Media Coverage: Who Are The Best Education Writers -- And Why Don't They Win The Annual EWA Contest?

There's an interesting look at who might be the nation's top economics writers over on Economic Principals (New Kids On the Block) that names names familiar and otherwise -- and raises the topic of who the best education writers are.

The issue is particularly timely, given that the Education Writers Association annual awards contest is coming up again, with submissions due in January.

Too bad the top education writers (and writing) probably aren't to be recognized -- again.



In fact, the EWA top award winners' list includes few well-known names and many seeming omissions. The Times' Jacques Steinberg won in 1997. But the Times Magazine's James Traub, the Washington Post's Jay Mathews, the NYT columnist Michael Winerip, the Chicago Tribune's Stephanie Banchero, the New Yorker's Katherine Boo, and others aren't there. How can that be?

Richard Lee Colvin, for many years the top education writer at the LAT, never won the top prize. Sara Mosle, formerly of the New Yorker and the Times Magazine, never won. Neither has Jodi Wilgoren, the Times reporter who is regularly dragooned into covering education. Ditto for former Baltimore Sun writer Mike Bowler, and the Philly Inquirer's Dale Mezzacappa (who, according to Blinq, is leaving the paper along with a host of other veterans.) [CORRECTION: DALE WON IN 1994.] Would the Times' Fred Hechinger, arguably one of the best education writers of all time, have won the EWA award? I'm not sure.

To be fair, some of these folks (Banchero, for example), have won lesser EWA awards. And some of these writers and their organizations don't bother to submit entries to the EWA contest, which makes things harder. Some would argue that the EWA top prize is rightly slanted towards long, investigative pieces and series rather than overall quality or one great article.

As some of you may remember, I raised these and other issues related to the EWA contest last winter, and you can find my post and EWA's response here. But nothing really seems to have been done. (There's still no category for lazy freelancers and bloggers, for example. The nerve of those people.)

To my mind, the obvious solution would be for the EWA (a) reconsider its grand prize criteria to consider great and widely read education writing not just hard work, and (b) to include stories from outside its membership -- even including pieces not formally submitted for the contest. (Relying on individuals to submit them seems wishful thinking.) That would bump some beat reporters off the awards table, of course, which is why it probably won't happen. But it would mean that the EWA awards really meant that you were the best.


Love you and your blog and thanks for publicizing the contest! Some
of your facts need to be checked:

*the EWA contest is open to everyone - you do not have to be a member
to enter or win

*Dale Mezzacappa of the Philadelphia Inquirer won the Hechinger
Grand Prize in 1994

*Michael Winerip and Jay Mathews have won prizes in the contest, as
has Richard Colvin

*Stephenie Banchero won a first prize in 2004 and was nominated for
the Grand prize along with others noted in your Feb 2005 post -
as with all major prizes - there's just one of these each year

*EWA created the beat category award several years ago to honor those
people who have done excellent reporting across the beat and
recognize outstanding writers

*Finally, lazy freelancers and bloggers can enter almost all of the
categories in the contest

I want to reiterate our offer of last year for people to send us
their ideas for best education reporting so we can encourage those
reporters to enter the contests. (send nominees to Tom Kenny )

And, we'd love your ideas for how to deal with nominees to the
contest - that is, how to cover the contest entry fee, how to make
sure that smaller outlets not on the east coast are recognized, etc.

Finally, there is only one top prize each year in the National Awards
for Education Reporting (but 18 first prizes and unlimited numbers of
second prizes and special citations are possible). Inevitably as
with all contests, only one entry is going to win.

Lisa J. Walker
Executive Director
Education Writers Association


I was an EWA "first prize" winner in 1984 and later served for
several years on the EWA board of directors (as have other, more
prominent education writers and editors, including Mike Bowler,
Richard Colvin, Linda Lenz, John Merrow, Dale Mezzacappa, Richard
Whitmire, Anne Lewis and Kent Fischer). From what I understand of
EWA's history, the organization has sustained itself with support
from those education writers and philanthropic organizations who were
committed to developing education writing as a profession.

The EWA contest has encouraged and supported many education writers
over the years to develop and continue to pursue their craft. Their
national awards gave them extra sway in newsrooms, where status is
often a major factor in the quality of work you're given the time and
space to do. Or at least that was the case during my days as a daily
education reporter.

While there's certainly room for EWA to create a "lifetime
achievement" award similar to the Oscars, I don't think "Oscar" is
the best analogy for the EWA contest. In some ways, a better analogy
might be those award programs that encourage and identify young and
emerging talent. Like many, many other contest winners at smaller
dailies, my award led to job offers from larger newspapers and a shot
at a career track that wasn't immediately visible or obvious in the
small capital city where I worked. I chose another path, but many of
today's most prominent education reporters can trace their "rise" in
the profession to a first prize or grand prize in EWA's National
Awards for Education Reporting.

John Norton
Education writer
Little Switzerland, NC

Previous Media Coverage Posts:
The Best Education Writing Of the Year -- Sort Of
Better Education Writing In '05
Making Jay Mathews A Better Reporter
Unfair And Unbalanced CJR
Education Reporting -- The Good, the Lousy, the Lousy
Beware Over-Covering Convenient Stories

Kudos and Criticism of Media Coverage

School Reform As Conflict or Complement
The NYT Misses Badly on Education Funding Story
A Lazy Look at High School NAEP Scores
NPR Tells Reformers to Give Up
How Fringe Is FairTest? Very