January 31, 2024

“🚨It’s award season🚨,” NPR reporter Chiara Eisner tweeted at the start of the year.

And she had an offer:

“If you’re a local reporter who wants to apply for something & can’t for lack of funds, DM/email me! If you’re a national reporter willing to contribute $ to support local reporters who want to apply for something but have fewer resources, DM/email me!”

She didn’t really have a plan. But journalism contest systems, which often cost $75 or more to apply, put local journalists at a disadvantage. She figured if a handful of national and international journalists pitched in, more local work could be considered.

Eisner has been a local reporter, too, and, “I know that local reporters work extremely hard and do extremely valuable work and sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve because they can’t afford to apply for as many awards,” she told me in a call last week.

There are a lot of efforts aimed at helping local news and local journalists, including Press Forward, the American Journalism Project and The Pivot Fund.

“This seemed like one way that I could jump in and do something with my network.”

If supporting local journalists’ contest entries puzzles you, you’ve probably never entered a journalism competition. There are many. Some are free. Most have fees. Some under $100. Some cost a lot more. Bigger newsrooms often devote teams of a few people to prepare entries for weeks starting in January. And those newsrooms, not individual reporters, usually pay for all those entry fees.

The entry fee may be a way for an organization to fundraise or it might just cover expenses of running the contest itself. But if you’re a freelancer or in a small newsroom, the work and cost are likely on you. And it adds up.

Since sharing her idea, Eisner has heard from six national and international journalists willing to help out. One of them is retired NPR reporter and correspondent Howard Berkes.

“I’ve seen really good journalism not get submitted that should get submitted,” he said. “In the judging that I’ve done, I see that these stories could be competitive.”

Winning awards can do more than just affirm your work. It can highlight stories that don’t rise to the level of national, show value to your newsroom and help other newsrooms know you’re out there.

“The benefit of an award for your career can be momentous,” Eisner said.

If you’d like to help out, or you’d like to get help with the cost of submitting to contests, reach out to Eisner at eisnerchiara@gmail.com.

Ultimately, she said, evening the playing field makes the awards themselves more worthy.

“Awards are going to be more valuable for all of us if the pool represents everybody who should be applying.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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