Michael Jameson, since January the head of Tucson Newspapers Inc. --the company jointly owned by Pulitzer and Gannett to handle all non-newsroom aspects of the Star and Citizen--politely pointed out my error, saying somewhat ruefully that he wished the advertising situation were as rosy as I'd depicted it.
Through the 18 weeks ended May 2, 2004, ad revenues were actually only 0.6 percent ahead of the same time period last year. And the figure I used concerning the amount of space devoted to advertising didn't tell the whole story, Jameson added. Total ad inches from the same period were down by only 0.2 percent. So things are pretty much flat.
Meanwhile, not every media professional puts on a gloomy face when discussing the ad tax. Here's a note from former Tucson Weekly advertising director John Hankinson, who now works at the Albuquerque Alibi:
"Your article on instituting a 2-percent tax on advertising and the subsequent squealing from the media provided a little smile here in the sales division of the Alibi. Advertisers in New Mexico pay 5.8125 percent on advertising and I have yet to hear a peep from anyone. Display is up over 15 percent, and classifieds are up over 11 percent."
The biggest problem is that there's usually only one judge per category, and the winners reflect that single judge's agenda, or lack of imagination.
Judges are recruited from out of state, which reduces conflicts of interest, but it's hard for someone at such a distance to know if the reporter has missed certain nuances of the story, failed to ask a key question or had an institutional memory lapse.
Then there's the question of how many stories are submitted. If there are only three entries in some category, that isn't much of a contest. Meanwhile, some publications flood the competition with entries, presumably to increase their chances of getting an award.
One reform might be to forget the judges; post all entries to a Web site and have members of the press association vote for the best. Groupthink is a danger, but the results would reflect the opinions of a large group of professionals (including reporters, not just editors with trendy agendas or, on the other hand, antediluvian notions).
Of course, papers with big staffs could concentrate their votes on their own submissions, which wouldn't be fair. Maybe we should just ditch contests altogether. Does anyone outside the journalism profession think they're important?