What the judges had to say

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The professional journalists who judged the Fall 2012 and 2013 AIPA Contests offered some valuable insight into how they selected their winners. Below is a summary of the comments we received (note: we did not receive commentary for all categories):

News Writing

Award winners wrote timely stories filled with interesting details obtained by conducting research and in-depth interviews, using statistics and public records. Winners effectively used sources and presented stories in a straightforward way.

Feature Writing

From the judge, “First, I would like to say that it was an honor and privilege for me to  judge this content.  It does this aging reporter’s heart good to see that in this day and age — where anyone with a phone/camera can be a photographer and anyone writing a blog a “citizen journalist” —  that young people are interested in learning the time-honored principles of journalism. I have judged state newspaper contests, and I can tell you that many of your entries could be serious contenders at that level. I also saw some entries which were truly good efforts, but could use some improvement.  I want to emphasize the word ‘effort.’ My sincere hope is that no matter how you placed this time that you will keep trying.  One of the biggest problems I saw with some entries is lack of knowledge of AP style. Please study the Associated Press style, using not only the manual, but  by reading articles  by professional journalists you most  respect. Also, please make sure that if what you are writing is your opinion —  make it clear that it is indeed an opinion piece.  There were times I could not tell if it was a feature story or an op ed.  And even if the writing was good, inaccurate information caused me not to give the entry an award. Fact checking is crucial — if you go on to write professionally, the readers will demand that of  you.”

Sports Writing

Award winners were well written, lively and fun. They provided in-depth coverage or provided an interesting angle to an otherwise typical story.

All the entries did an excellent job of focusing on topics relevant to the paper’s high school readers, whether it be bullying or the quality of education.

Column Writing

The column writers should continue to strive to include real-life examples in their columns, preferably their own personal experiences or those of others at school. That helps the reader better relate to what the writer is trying to tell them.

Pro/Con Editorial

Award-winning entries cited facts, used history and provided a clear contrast on issues that matter to students. Voice, layout and packaging were also considered. Good quotes help strengthen arguments.

Staff Editorial

Pros: Attention-getting leads and strong writing. Topics are relevant to teen audience.
Well-written, nice attention-getting lead that clearly reveals the topic and stance. Students should enjoy reading this and should be able to relate to it well!

Suggestions: Make sure to pick topics that are conducive to a pointed opinion. Also, a staff editorial should not have a byline, as the opinion is representative of the editorial team of the newspaper.

Newspaper Design

Award winners effectively used photos and photo illustrations to bring life to designs and help make stories stand out. Winning designs were easy to navigate, with an obvious hierarchy, and made good use of typography. Clean, simple and consistent pages are typically more effective than elaborate and complicated designs.

Well executed white space is a good thing!

Suggestions included avoiding using too many typefaces (stick with 3-4), making sure design elements don’t negatively affect readability, working on proportion between headlines and photos and ensuring there is a main focal point. Pay attention to typography; don’t hyphenate words as it detracts from the readability.

Photo Story/Spread

Cons: Layout and design properties were lacking for some entries. I would have liked to have seen the photographs and text married together to make a complete package.

Pros: The winning entry really used photos and text to create a snapshot of campus life. Overall the entries were well done.

News/Feature/Sports Photo

Cons: Some entries were not clearly marked. I would have liked to have seen separate categories for feature and sports photos. You might want to consider adding a campus life category.

Pros: I am surprised by the quality of the photographs. The finalist showed a keen eye for making everyday scenes visually appealing. Composition is what separated the superior from the excellent finalist.


Award-winning entries included effective interviews, strong use of technology and great audio and visuals. Pieces were informative and creative, but not too lengthy.

Special effects and animation are creative, well executed and used to good effect.

Don’t use background music when people are talking; set appropriate levels for all audio. Match voiceovers with what is being visually displayed at the time. Natural sound is a great scene-setter.

Remember the storytelling aspect of all journalism, including multimedia.

Yearbook Photography

Award-winning photos were technically sound, with obvious command of compositional elements and a high level of human interests. Photos were most effective when used in their entirety; be wary of cutting photos out of their backgrounds or overcropping, as it takes away the context of the image. The most interesting and technically compelling photos on the spread (that is, the ones you would consider entering into a contest) should be the dominant photos on the spread. It is a shame to minimize the effect of a well-composed photo by placing it in a small photo box.

Yearbook Spread Design

Award winners made effective use of space and whitespace; layouts had a clear hierarchy and were simple and clean. Creative use of computer graphics and illustrations, as well as typography and color added flair to design. Consistent designs included only 3-4 typefaces and a set color palette. Background color/design was not distracting and did not hinder readability. Content was unified and creative.

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