In Depth

Awards Entries Take a Dip

 By Elizabeth Jensen

With news organizations tightening their belts, many awards programs have found themselves with fewer entries to pick from.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association’s Murrow Awards received about 20 percent fewer entries this past year, said Stacey Woelfel, the group’s chairman who is also the news director at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo.; he notes his local Emmy chapter was also off about 15 percent.

“It was obvious people were saying, ‘I could lay off people or enter a contest,’ ” he said. Many stations didn’t enter at all; others stations just submitted fewer stories.

Many other groups experienced drop-offs of a similar magnitude, attributing the decline to both the financial straits of stations and the lack of staff to organize the paperwork.

To cut costs for stations, and to make the process easier on themselves, awards programs, including the duPont Awards and the Emmys, are accelerating their use of an all-digital submission process. Some are also using digital judging.

RTNDA (now known as the Radio Television Digital News Association) pioneered the process a couple years ago. “That’s a money-savings for entrants,” Woelfel said, but it also saves money for the organization, which no longer has to send CDs and DVDs flying around the country. “Everybody is happy but FedEx,” he said.

This year — applications are due at the end of January — he is hopeful that there will be a “little bit of an upswing” in submissions, noting, “People have had a little bit more of a chance to budget for this; they’re not in the budget-cutting mode” that caused such panic last year. “This year, they can maybe be a little more thoughtful about where the cuts come and where money is still valuable.”

And, he added, he’s hoping “the value of winning, particularly a national award, will rise back to the surface. Stations will say, ‘We’ve got some promotional value here to differentiate us from our competitors.’ ”

One group that hasn’t seen a significant drop in submissions is the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Paul Pillitteri, chief administrative officer, said the organization doesn’t release specific numbers but he said that, counter to what had been anticipated, there was no significant decline over its many categories in which it hands out Daytime, Sports, News & Documentary and Business & Finance Emmys.

Entries for the Sports Emmys were flat, he said, while Daytime entries were up slightly. The News & Documentary Emmys, which were handed out in September, saw a slight decline. And entries for the Business & Finance Emmys, awarded in December, were up.

Business and finance is “the big reality that everyone’s inhabiting now. That’s the big story,” said David Winn, director of the News & Documentary Emmys. He speculated that there were more entries because with more news organizations devoting resources to what is a “bigger and better story,” maybe “they think they are doing Emmy-worthy stuff.”