2019 Annual Contest Judges

And the Judges are…

Our panel of judges includes columnists, bloggers, comedians, professors, and writers to score the NSNC Annual Contest. We thank them!

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Finalist Judges

Judges Bios Below in Alphabetical Order


Elly Lonon is the author of AMONGST THE LIBERAL ELITE: The Road Trip Exploring Societal Inequities Solidified by Trump (RESIST) – a graphic novel based on her political satire column at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her writing has been featured at The New York Times, Real Simple Magazine, Scary Mommy, and a disappointing number of now defunct sites. She’s also appeared in print within the pages of O Magazine and several parenting humor anthologies.

Elly really, really hates writing in the third person. In her spare time, she tortures tiny stringed instruments.

You can follow her on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter.


Leighann Lord is a veteran stand-up comedian, author, and keynote speaker.

She has written several humor books including Dict Jokes: Alternate Definitions for Words You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Will Definitely Never Forget and Real Women Do It Standing Up: Stories From the Career of a Very Funny Lady, which has been called “Witty and unexpectedly vulnerable.” Both titles and more are available on Amazon.

Leighann was the creator of the weekly humor column, The Urban Erma, which was the longest running column in Stage Time Magazine. She has contributed to The Huffington Post and wrote for the pilot of The Chris Rock Show. She is the creator and host of the People with Parents podcast, where she shares personal stories about the role reversal between adult children and their aging parents.

Leighann earned her BA degree in Journalism and Creative Writing from Baruch College, City University of New York, her PhD. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Southhampton University, and is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, East.

Leighann is also a firm supporter of the Oxford Comma.




Patricia Gallagher Newberry  is area director of the Journalism Program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A member of the faculty since 1997, she has taught an array of reporting and writing courses, from entry level JRN101s to senior capstone courses. Newberry also coordinates special events for her department, directs Miami’s NYC Media program, chairs the Committee on Student Media and advises the campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She also serves on the national boards of SPJ and the SPJ Foundation, and will begin a year term as SPJ National President in September 2019. Prior to joining Miami, Newberry spent 15 years in newspapers, working as reporter, editor and columnist for 10 papers in seven states. Newberry, a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, lives in Cincinnati with her husband, Doug; their three adult children; and the Best Basset Hound in the World, J.J. Magoo.


Clarence Page, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, among other awards. Most recently, the National Press Foundation has selected Mr. Page for the 2017 W.M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism. Page’s other honors include lifetime achievement awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, the Chicago Headline Club and the National Association of Black Journalists. He received a 1980 Illinois UPI awards for community service for an investigative series titled “The Black Tax” and the Edward Scott Beck Award for overseas reporting in 1976.

Page was a reporter, producer and community affairs director at WBBM-TV from 1980 to 1984. Before that he was a reporter and assistant city editor for the Chicago Tribune, during which he participated in a 1972 Task Force series on vote fraud, which also won a Pulitzer Prize.

Page also has been a regular contributor of essays to The PBS NewsHour, a regular panelist on The McLaughlin Group, a commentator on NPR’s Weekend Sunday and a frequent guest on a variety of other national radio and television programs.

A collection of his columns, Culture Worrier, was published in 2014 by Agate. His earlier book Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity was published in 1996 by Harper Collins.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, he grew up in Middletown. He began his journalism career as a freelance writer and photographer for the Middletown Journal and Cincinnati Enquirer at the age of 17. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor of science in journalism in 1969.
Forty-five years later his alma mater inducted him into its Journalism Hall of Fame and last year Ohio University named him their Alumnus of the Year.

He also has received honorary degrees from Columbia College in Chicago, Lake Forest College, the Chicago Theological Seminary and the John Marshall School of Law, among others.
Page is married, has one son, and lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC.


Rochelle Riley’s award-winning columns appear in the Detroit Free Press, at www.freep.com and in newspapers in the USA Today Network nationwide. She hosts a weekday radio talk show on 910AM WFDF in Detroit and makes occasional television appearances on MSNBC and Fox 2.

Rochelle has spent 20 years crusading for better lives for children, government accountability and improved race relations. She also has spent 16 years promoting the need to increase adult literacy, helping to raise nearly $2 million for literacy causes in Michigan. She is the winner of the 2017 Pulliam Editorial Fellowship from the Society of Professional Journalists and author of “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” (Wayne State University Press, 2018).

Rochelle has worked at The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News and The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where her debut column calling for a museum to honor native son Muhammad Ali helped spur an $80 million campaign to build the Muhammad Ali Center. In 2000, she was recruited to the Detroit Free Press, where her debut column called for the city schools to be shut down. In 2010, just months after Detroit voted to elect council members by district for the first time in a century, Rochelle – working with a data think tank and the newspaper’s design team – created seven proposed districts to show voters what their piece of the pie could look like. She held town halls in each area to encourage residents to embrace their neighborhoods and the idea of accountability from council members. The city council later created seven council districts that looked eerily like the ones she created. When the governor and legislature couldn’t balance the state budget, she convened a kitchen cabinet of female financial experts, and they did it – in two days – without cutting education. And in 2015, she joined the campaign to raise funds to test rape kits found abandoned in a police storage unit, helping a women’s group raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for those tests.

Rochelle was the 2017 winner of the NABJ Ida B. Wells Award, an annual honor given to an individual who has made outstanding efforts to make newsrooms and news coverage more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. The award is named for the distinguished journalist, fearless reporter and anti-lynching crusaders. Her other honors include a National Headliner Award, a National Scripps Howard Award and numerous first-place honors from Associated Press-Managing Editors, the Michigan Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and NABJ. Her columns about the fall of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick were part of the entry that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting. “Rochelle Riley’s stellar career as a journalist and as a mentor to scores of up-and-coming young journalists represents the kind of passion and commitment the Ida B. Wells Award was created to recognize and celebrate,” Charles Whitaker, associate dean at Medill, said in announcing the Ida B. Wells. “She is a role model to all of us who care about the present and future of our field. And she is an extremely worthy recipient of this honor.”

A strong advocate for press freedom, Rochelle is co-chair of the National Association of Black Journalists Global Journalism Task Force, which works to increase the number of minority journalists covering the world. She has traveled to 25 countries and counting. She was a 2007-2008 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where she studied online communities and film. And she was a 2016 inductee into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.

First Round Judges

Chris Azzopardi writes weekly celebrity interviews and profiles for Q Syndicate, the wire service for LGBTQ regional press, where he serves as editor and writer. He has conducted exclusive one-on-ones with stars such as Beyoncé, Meryl Streep, Cher and Britney Spears, and many others.

He also made Jane Fonda cry (happy tears), and his 2014 interview with Dolly Parton was featured among 25 interviews in the 2017 book, “Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton.” Chris’s recent sit-down with Viola Davis was named one of GALECA’s (The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Journalists) Best Celebrity Interviews 2018. Additionally, he has written personal essays, entertainment news and profile features for Vanity Fair, GQ, Entertainment Tonight’s ETonline.com and Billboard. He is based in Michigan and can be reached @chrisazzopardi.


Christy Heitger-Ewing has written more than 900 magazine articles in national, regional, and local publications, including the Huffington Post, Woman’s World, Pregnancy, Club Mid, Scary Mommy, Just Labs, Cat Fancy, and American Fitness. She also regularly contributes to Log Home Living, Outreach, Venue, Haven Homes, and Plainfield Magazine. Additionally, her work has been published in 22 anthologies, including 11 Chicken Soup for the Soul books (the latest, Mom Knows Best, goes on sale March 19). Her book Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat was the Grand Prize winner in the nonfiction category of the 2013 Greyden Press Book Competition. Fun fact: since she started keeping track of her mileage in 1988, she’s run 41,680 miles (and still has her original knees and hips!). She claims that running, writing, and loving on animals keep her sane. Contact her via her author website.


Sarah Bricker Hunt is the NSNC Conference Chair a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Venue, Cincinnati Parent, Between the Lines, LEAD, PrideSource, Brain, Mother, and in various dark corners of the web. Sarah served as editor-in-chief of her college paper, Eastern Michigan University’s Eastern Echo. Her essay “The Longest Journey” was awarded first place in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Writers Competition, regional Human Interest category.

Sarah recently launched Storybuzz, a communications firm that partners with organizations and individuals to define, enhance, and amplify the message they want to share with the world.


Chuck Keller currently writes a column for Fort Thomas Matters, his hometown news outlet in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Fort Thomas Forest Conservancy and serves on the conference committee for the NSNC. He’s an accomplished musician who loves to garden and kayak.

Chuck is a retired English teacher and department chair for Highlands High School in Fort Thomas. He also taught Journalism and served as PR Director for Saint Henry School where he taught prior to Highlands. When he retired, the community honored him by making him the Grand Marshall of the Independence Day parade which he says was a “humbling experience.”

Chuck won many awards in his career as an educator. He was honored as Fort Thomas Teacher of the Year, Walmart Teacher of the Year, and received the Ashland Oil Golden Apple Award.

The commission of Kentucky Colonel is the highest title of honor bestowed by the Governor of Kentucky in recognition of an individual’s noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to our community, state and nation. Chuck received this honor twice.  First from Governor Ernie Fletcher and then again from Governor Steve Beshear. 


Ginny McCabe is a bestselling author, an award-winning journalist, media professional, speaker and teacher. Her work may be seen in publications like Journal-News, Reuters and O, The Oprah Magazine. Her books have been published by Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins and Standard Publishing. McCabe has spent decades covering topics like news, entertainment, real estate, business and faith-inspired themes. She serves as president of the Greater Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists, acts as the membership chair of SPJ’s freelance community and was named “Best Freelance Writer” in 2018. Ginny is also a member of Online News Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Her book with Dr. Jill Hubbard, Secrets Young Women Keep, was honored as an ECPA Silver Medallion winner and has been featured on the CBA Young Adult Bestseller Lists. Connect with Ginny at www.ginnymccabe.comand on Twitter @ginnymccabe.


Brian O’Connor is an award-winning business and finance columnist, founding managing editor of Bankrate.com, executive ghostwriter, custom content consultant and author of “The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese,” which was named Best Money Management Book of the Year by The Institute for Financial Literacy.

O’Connor has won three humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper columnists, is a two-time Best in Business winner for his columns in The Detroit News, and winner of the Christopher J. Welles Memorial Prize from Columbia University. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Martha Stewart Living and The Wall Street Journal. A native of Detroit, O’Connor holds a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow.


J. Michael Robertson received his PhD in English from Duke University. He is a Pulitzer-nominated journalist who has worked for the Atlanta magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle, amongst other publications. He is currently writing a book on the art of the newspaper column. His areas of interest include journalism history, literary journalism, feature writing, reporting.



Carol Schlagheck is a professor of journalism, and has more than 25 years of journalism experience. She was a founder of a Toledo-area community weekly, which she edited for two years. She then worked at the Monroe (Mich.) Evening News as a reporter, feature editor and copy editor for more than 10 years, and continues to work as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines.

Professor Schlagheck is a member of the English Department Writing Committee and is chair of the university’s Student Media Board, which oversees the Eastern Echo, the EMU student newspaper.


Amy Hartl Sherman is a graduate of the University of Illinois, a writer, cartoonist, humorist, and retired flight attendant. Amy has been published in Feisty After 45, The Heron’s Nest, It All Changed in in Instant: More Six Word Memoirs, and Laugh Out Loud: 40 Women Humorists Celebrate Then and Now. More of her work can be found at krankykitty.com and witfaced.com.



George Waters is a humor columnist in the Los Angeles area. He is a winner of the Will Rogers Writing Contest, Will Rogers Humanitarian Award Honoree and a second place finisher of the Robert Benchley Writing Contest, which he swears he would have won if the first place finisher had not been better.




Craig Wilson, now retired, was a feature writer at USA Today for 30 years, writing his popular Final Word humor column every Wednesday in the LIFE section. Random House published a compilation of those columns in “It’s the Little Things: An Appreciation of Life’s Simple Pleasures.” He is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University and resides in Washington, D.C.


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