Awards Season:
Why Does Recognition Come
At Such A High Price?

Awards Season: Why
Does Recognition Come
At Such A High Price?

Written by Lois Lane
🕒 May 13, 2020

Spring marks the start of awards season…

…although just about every journalist is now inundated with stories showing the impacts of coronavirus. The stories that will soon be honored, in a likely virtual way, feature stories of family hardships, hard fought legal battles, and the colorful moments that define small communities.

Now, these stories aren’t necessarily the best of the best. That’s because not every journalist can afford the high dollar entry fees that accompany so many of these awards. It’s especially difficult for those of us with children or fighting to keep the lights on in a small market.

It’s often said that anything worth having doesn’t come easy. However, when it comes to awards like the prestigious regional Emmy’s, consideration for that award doesn’t come without a $200 entry fee.

Whether you live on the East Coast or the Pacific South West, the Emmy’s has a regional chapter that likely has hundreds of members.

To even become a member you must pay $100 to join.

Membership includes perks like a discount on your entry fee and a bargain on your award dinner should you be nominated. All these payments, which quickly increase with each entry, are for the prestigious title of award winner, which isn’t even a guarantee.

Large markets often mean access to not only the best talent but the most high tech gear available. The combination of skilled reporter, photographer, producer, and equipment can result in outstanding work that gives station managers the confidence to dump thousands of dollars into covering award entries for staff.

Even if they don’t pay the cost of entry, journalists in top 20 markets often earn a lot more than their counterparts in North Platte. Meaning, they can likely pay the fee to submit their work without draining the bank account.

One-man-band reporters in small markets can have a hard time competing with the resources that teams in bigger markets have at their disposal.

But those small markets do have hidden gems: standout industry newcomers who just have a knack for storytelling and a passion for turning top notch work.

Sometimes you see the call letters of some small unknown station tucked into the nomination alongside heavy hitters, like KING5 or KTLA or WABC. Maybe that journalist won the support of their news director for this very special story. But more likely, that small town journalist pulled the money out of their own wallet, which was already filled with more cobwebs than dollar bills.

Consider this: an MMJ, or a producer, in a starter market routinely makes around $25,000 per year, which comes out to about $12 per hour. That means a $200 award entry fee would cost that person about 16 hours of work for a single entry. That cost-reward is a gamble for someone who likely tells friends, “I do it for the passion, not the money.”

Of course, there has to be a high bar to clear for entry. Otherwise the judges for these awards would be overwhelmed with hundreds, if not ​thousands, of entries.

If the entry amount was only $5, the laziest person in your newsroom would submit all seven garbage fires of stories that they barely made an effort to pull together.

These castaway submissions, which were hardly an afterthought, would dilute the stream of stories molded by blood, sweat and tears. So, I admit, there has to be at least some standard of entry, but in an industry that’s notorious for underpaying employees, what if that standard was measured in something other than cash?

It would be nice to finish this article with a suggestion as to what that alternative means of award entry would be. But, perhaps that’s a question best asked of the newsrooms that pull together impactful and inspiring news stories on a shoe string budget. That conversation should include the underdogs who work tirelessly with little to no recognition outside of a few coworkers.

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5 Comments

  1. Spoiler alert: No one cares how many Emmy, Murrow, AP awards you have. You’ll bust your ass to win one and it’ll be sold and marketed by your TV station’s ad team as an “Emmy-winning news team”.

    (Small shop and independent) journalists should just focus on the journalism.

  2. Pretty sure the person who earned the award cares.

  3. Winners should be proud of their work, I agree. But I separate the work from the awards, money paid to enter, and the BS that comes with them. I used to be enamored with the idea of winning Emmys then I saw how they were used by the stations and how little those other than the earners cared about them. Just because you win an award doesn’t necessarily mean it’s outstanding journalism and vice versa. I’ve judged Emmy submissions are most are boilerplate sweeps pieces that are unoriginal and bland. The investigations and their results that impact real people are noble and admirable, but the whole system of “this is an award-winning anchor segment or sweeps package” does more to praise the format than the substance.

  4. Nothing wrong with winning an award, but imo, outlets deliberately shaping their coverage to angle for awards so they can market themselves as award winners is a not insignificant part of the problem with what we refer to as journalism but is more often than not just news. Generally speaking, viewers and readers don’t know or care about awards even a little bit.

  5. Awards are meaningless if you’re just being told what to write in most cases.

    However just because you are told what angles to cover, doesnt mean you are being told how to cover them. Journalism to me is more than just the content you cover or the angles you pick.

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