contest, hers were clearly among the best written.
Judge — Tom Walsh, writer for the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, after decades as a reporter, editor and bureau chief for newspapers and magazines in Chicago, New York, Dallas, Washington D.C., and Iowa, as well as a college journalism professor.
Category E. Online, Blog and Multimedia Columns, Over 100,000 Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Mary C. Curtis, The Washington Post
In her columns for The Washington Post, Mary C. Curtis took on some of the biggest issues in America’s dialogue about race and argued intelligently for her point of view. It’s clear Curtis examines the various angles to an issue before she develops her thoughtful opinions. Her fine-tuned sensitivities enable her to humanize the figures she writes about, prompting readers to challenge their previous assumptions or think more deeply about the important questions in our news. With her coherent, dignified voice, Curtis is adding to the national conversations that are too often derailed by hubris and distraction.
2. Gendy Alimurung, LA Weekly
Gendy Alimurung’s thorough reporting and sharp observations vividly portray stories that readers might otherwise overlook. Able to adopt a tone befitting the subjects of her pieces, Alimurung approaches topics that the public will find by turns intriguing, troubling, or amusing. In doing so, she demonstrates a drive to find deeper meanings to people and events that a reader might not normally care about.
3. Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times*
In his few remaining months before death last year, Ebert graced readers with a final handful of his heart-warming, singularly articulated columns. He continued with the impressionistic storytelling style that defined his distinctive voice, introducing us to beloved figures who enriched his soul and whom he wanted to share with us. It reminds us that, while his work will be missed, Ebert leaves a treasured legacy of bravely personal and uplifting writing.
Judge — Chad Lorenz is news editor of the online magazine Slate. He previously was a managing editor at The Washingtonian and a copy editor at The Washington Post.
*Chaz Ebert, widow of the film critic and blogger, accepted the honor on his behalf.
Category F. Online, Blog and Multimedia Columns, Under 100,000 Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Darcy Perdu, So Then Stories
Darcy Perdu writes with wit and clear-eyed energy, with just the right pace and rhythm, eliciting hearty chuckles and nods of solidarity with her tales about raising children and family life. She packages her columns under the label “So Then…Stories,” and plunges lightheartedly into crisp storytelling like a friendly next door neighbor who stops you at the mailbox and lassos you with such engaging language and good humor that you look forward to the next day’s adventure. So then… she writes about the mother who tries to drop off her son at a birthday party and go somewhere else. “When the other parents help with the art project, she’s on her cell,” Perdu writes. “When the other parents help clean up, she’s on her cell. I’m pretty sure if a pack of wild Komodo dragons ran rampant through the yard, she’d be on her cell, standing on a lawn chair.”
2. Kelli Wheeler, Momservations
Kelli Wheeler’s writing voice has a spiritual quality, one that deftly captures the essence of the drama in her stories and stirs empathy. She writes with heartfelt emotion about the accidental death of a neighborhood child and how that tragedy revived memories of the electrocution death years ago of her six-year-old sister when Wheeler was a teenager. Among her “Momservations,” she shares a set of insightful rules for how her young teenage daughter needs to learn how to be a responsible and mature smartphone owner: “If I am talking to you, your phone is away. Let it buzz, ping, vibrate, SportsCenter update and ring-tone Radioactive to your pocket, because no matter what I have to say it is always more important.”
3. Meryl Baer, Six Decades and Counting
Meryl Baer already has started a countdown to the 2016 presidential election by posing some profound questions: “Will Sarah Palin follow her daughter and perform on Dancing With The Stars? What state, wavering between blue and red, will become the first purple state?” Baer writes with a clever style about issues of the day, pointing out the sometimes overlooked irony in what’s going on. Why not, Baer asks, shouldn’t she seek a position as a part-time corporate board member when these jobs pay a lot of money for only a few hours work? Her qualifications are clear. “Board meetings are held in various cities around the country,” she writes. “I love to travel.”
Judge — Veteran journalist Mae Israel is an independent journalist in Charlotte, N.C. She worked for nearly 20 years at The Washington Post, serving in various roles as an assistant metropolitan editor. She blogs about the Sandwich Generation at Juggling Act.
• • •
Each contestant submitted three columns or blog posts that were published in calendar year 2013. Those who did not attend the conference will receive their prizes by postal mail. Rules and other details about the 2014 contest can be found at 2014 Column Contest Rules.
*Movie critic and blogger Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013. His last blog entry posted April 2 and last film review published April 6.