Monday, June 21, 2010

The award is not the reward

First place Feature Photograph (Category D) Paulson the boxer 
looks disappointed as he and owners Patrick and Valorie Thompson 
depart the rained-out 2009 Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade on 
Main Street.

I was in Jekyll Island this past Friday. That was the date and location of the 2010 Georgia Press Association's Better Newspaper Contest Awards Banquet. And I won a few awards for work submitted by my boss to the contest. I'm not alone, though. Our staff did really well all around for the year 2009. The Herald won Best Web Site in the daily newspaper category and was the first place winner for General Excellence in category D (under 8,000 circulation).

It's nice to be recognized by your peers for a job well done, and the banquet is a good opportunity to rub elbows and bond with other journalists in the state.

Sometimes, I think it's useful to put awards in perspective, though. Someone recently e-mailed me a quote from the book God Never Blinks by Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett:

"... If the readers don't break you, the annual ritual of journalism awards will. Every year editors submit your work for writing contests. You don't want to care about the awards, but everybody does. The news business attracts
people with twisted egos. Newsrooms are full of egomaniacs
with inferiority complexes. We have to be great or else we are

Granted, I don't have experience, other than on a freelance basis, working in the newsroom of a major metro daily newspaper. It's not hard to imagine, however, the clash of pressure and egos. And I would never suggest that awards don't mean something to journalists. Awards mean additional exposure and recognition that can lead to career advancement. But I think the characterization of journalists as egomaniacs might be overstating things a bit.

The field of journalism runs the gamut of humanity, from sociopathic egotists to philanthropic saints. Most of us are somewhere in-between, just like every other profession.

First Place Photo Essay

(Category D)

Have I known journalists with big egos? Of course. Have I known photographers that shoot for awards? Sure I have. But I have also heard some readers accuse journalists of exploiting subjects for the purpose of winning awards and making gobs of money, especially when the subject involves death or tragedy. In this case, I have to speak up.

I can tell you, for one thing, it's sure not money that motivates most journalists. If the public saw the salaries that most journalists make, they would laugh – or cry. Twenty Pulitzer Prize winners are awarded $10,000 each annually. Only 2 of the categories are awarded to photographers. While 10 Grand is nothing to sneeze at, winning perhaps the most prestigious and well-known award for journalism in this country isn't going to make you financially independent. No, you don't enter this field for the money.

Do major awards feed the ego? Sure they can. But if you peruse galleries of past award winners and read interviews with the winners, I think you'll find that the subjects are intimately meaningful to those photographers. Subjects or topics they feel need exposure and discussion. The award itself isn't nearly as important to these photojournalists as the exposure. Not exposure for themselves, but rather exposure for their subjects or topics.

Awards are nice. Sometimes, they're great. But my experience tells me that most journalists are not primarily motivated by winning awards. The news media is frequently vilified and criticized by the public at large – for our egos, for our bias – regardless of the awards. Brett goes on to say:

"I found the secret to complete freedom from gossip, judgment, criticism, doubt, and the opinions of others.

There's plenty about this business to keep us humble. Fact is, most of us won't go on to win major awards. Lots of people leave the profession for more lucrative and less stressful occupations. I think the reason most of us choose this career, and stay in it,  is because we have a talent – be it writing, photography, etc – that can be used to benefit others. I wrote a blog, Now being served: Awareness, a while back about this very topic. I think most people who enter the field of journalism have a need to share, above all else.

First Place News Photograph (Category D) Major General William 

T. Nesbitt, Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard, 

presents the flag which adorned the casket of National Guard Sgt. 

Brock Chavers to his wife, Minnie, and his two children during 

Chavers' interment at Bulloch Memorial Gardens.

Scott Bryant, award-winning photographer.

I can't help but cringe a little every time I hear that. When I think of award-winning photographers, I think of folks like fellow Western Kentucky University alumnus Rick Loomis of the Los Angeles Times, or Carol Guzy of the Washington Post, or Clarence Williams, whom I once worked with at a weekly newspaper in Northern Virginia  just to name a few. I could go on and on, but I won't.

These are people who win Pulitzer Prizes and World Press Photo contests. Regular winners in the Best of Photojournalism or Pictures of the Year contests. They are the big dogs in the photojournalism world. They are the ones who sacrifice personal lives, immerse themselves in cultures and conditions that are often emotionally wrenching, and sometimes put themselves in harm's way to bring us images that enlighten us about the world we live in. More than ever, the world is our community.

The decisions we make can have global consequences, and we need to make decisions with our eyes wide open. We need these great photographers to help us see.

Me? Mentioned in that same breath? Award-winning?

I've made a life working at smaller newspapers, in smaller communities. Partly by choice. Partly by circumstance. I doubt my work will ever be considered for major national or international awards. But I'd still like to think that my chronicles of daily life here in this community have value. When my photos win awards, it means exposure for my community. That Statesboro and Bulloch County are too part of the human experience. That we live meaningful lives that are worthy of attention outside of our own community.

So, congratulations, Statesboro Herald readers, on your GPA awards!


  1. I always have a good chuckle when I see job listings or house ads touting the "award-winning" paper. Readers don't realize that every paper in the country is "award-winning" and really, they probably don't care. After all, contests are for us not them.

    I'm sure photos in your paper or mine have just as much impact on our readers as the photos of major metro photographers have on their readers. And really that's what is all about, impacting our community.

    But hey, it is nice every once in a while to get recognized by ones peers.


  2. Oh yeah, congrats on the awards Scott.

  3. Thanks Brian!

    Yeah, I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the term "award-winning." Readers aren't stupid. Awards just aren't that relevant to our audiences except in their capacity to measure our professional standards.

    Feedback is important to help you evaluate what you're doing. Some of the most important work we do isn't always popular, so there's got to be a balance between measuring feedback from your audience and your professional peers.

    However, the greatest reward in this job is when you hear people – your audience – talk about your pictures. Or better yet, talk about what your actually trying to communicate instead of the picture itself. Our work should be the beginning of discussions about our communities.

    That's the REAL reward.


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