Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The new and improved CJA Awards?

Long time readers will recall that we've previously addressed the annual Chess Journalists of America (CJA) Awards with both seriousness and fun. As the 2007 Awards season gets underway, our friend Howard Goldowsky reports on his efforts to reform the organization from within (he sits on the CJA Awards committee) and on this year's changes to the awards program:
This year's CJA Awards Call for Entries should now be published in the April Chess Life. My guess is that people have begun to receive the April Chess Life, because I have begun to receive entries for the Mainstream category (I am the contact address for this category), Category 24. Here are some notes about this year's awards...

Over the last decade or so, the CJA awards have received much notoriety in the chess media. People (including myself) have complained about the high rate of self-nominations and the general absence of quality entries; in general, the CJA awards have not been taken seriously for some time. Probably the most ruthless attack on the awards came a number of years ago when Edward Winter publicly denounced the CJA as "a dazzlingly undemanding body with a track-record of dispensing hundreds of awards, often to self nominees [sic] with no realistic hope of winning an accolade from elsewhere. The winners read like a Who’s Who of who deserve nothing."

During the past three-plus years, I've been lobbying the CJA to reform its awards system. This year will employ the first major attempt to bolster the awards' prestige. There are two major changes. The first is that the CJA has reduced the number of categories from 39 to 24. This creates more competition per category. Done away with are categories that have historically received little or no entries and redundant categories. The second major change is the addition of Category 24, the Mainstream Media category. This category is open to free nominations by CJA members, and the CJA will accept nominations from any mainstream article (see the official rules for more details).
Here are the official rules and new categories for 2007.

Now my interest, of course, is in the chess blogosphere and I'm sorry to see that none of the changes reflect the new realities of chess journalism which have been established through the growth of our medium. Certainly, Howard has his own agenda for change which he has been pursuing for many years (finally, with at least some small measure of success); nevertheless, I might have hoped that his familiarity and experience with chess blogs could have bled over into the CJA reform process. Not this year obviously, though I'm sure Howard will tell us that this is likely to be a multi-year process and there will be more opportunities for change and improvement in the future.

So where does this leave chess bloggers in 2007? While it is a plausible option for bloggers to submit their sites to the Best General Website Category, I'd be surprised if a blog would ever win. While blogs, I suppose, are technically websites, a chess blog is as different from a traditional chess website as that website is from an offline chess publication. Quite simply, it's not an apples to apples comparison and I don't see the judges abandoning the traditional criteria for what makes a good chess website in order to give the award to a blog.

The alternative is to submit a single post or series of posts to one of the media independent categories. From my reading of the rules these might include: Best Tournament Report, Any Media; Best Human Interest Story; Best Historical Article; Best Interview; Best Editorial; Best Review; Best Analysis; Best Instruction; and Best Humorous Contribution. I can certainly think of blog posts I've read this year that fit into each of these categories; however, I wonder whether the judges will consider a post to be equivalent to an article or a story. Also, I'm not sure if they will consider a series of related posts (e.g., The Chess Mind's series on "Something Different vs. the French") as a single journalistic piece.

For my part, I'm considering testing these concerns by submitting the complete BCC Weblog coverage of the Boston Blitz's 2006 US Chess League season to the Best Tournament Report category. How do you suppose it might fair against current CJA President Jerry Hanken's most recent edition of his endless annual reports on US and National Opens? For amusement, I could submit my post on the Pete Tamburro chess journalism awards to the Best Humorous Contribution category. Do you suppose the judges will find it funny?

The CJA Best Chess Blog Award ... we're just going to have to wait.

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