The Washington Post says it was disqualified from Emmys due to its 'unfair advantage'

Update: The National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences issued a reply to The Washington Post Friday night. It's copied in its entirety below.

The Washington Post has been disqualified from 12 Emmy categories in a regional contest, and a senior editor at the paper isn't happy about it.

Micah Gelman, the head of The Washington Post's video operation, sent an email to his staff this morning announcing that the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences had disqualified several of its entries because The Washington Post has "the resources a local TV station does not."

You know by the daily challenges we face how ridiculous a statement that truly is. We have no helicopter, no satellite or microwave truck, no fleet of news cars. We do not cover stories in teams, but almost always as one-person efforts working long hours against heavily-resourced competition to produce what used to be considered award winning coverage.

As a result, Gelman said, The Post is pulling the remainder of its entries rather than "participate in a process that is so heavily weighted against us as to be considered a farce." The Post won 12 Emmys last year, 10 for entries that would be disqualified under this year's rules, he said.

Les Heintz, the president of the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, disputed Gelman's characterization that The Washington Post was disqualified because of an "unfair advantage."

Many of its entries, Heintz said, had "nothing to do with to do with our region, frankly."

Most entries to the chapter's Emmy awards concern regional viewers, Heintz said. Entries that are regional in scope qualify for consideration, but other entries — such as The Post's video about flooding in North Carolina or depression among women in Bakersfield — don't qualify for entry.

"It's both a local paper and a national news organization," Heintz said. "All we're saying is, the local paper should compete in local awards. The national news organization should be competing in the national competition."

Eligibility guidelines in the regional chapter's call for entries say that entries "must have been intended for consumption and be of primary interest to a regional audience, within the chapter's designated awards area."

On Friday night, Heintz issued a reply to Gelman requesting an apology from The Washington Post, saying Gelman's accusations challenge "the integrity and veracity of people who volunteer their time and resources" to the regional chapter:

Overall I find your approach to this matter, in both our conference call and your email, troubling. I am personally insulted by the tone and content of your email as well as by the way you spoke to our Awards co-Chairs during our conference call. You are challenging the integrity and veracity of people who volunteer their time and resources because they believe in a profession that we are all fortunate to be a part of. These are people I respect and they deserve better. Your charges represent Politics 101: If you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. Nothing you have done in this process has been respectful and you owe this organization an apology.

More than 30 of The Washington Post's entries qualified for consideration in the contest despite the fact that The Post hadn't yet paid the entry fee, said Fran Murphy, who co-chairs the awards committee. When considering the entries from The Washington Post, she consulted with a regional chapter in New York, which also deals with the occasional submission from a national newspaper such as The New York Post.

The New York chapter told her that most national publications in New York "go straight to the national awards" to compete with the likes of "60 Minutes" and "Frontline," Murphy said. She noted the importance of preserving "an even playing field" among the entrants.

"Everyone doesn't have the same resources," Murphy said. "But you can still put together an Emmy Award-winning product without a lot of resources."

The Washington Post has been in talks with the regional chapter to have a member of the paper's staff serve as a representative on its board of governors, Heintz said. He expressed hopes that that will continue.

"The Washington Post is an important voice in journalism and in our profession," Heintz said. "It's an important voice in our region. I regret that this has gotten to this point. I don't think it had to get to this point."

Judging by an email Gelman sent to Heintz this morning, it seems unlikely, at least in the short-term, that The Post will agree to serve on its board.

"We are not prepared to participate in any further local chapter sponsored events or programs, to which we have been generous contributors in recent years, until you create an organization that is representative and fair to all its members," Gelman wrote.

Here's Gelman's original email:

Colleagues,

This week we were informed by the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences they are disqualifying 12 of our regional Emmy entries. The disqualification includes our entry for Overall Excellence, which we won last year. The stated reason for the disqualification is The Washington Post’s “unfair advantage” due to the reach of our national audience. As you know, we’ve entered the Emmys for as long as online news organizations have been permitted to do so. We won 10 regional Emmys last year for entries NATAS would disqualify this year.

The rules have not changed, the application of the rules by the local committee has. We entered these awards in good faith and following past practice. It was not until well into judging, the awards committee notified us of the disqualification because “we have the resources a local TV station does not.” You know by the daily challenges we face how ridiculous a statement that truly is. We have no helicopter, no satellite or microwave truck, no fleet of news cars. We do not cover stories in teams, but almost always as one-person efforts working long hours against heavily-resourced competition to produce what used to be considered award winning coverage.

The disqualification leads to no other conclusion than this-- the awards committee, which has no representation from an online news organization, made this decision to protect its TV-station membership from losing to a small scrappy team of newspaper VJs. I’m sure our collecting numerous awards in recent years has been an embarrassment to these stations.

Given these circumstances we have made the difficult decision to withdraw all our entries from the judging process, including those not disqualified. I understand this may be disappointing to some of you personally who worked tirelessly on the stories entered. However, we cannot reasonably participate in a process that is so heavily weighted against us as to be considered a farce. We will also no longer participate in any local-chapter sponsored awards or events. Frankly, we are surprised the local chapter even invites online entrants into its competition given the clear lack of regard it has for non-broadcast entities.

There will be other opportunities for us to showcase our work and please know you have my full support in finding other avenues for recognition.

Micah

And here's Heintz's reply:

Mr. Gelman,

I thought it would be best if I reply to your email. I’m the President of NATAS-NCCB. I don’t believe we’ve met, which is surprising given that I’ve been involved as an NCCB Officer or Board Member since 2011. I was on the conference call this week, but joined late due to a work conflict.

I’m sorry to hear that you you are withdrawing all NCCB Emmy Entries from the Washington Post. Just so you know, in all but a few cases, Emmy Awards are submitted by, and awarded to, individuals rather organizations. There is some confusion when employers pay the Emmy entry fees, but with a few exceptions, an Emmy is an individual award. As a result, I want to make sure you, as well as the former entrants, understand that you are speaking for the individuals who have submitted for Emmy consideration.

Before I respond directly to your charges, let me go over some facts that may provide a context to your complaint:

  • 44 Emmy entries submitted by The Washington Post or individuals from the Post.
  • 31 Emmy entries from the Washington Post or individuals from the Post were accepted by the Chapter but withdrawn by you.
  • 13 of the 44 entries were disqualified because they failed the regional standard outlined in the NCCB Call For Entries.
  • The 13 Emmy entries disqualified were stories based in areas such as: Bakersfield (CA), Detroit (MI), North Dakota, Atlantic City (NJ), Greenland (the country!), Indianapolis (ID), Lyles Station (ID), Seven Springs (NC), Congo, Argentina, China, Pennsylvania and Florida.
  • The NCCB Call For Entries clearly states that entries “must have been intended for consumption and be of primary interest to a regional audience, within the chapter’s designated area. NCCB includes DC, Maryland and Virginia.
  • We have asked that a representative from the Post join the NCCB Board of Governors and our Awards Committee with no response.
  • Most Awards competitions would have disqualified the entries without notification and taken your money. We chose to engage you as a partner to help you in the future and perhaps aid you in entering the National News & Documentary Emmy Awards.
  • Of the 44 Emmy entries submitted by the Washington Post, none of them have been paid for.
  • The rules are outlined every year in the Call For Entries. This is a document created by the National Awards Committee and revised each year. I understand it can seem bureaucratic but it’s all there in black and white. If you had read the Call For Entries, you might have recognized that the entries we disqualified should not have been entered in the first place. Curious to note here that The Post did not pay for its entries in advance. Did you know that some of the entries were questionable?

Now to your email:

In all honesty, we probably could have done a better job explaining our position. Everyone tends to focus on online vs. broadcast content. For our purposes it really doesn’t matter as long as the material passes the regional threshold. Online content tends to have a wider scope because the internet is worldwide, which is why we try to be careful in the entry process.

The regional threshold is subjective. We admit that. NATAS-NCCB is based in Washington, DC. That brings into play several national stories that we allow as entries in the Regional Emmy Awards. Politics is an obvious example as is the Military. There are many that qualify. It is not an exact science, but we have to draw the line somewhere. It’s something our Awards Committee wrestles with each year.

For example, consider the Post story on Trump’s casino in Atlantic City. This story was discussed and debated in multiple meetings. The opinions were across the board. The decision was far from unanimous, but the majority of the Committee voted to disqualify it from consideration. This is another reason the Post should take a seat at the table.

You should also be aware that we have over 1000 Emmy entries each year. Disqualifications are not unusual, but this process reviews individual entries not the organizations that submit them.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is that it harms the people who worked on the 31 Emmy entries you have withdrawn from consideration. I assume your veiled threat to publicize this issue is your attempt to embarrass The Academy and our Chapter. I don’t see that happening. The facts are clear and they fall in our favor. Our membership and the public will see that. Your actions have embarrassed both you and The Washington Post. Most important it has robbed Post employees of the opportunity to receive the recognition that comes with winning an Emmy Award.

Overall I find your approach to this matter, in both our conference call and your email, troubling. I am personally insulted by the tone and content of your email as well as by the way you spoke to our Awards co-Chairs during our conference call. You are challenging the integrity and veracity of people who volunteer their time and resources because they believe in a profession that we are all fortunate to be a part of. These are people I respect and they deserve better. Your charges represent Politics 101: If you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. Nothing you have done in this process has been respectful and you owe this organization an apology.

Regards,

Les Heintz
NATAS-NCCB President

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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