Hits, Misses, Snubs, & Mysteries Among This Year’s EWA Awards Finalists

It’s a big deal for education reporters when EWA (the national association of education writers) names the finalists for the annual awards, which came out yesterday.

There are several familiar stories and names in the list of 38 2015 Finalists: Nikole Hannah-Jones (for The Problem We All Live With), Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall (for beat reporting), the Tampa Bay Times team (for Failure Factories ), The Baltimore Sun’s Liz Bowie and Amy Davis (for Unsettled Journeys), the Miami Herald’s Michael Vasquez (for Higher-Ed Hustle).

A few folks like the Miami Herald’s Mike Vasquez and ProPublica’s Annie Waldman are finalists in multiple categories. Some outlets like ProPublica, NPR, the Hechinger Report, and Chalkbeat come up multiple times.

Then there are hidden gems that you might have missed, like the Philadelphia Notebook’s story Glen’s Village or the San Francisco Public Press for Choice Is Resegregating Public Schools, or NewsWorks (WHYY)’s Avi Wolfman-Arent (for First Year, First Generation).

One of the best parts of the EWA finalists announcements are the (anonymous) comments from the judges, which gives you a clear idea of what they’re looking for and what’s particularly admirable from a journalist’s perspective:

For example, one of the judges praised a finalist from the San Francisco Public Press Choice Is Resegregating Public Schools for being “detailed and broad at the same time and looked at the many ironies of how school choice in a liberal city backfired in a way.” Another wrote “What a compilation of useful, important and revealing journalism! Bravo to San Fran and their team for this package. LOVED.”

Another comment about First Year, First Generation  notes that “the students make this work. Their voices, and those of the people with whom they interact are its heart.” Also: “the reporter did a nice job of weaving information and context throughout the stories and he was judicious in his use of experts.”

There don’t seem to be any particularly controversial finalists, as happened in 2011 when the LA Times’ series publishing individual teachers’ value-added ratings not only made it to the finals but won. (There was also a kerfluffle in 2008 when EdWeek’s Quality Counts was named a winner.)

 Notable are some of the absences, due either to not making the cut or not submitting to the contest (which costs $50).

Missing entirely from the 2015 finalists list are some big outlets like the New York Times, the LA Times, Associated Press, and the PBS NewsHour. (I’m told the LAT did enter the competition, but don’t know in what categories or what positions. At least one reporter at the NYT says she didn’t enter.) American Public RadioWorks, which features a steady stream of education documentaries, is also not on the finalists list. 

The Washington Post and WSJ are named just once. The Atlantic, which has both a magazine and an education-dedicated vertical, also comes up just once (for Hanna Rosin’s The Silicon Valley Suicides).

Local public radio outlets like WBEZ Chicago, WAMU Washington, and KPCC Los Angeles are among the finalists, but — surprising to me — not WNYC New York.

And, while Catalyst Chicago and the Philadelphia School Notebook are named, the Seventy Four and LA School Report don’t come up. (I’ve been told in the past that The Seventy Four isn’t even an EWA member.)

As in the past, the opinion writing category doesn’t seem as strong as the other categories. To be fair, journalistic opinion journalism is in an industrywide decline. But in world that includes New America’s Conor Williams, Andre Perry, the LAT’s Karin Klein, the Chicago Tribune’s Kate Grossman (both since departed from those positions), NY Mag’s Jonathan Chait, not to mention any number of EdWeek bloggers (assuming they qualify)…. 

This year’s competition features a number of procedural and substantive changes, notes EWA head Caroline Hendrie, including a two-step process of unveiling finalists now and winners at the EWA conference in Boston later this spring, a quadrupling of cash prize amounts from $250 to $1,000 (and $10,000 for the winner of the grand prize), and the addition of categories for outstanding beat reporting (worth $2,500 to the winners). EWA is also administering the 2nd year of the Edwin Gould Foundation prize for higher education writing (worth $7,500).

It should be noted that the awards site is much easier to navigate than it was back in the bad old days of the EdMedia Commons.

Asked to provide a list of newsrooms and individuals who entered the competition, Hendrie declined. ” I don’t think that’s something that we’ve ever made public.” But she did report that the number of applicants — 310, excluding 55 Eddie applicants — was slightly down from last year when there were 341. One factor that may have played a part is that the entry deadline was mid-December this year, compared to February in the past. 

As for some of the names and news outlets that were missing from the finalists lists, Hendrie would only say “Don’t assume that it’s that they didn’t apply.”

 Related posts: Why Did EWA Change Its 2015 Contest Categories? (2015); Reuters’ Simon Wins National Education Coverage Award (2013); Journalism Awards, Good And Bad (2011).

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.