2016 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2016 articles will be presented April 24, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

NEWS

Judged by Patricia Klintberg,  a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.

  1. Jeff McGaw, Reading Eagle, “Rabbits rule” — Judge: The lead is so good. The story spiced with humor — leaving the reader to seriously think about this old/new protein! The writing does not waste a word.
  1. P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers'” — Judge: This story breaks the news that the agriculture sector is in trouble as it enters a bust cycle. The research is thorough and quotes show the reporter’s inquiries acted as a wake-up call to many who did not see the big picture.
  1. Virginia Harris, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “100 Percent” — Judge: This is a wonderful story about the pluck of a cotton farming family to create a home-grown product: from dirt to shirt. Innovation has always been the sign of successful farmers.

Honorable Mention (eight stories listed in no particular order)

  • Jim Massey, The Country Today, “Tax assessment lower due to proximity to hog farm” — Judge: Here’s a story about a landowner who won his fight to lower his tax assessment arguing that his property values were negatively affected by a hog farm nearby. That’s even though the hog farm had passed a regulatory odor test. Will the rest of the country follow his lead?
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Revenge of the Rural Voter” — Judge: Written five days after the election, the story picks apart the failings of the Clinton campaign for the Presidency in rural areas.
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg, “Peas on the Prairie” — Judge: How some farmers adapt to stay in business by taking the road less traveled by.
  • Todd Neeley, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “EPA’s Glyphosate Boondoggle” — Judge: A look at EPA’s mistaken post regarding the negative assessment of glyphosate on humans.
  • PJ Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “When water conservation isn’t enough” — Judge: Great quotes to back up this complex saga of diminishing water.
  • Robert Arnason, Western Producer, “Herbicide Use spikes in Alberta” — Judge: The consequences of crop rotation that doesn’t include a crop equal in value to the one producer’s plant instead: Canola.
  • Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, “Farmers Respond to Changing Weather Patterns” — Judge: The story documents how farmers are changing their planting routines in response to changes in the growing season, regardless of whether they believe in climate change or not.
  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/Progressive Farmer, “Going Generic: Monsanto Patent on RR1 beans has expired” — Judge:  A look at a new market for generic RR1 soybeans that can be saved. Excellent writing explaining a complex subject.

SPOT NEWS

Judged by Catharine Richert Jones, who is based in Rochester, Minn., and covers Southeast Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio News. She previously covered politics and wrote PoliGraph, a fact-checking feature that got behind the spin in Minnesota politics. She has also contributed to MPR News coverage of the federal health care overhaul. Richert worked for PolitiFact.com and Congressional Quarterly, where she spent three years covering the 2008 farm bill debate. She was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Agriculture Journalist of the Year award in 2008.

  1. Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Cartel-linked fruit fly spread has inspectors at war” — Judge: The lede on this story is top-notch! The reporter immediately drew me in with their vivid imagery, and the story unfolded like a mystery. I love that it connected two seemingly unrelated issues, and drew them together with great writing.
  1. Megan Durisin and Whitney McFerron, Bloomberg News”The British Are Coming – This Time With Cheap Wheat Imports”
  2. Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “How to Endure the New Reality of Low Crop Prices”

Honorable Mention

  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dicamba Restrictions”

FEATURES

Judged by Kent Warneke, award-winning editor of the Norfolk (Nebraska) Daily News.

  1. Lydia Mulvany, Monte Reel and Jason Gale, Bloomberg News, “How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood from China Ends Up on Your Table” — Judge: In all honesty, I have little innate interest in antibiotic-tainted seafood, but yet this story made me interested. It was compelling and well-written, melding a technical topic with a style that made it highly readable. Very nice job.
  1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “The Cuban Question” — Judge: I’ve never been to Cuba, but this story was so well done that I felt like I was experiencing it for myself. The characters were vivid and the issues well-explained.
  1. Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “Can pheasants come back?” — Judge: “The way this story started made it relatable for so many readers. This is a topic that impacts many, whether involved in production agriculture or not. Excellent work.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Vandalism on the farm”
  • Amy Bickel, Hutchinson News, “Farmers Sow and Hope”
  • Lynn Brezosky, San Antonio Express-News, “Small ranchers at odds with big beef marketing”
  • Jenny Hopkinson, Politico, “How Vermont beat Big Food”
  • Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “Armed advocate for farm safety”
  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “This is your beef”

SERIES

Judged by Mike Toner,  retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for “When Bugs Fight Back,” a series that explored the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics and pesticides.

Overall comment by the judge: “Thanks for the opportunity to look at some really strong entries.”

  1. Gary Marx, David Jackson and Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune, “The Price of Pork” — Judge: Extraordinarily readable, exhaustively researched reports on large-scale pork production in Illinois—a disturbing, thoroughly documented  21st Century echo of Upton Sinclair’s muck-raking portrayal of  Chicago’s meat packing industry at the turn of the last century. From stomach-churning glimpses of large-scale hog-confinement operations to the exposure of widely used legal loopholes in the state regulatory system, the series documents the hidden costs – environmental, social and political – that make up the price of pork. Read it and you will never look at that tasty pork chop or pot roast in quite the same way again.
  1. Edward Maixner and Sara Wyant, Agri-Pulse, “Keeping Rural America Competitive” — Judge: Say “infrastructure” and most of us think city streets, highways and bridges. At the height of last year’s political campaigns oft-heard calls for improving the country’s infrastructure, this series took a comprehensive look, with emphasis on rural America, at the broader range of works and institutions that make up America’s infrastructure – from communications and information technology to the human capital must be overhauled if elected officials ever really do get around to making the promised improvements.
  1. Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “RIN Wrangling” — Judge: An insightful, balanced analysis of the byzantine trade in energy credits that has emerged in response to the U.S. Renewal Fuel Standard – a market whose regulations require refiners and importers to choose between actually using renewable fuels – or merely buying credits for their production from someone who does.

Honorable Mention

  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “What’s All the Clucking About? The Chicken Coup” — Judge: A dogged effort to document a major new development in Nebraska agriculture – successfully executed in spite of foot-dragging on the part of public officials who repeatedly declined to disclose the details. A reporting effort made better by a follow-up analysis of just how Nebraska’ largest chicken rearing operation is likely to alter the way farmers are used to doing business.

COLUMNS

Judged by George Edmonson, a retired newspaper reporter and editor. Among the papers still in business where he worked are USA Today, Omaha World-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  1. Ed White, Western Producer — Judge: These columns are a delight. White delves into issues that, while many may wonder about, few take the time to explore. Boots, radio stations and cemeteries all are grist for his entertaining mill. For those engaged in such a serious and assiduous enterprise, a chance to smile occasionally is a treat.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator — Judge: Carefully researched, Rance’s columns present readers with deep information on provocative issues. She is neither doctrinaire nor preachy, whether discussing the role of science in agricultural decisions or the real cost of food.
  1. Jonathan Knutson, Agweek — Judge: Knutson’s columns speak both to and about those involved in agriculture with a depth of knowledge and an appealing approach. Whether urging his readers to expand their horizons or simply offering a humorous respite, the columns are well written and constructed.

Honorable Mention

  • Michael Raine, Western Producer — Judge: Written with a conversational style, the columns provide an engaging presentation of the writer’s view without dogmatism. Raine’s approach aptly mixes facts — notably in the column about the average age of Canadian farmers — with opinion
  • Robin Booker, Western Producer — Judge:  These columns are thought provoking and deal with important topics in a clear and easily understood manner. Booker raises significant questions for his readers’ consideration.

EDITORIALS

Judged by Nina Furstenau, who teaches food and wine writing in the University of Missouri Science and Agricultural Journalism program.  She has written a culinary memoir, “Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland” and “Savor Missouri: River Hills Food and Wine.” She has served as food editor of Missouri Life magazine.

Through her experiences in the Peace Corps and life-long travels, Furstenau developed a passion for great flavors and fresh ingredients and for the ways cultures entwine over food. She is fascinated with food story – its history and connection to land as well people – and the flavors of regions. This focus developed Furstenau’s enthusiasm for teaching students to craft clear, concise writing that stems from hands hands-on learning in the field, and from a knowledge base rooted in agricultural systems.

Judge’s overall comment: The collection of 27 editorials from nine writers in the editorial category were difficult to judge. I engaged the following in hopes of separating the best from this very impressive group: relevance to audience, importance of topic, writing flow and language use, balance, analysis of evidence, empowerment of readers/motivation to action, and engagement of issues not personalities. Thanks to all for the great reading.

  1. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge on Lehner’s “Little Food’’ editorial and two others in the package of entries: Engaging lead with a keen cultural view used to enlighten and hook readers. The piece is persuasive particularly because it presents evidence to support its claims in an engaging style. Urban Lehner’s work as a package speaks directly to the audience with timely angles, and analysis that takes on issues of importance to not only to agriculture but most cultural segments, in my view. Lehner’s writing holds attention and is a pleasure to read.
  1. Barb Glen, Western Producer — Judge on Glen’s “Farmers Trump Scientists’’ and two others in the package of entries: The scene-based lead of this editorial is accessible and draws readers in. The angle of farmer’s finding their voice to generate trust and connection with their customers is timely and engaging to the publication audience, has broad impact, and serves as a persuasive interpretation of the state of public opinion. Barb Glen’s writing style enlightens and empowers skillfully.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator and Winnipeg Free Press — Judge on Rance’s “Industry Must Get with the Program” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial creates an immediate connection to farm culture in the lead with its conversational style and content. In fact, the three-editorial package by Laura Rance has a strong pull for readers throughout: complex issues are explained with clarity, and readers are enlightened on issues of importance to agriculture with solid reporting and smooth writing flow.

Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)

  • Brian MacLeod, Western Producer — Judge on MacLeod’s “Time to Look at Increased Eligibility for APP” and two others in the package of entries: This editorial clearly and concisely explains a complex issue. In fact, Brian MacLeod’s package of three editorials all use engaging writing style, are focused on timely issue-based topics, and have a solid analysis of evidence.
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist — Judge on Vogel’s “Three Ways a Farmer Will Survive the $15 Minimum Wage Hike,’’ one of three judged in the package: Clear, concise and spoke directly to the audience. The last line of this piece packed a punch.

BEST BLOG

Judged by Michael Bugeja, director and professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Teaches media ethics, magazine writing, news writing and new technologies. Worked as a reporter, correspondent and state editor for United Press International. Served as newspaper adviser for The Daily O’Collegian, Oklahoma State University. Held such academic positions as associate professor, Paul Miller School of Journalism and Broadcasting, Oklahoma State University; professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University; and associate director, Scripps School of Journalism.

Judge’s Overall Comment: All the entries were informative. Some had a bit more substance. To engage the audience, use more visuals and multimedia, especially multimedia storytelling.

  1. Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs — Judge: Good service journalism with fact and visuals to engage the viewer. Quality of service journalism especially about agriculture has declined, but not here. Bravo.
  1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: A concisely written, fact-based and informative blog. Quality here is in the insights and coverage.
  1. Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer — Judge: The best written blog of all entries. But writing is only one category. Could use more multimedia. If so, this would be the winner. Kudos nonetheless!

Honorable Mention

  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Judged by Jane Schmucker, a copy editor at the Toledo Blade. Jane was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 1996 when she was a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator. Judge’s Overall Comment: What a class! I think the top stories in this class draw on more sources than many whole newspapers do some days. My faith in the future of good journalism is bolstered.

  1. Helena Bottemiller Evich and Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, “The Great FLOTUS Food Fight” — Judge: I love everything about this piece. In a scan through the contest entries, it was the first one that grabbed my eye and the first one that I read in full. It’s a long in-depth story but a very easy read. The authors didn’t litter the story with references to all 60 sources interviewed, but rather used the information they gleaned to write authoritatively. The story does not get bogged down in detail. That said, one of my only qualms is that I might have liked to see a few more dollar signs in the story.
  1. Kelly House and Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive, “Draining Oregon” — Judge: A huge amount of information on a hugely important and controversial topic and still an easy read. I so appreciate how everything is made simple for the reader, despite the fact that this story is all about the intersection of science and politics — neither of which are at all simple.
  1. P.J. Huffstutter, Thomson Reuters, “Falling Prices, Borrowing Binge Haunt Midwest ‘Go-Go Farmers’” — Judge: “My favorite detail is easily the 2,555 percent annual interest rate on a cow-calf herd. And this story is full of good detail — without getting bogged down in it. On the copy-editing front, the cutline that starts “Cattle is auctioned off” bothered those worried about subject-verb disagreement.

Honorable Mention (listed in no particular order)

  • Alan Bjerga, Cynthia Hoffman and Laurie Meisler, Bloomberg News, “Family Farms Navigate Risk”
  • Ed White, Lisa Guenther, Barb Glen, Shannon VanRaes, Caroline Cooper, Paul Harris and Laura Rance, Glacier Farm Media, “CETA”

STUDENT

  1. Erin Wicker, Agweek, “Calving goes digital” — Judge: Erin Wicker’s story about a high school student who developed a calving book app was of interest to a general audience, not that in a particular region; and told me something about which I previously was unaware. Erin’s story also centered on a person, not a policy, or a building, or a process. It was interesting and readable. I wish she would have fleshed out the young app developer a little more by talking to her parents, teachers and even people who use the app. It essentially was a one-source story, always something to avoid.

Honorable Mention

Tennessa Wild, University of Regina INK, “Not so ‘Superbug’ on the Saskatchewan prairies’’

2017 NAAJ Writing Contest

Start compiling your best work from this year in a folder on your computer desktop. It’s NAAJ contest time again!

Contest entries must be published during calendar year 2016 (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31).  The deadline for all entries is Friday, Feb. 10, 2017.

Contest categories are unchanged: News, Spot News, Features, Series, Columns, Editorials, Best Blog and Special Projects. There also is a Student category. See below for detailed descriptions of each category.

The $10 fee per entry for members is unchanged. The fee for non-members also is unchanged at $75 (the same cost of becoming a member).

As usual, winners will be announced as the category judges turn in their results between mid-February and the March 12 judging deadline. The awards will be presented at an April 24 dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during NAAJ’s annual spring meeting April 23-25, 2017. Contact NAAJ executive secretary-treasurer Kathleen Phillips (979-845-2872 or ka-phillips@tamu.edu ) for membership and meeting information.

Below are directions for preparing and submitting entries. If you have contest questions, please contact contest coordinator David Hendee at 402-444-1127, or david.hendee@owh.com.

For more information about NAAJ, go to www.naaj.net

Again this year, entries to the NAAJ writing contest will be submitted using BetterBNC Media Awards Platform. The entry process is unchanged from last year

IMPORTANT: BetterBNC is optimized for the Google Chrome browser; and Firefox for PC and Macintosh/Apple. Please have a recent version downloaded and installed for the best contest experience.

How to start:

  1. Login.

a. Go to www.betterbnc.com.

b. Click contestant login

c. Select the appropriate contestant type:

1. If you are the single point of contact for your organization, select Contestant Manager, then skip to “d. Contestant Manager Login”.

2. If you have received an email authorizing you to submit entries on behalf of your media organization, select “Authorized Entrant” on the log in page, then skip to “e. Authorized Entrant Login” below

3. If you are an individual submitting your own entries (including nonmembers and freelancers), please see the “Open Call Contestant Only” instructions below

d. Contestant Manager Login:

  1. Select the contest you would like to enter
  1. Select your Media Organization
  1. Enter your password**
  1. Click “Login”

**Note: If it is your first time logging into your account, use the temporary password: bnc(lower case). After you log in using that temporary password, the system will require you to update your password. Going forward (including future years) you will log in with the password you set. If the designated Contestant Manager should leave your media organization, please contact your Contest Administrator to have the contact info in your account updated.

e. Authorized Entrant Login:

  1. Select the contest you would like to enter
  1. Select your Media Organization
  1. Enter your email address
  1. Enter your password
  1. Click “Login”

f. Open Call Login:

  1. Click “Open Call Login” in the blue bar at the top of the page
  1. If you already have an Open Call Contestant account, enter your email address and password, then click “Login” and skip to section “g.

Request to make entries in a contest” below

  1. If you do not already have an Open Call Contestant account, click

“Create your Open Call account”

  1. Fill out the form
  1. Click “Submit” at the bottom of the page

Once you fill out the form to create your Open Call Contestant account, the system will send you a validation email with a link that must be clicked before you can log into your account.

g. Request to make entries in a contest (Open Call Only):

  1. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text in the blue bar at the top of the page
  1. Select “My Contests” in the menu that appears
  1. In the “Available Contests” section, check the box next to the contest you would like to enter
  1. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text again
  1. Select “Manage Entries”

 

2.Submit Entries

a. Click “Submit Entry” from the Manage Entries page

b. Select a Division (group of Categories)

c. Select a Category

d. Select the Media Organization where the entry was published or performed

(Open Call Only)

e. Enter the entry headline or title

f. Add entry content (may vary by category)

  1. To upload digital file attachments (other than audio/video), click “Browse”, navigate to the desired file, and then click “Open”. Allowed file types are PDF, DOC/DOCX, TXT, JPG, GIF, and PNG. To upload additional attachments to a single entry, click the “Browse and Attach More Files” button. BetterBNC will allow up to about a 20MB file, however, we suggest keeping your files around 5MB in case the judges have a slow connection. For files larger than 20MB, you can click the “RealView” icon on the Submit Entry page to create a free account, upload your files, and then copy and paste the URL into the URL field on the Submit Entry page. You may also use a similar 3rd-party website that provides hosting services (scribd.com, issuu.com, etc.)
  1. To add web/audio/video content, copy and paste the content’s URL address into the provided Website URL field. To host your content online, either upload it to a free streaming content website (e.g.YouTube) or talk to your IT person about adding it to your publication’s website. Make sure the content will be accessible online throughout the duration of the contest and awards process.Here are some examples of free streaming content websites where you can upload audio and video content:

a. Audio: www.kiwi6.com, www.tindeck.com

b. Video: www.youtube.com, www.vimeo.com

  1. IMPORTANT: Please be sure that items are not behind a paywall or a password-protected area. If they are, you must provide username/password info in the Comments section of your entry.Judges may disqualify your entry if work samples are inaccessible.

g. Add Comments

h. Enter Credits

i. Click “Submit Entry”

  1. Pay for Entries

a. When all entries are submitted log into your account

b. Navigate to the Manage Entries page

c. Click “Calculate Entry Fees”

d. Follow the on-screen instructions to pay for your entries

 

NAAJ Contest Categories

News: Informs readers about a timely, important, interesting agricultural issue or event in an objective, thorough manner.

Spot News: Covers breaking news–news that is time-sensitive and written under tight deadline. Entries in this category would include (but not be limited to) stories written for wire services and the Internet. A statement of 100 words or less describing the conditions under which the story was written and/or the time significance of the story MUST accompany entries in the spot news category.

Feature: Takes a broader or more human look at an important or interesting agricultural issue, event or experience. It may be longer and more in-depth than a news story. This category includes human interest and technical articles.

Series: Contains multiple stories focused on an agricultural issue or event. The series objectively explores the subject in great depth from various points of view.

Column: Allows the writer to express personal observations, humor or feelings on a topic. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Editorial: Requires the writer to build arguments on fact and logic to address a certain issue. An editorial should state a position and convince the reader of the need for action. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Best Blog: Can be on any agricultural topic posted by one writer and updated regularly. A blog can include various writing styles to share the writer’s insight and expertise, but should encourage audience reaction. Blogs must have appeared on a media website or standalone, and were first online rather than in a publication. Blogs generally have features such as reader feedback and links to other sites. Include three examples of blog posts, along with any reader comments, to submit as a single entry.

Special Projects: Takes reporting to a higher level. The overall entry shows careful planning and enterprise. The entry also shows that time, talent, and in some cases, monetary commitments were made to produce the project. May be a team effort.

Student: There are no sub-categories for students. Each student may submit up to two entries, published in 2016 in a student publication or a publication that would have employees eligible for NAAJ membership.

 

NAAJ 2017 Annual Meeting – Register NOW!

The 64th annual meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists will be April 23-25 in Washington, D.C.

The meeting will be headquartered at The Cosmos Club. To reserve a room at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, call 202-387-7783. The room block is under North American Agricultural Journalists. The rates are $195 to $225.  Reservations will be accepted through March 23.

The NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship and Writing Awards Banquet will be April 24 at the National Press Club.

Watch for updates here. Our organizers are lining up speakers as best they can while the new administration takes shape.

(Note: The Cosmos Club has a dress code. Male members and visitors must wear a coat and tie at all times except upon arrival. Women members and visitors are expected to dress accordingly.)

 Sunday, April 23

1:30 p.m. — Business meeting – time and location to be determined.

Event To be determined, including dinner together (pay your own)

Monday, April 24

Cosmos Club, Crentz Room

 

To be determined

Cosmos Club, Old Dining Room

Noon – Lunch and Speaker: Pending, the U.S. Secretary Agriculture

Cosmos Club, Crentz Room

To be determined

National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW

NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship Benefit and Awards

5:30 p.m. – Cash‑bar reception

6:30 p.m.– Dinner, awards and music by the “Second Amendments” band led by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D‑Minn.

 

Tuesday, April 25

Capitol Visitor’s Center, the Capitol

            10 a.m. –  U.S. Sen. Pat  Roberts, R-Kansas

11 a.m. – U. S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D‑Minn.

11:30 a.m. – U. S. Rep. Michael Conaway, R‑Texas

Noon – U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D‑Mich.

 

Commentary by NAAJ president Ed White on the fired ag cartoonist

Stories that an Iowa editorial cartoonist may have lost his regular commentary role for offending a major advertiser have spread far and wide, and concerned many about the independence of the farm press in an environment of increasing corporate concentration. The cartoonist, Rick Friday, worked for Farm News of Fort Dodge, Iowa, which says it serves 24,000 readers in 33 counties.

Farmers need to believe the media they rely upon for information, perspective and commentary is independent and is looking out for their right-to-know and their right to hear contrasting commentary on matters that affect their lives and farms. Trust is based on credibility, and credibility is founded upon the belief that publications are committed to their readers’ interests, not those of advertisers or other parties.

This concern with putting readers’ interests first applies to all news publications urban and rural, but for farmers there is a special vulnerability to, and anxiety about, the reliance of farmers and farm media upon a few huge suppliers and advertisers. There are tens of thousands of individual farmers spread across the continent, but certain areas of the agriculture industry are dominated by only a handful of companies, so farmers have a legitimate worry that their general but diffuse interests will be overwhelmed by the concentrated power of major commercial players.

Farm publications need to strive especially hard to ensure that their readers know that their interests are being put first and that advertisers and major commercial interests are not exercising any influence over the news and commentary that appears in their publications. As farmers come to more and more rely upon a few major commercial players as partners in the agriculture industry, so too do they come to rely more and more upon a free and fair farm press to provide them with the information and perspective they require to operate their farms in an always challenging farm economy.

2015 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2015 articles were presented April 25, 2016 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

NEWS

Judged by George Edmonson, a retired newspaper reporter and editor. Among the papers still in business where he worked are USA Today, Omaha World-Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  1. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “U.S. Farmers’ $100 billion-a-year profit fades away: commodities” – Judge: “This story is a classic illustration of preparation, depth of knowledge and good sources combining to turn a news announcement into an insightful, well-rounded report. Beginning with a strong, straightforward lead, the writer weaves the personal and the factual into a readable, informative story. He provides historical context as well as current data. And it’s all done in a tightly written and easy to follow style.
  2. Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “Meet the new meats” – Judge: “This breezy read explains a news development and puts it in context for the reader as it explores various facets of the situation. Interestingly, she opts not for an anecdotal lead, but saves an individual for the closing to drive home the story’s key points. Thorough reporting from grocery store shelves to corporate decisions puts the reader on the scene.”
  3. Dan Miller, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An eye from above” – Judge: “This story begins in a straightforward manner, laying out the news and why it matters. It then quickly moves to explore various aspects of the development and what it could mean for farmers. Avoiding jargon, the story uses solid data and concrete examples to drive home the key elements.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “A howl of wolves, an uproar of ranchers” – Judge: “While humanizing the controversy over a court ruling, this story is careful to present various views clearly and objectively.”
  • Lydia Mulvany and Jeff Wilson, Bloomberg News, “With Bacon So Cheap, Even Veggie Burgers Get Two Strips on Top” – Judge: “Cleverly written with an extraordinary array of examples from the ‘bacon flight’ to raw bacon ‘flying off the slicers.’”
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Canada Puts Global Trade Deal at Risk to Defend Family Dairies” – Judge: “This compelling examination of the human side of one aspect of a international trade deal is a model of how to make technical, complex issues come alive.”
  • Luzi Ann Javier and Marvin G. Perez, Bloomberg News, “Your New Coffee Habit Is Way Too Efficient for a Reeling Market” – Judge: “A strongly reported, well written look into the consequences of new technology on on old business that readers will likely never have considered.”
  • Amy Bickel, Hutchinson News, “Taxing uncertainty” – Judge: “This in-depth report on the potential impact of a legislative proposal is well done, presenting both the human and financial aspects.”

SPOT NEWS

Judged by Margo Goodhand, retired editor of the Winnipeg Free Press Margo Goodhand is a Winnipeg native. She graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1979 with an honors degree in politics and English. She completed post-graduate studies in journalism in British Columbia.  She began her career with the West Ender in Vancouver. She was the first female news editor in Medicine Hat. She worked for both the Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press.  Goodhand has been a reporter, columnist, copy editor and section editor. He was named editor of the Winnipeg Free Press in 2007. The newspaper won the Excellence Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation and a Michener Citation for meritorious public service journalism in 2009. She has been a member of the National Newspaper Board of Governors and other boards and councils.

Competition comments from the judge:

I’ve judged this category before, and was really impressed with the quantity and quality of entrants this year. To me, it shows an increased emphasis on spot and breaking news in agricultural publications, serving a crucial niche as ‘mainstream’ media continues to shrink.

  1. Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “H5N2 confirmed in Arkansas” – Judge: A first-rate example of spot news — thorough and well-written with context and perspective. Impressive work on a tight deadline, particularly the followup.
  2. Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “Bleak day for Omaha, ConAgra pulls up stakes” – Judge: This is a terrific package produced within a day by a strong, smart news team. Great work.
  3. Allan Dawson and Terry Shiells, Manitoba Co-operator “Canola crop succumbs to final blow with May 30 frost” – Judge: A very good, wide-ranging news report compiled under a challenging deadline of just a few hours.

Honorable Mention

  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Bollworm invades U.S.” – Judge: Well-written, informative and interesting, with good links at the end for readers.

FEATURES

Judged by Cheryl Magazine, deputy features editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where she has worked since 2007. Cheryl was associate editor at The Hartford Courant where she worked for 13 years before moving to Virginia in 2006. Previously she worked for U.S. News & World Report, The Louisville Times, The Courier-Journal (also in Louisville, Ky.), The Milwaukee Journal and Bloomington Herald-Telephone.  She is a graduate of Indiana University.

  1. Patricia Callahan, Chicago Tribune, “A father, a son, a family farm and a conflict over chemicals” – Judge: Terrific. The family brings the tension between philosophies of farming to life and shows the pluses and minuses of different approaches — to farming and to life.
  2. Bryan Gruley, Bloomberg News, “For $725 Million, You Can Buy a Texas Ranch the Size of a Country” – Judge: What an enjoyable read. Comprehensive and never dull with lots of history and fascinating facts woven into this intriguing yarn.
  3. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Land of Niches” – Judge: Engaging approach, lively writing — who can resist the description of “frozen happiness”? Informative and entertaining.

Honorable Mention

  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Explore Your Roots” – Judge: A true feature, not a tarted up general news story. Clear and clever writing without calling undue attention to itself. i.e. “The decision to use insecticide on trait was a $21-per-acre decision.”
  • Marvin G. Perez, Bloomberg News, “Why Cocaine Farmers Are Getting Into Chocolate Instead” – Judge:  Well reported, tightly written story that puts humanity into a surprising market trend.
  • Urban Lehner, Fortune, “Commercial farming … in your subdivision?” – Judge: Excellent storytelling, engaging explanation of an “accidental pioneer.”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Weed Whackers: Walking Beans Makes a Comeback” – Judge: What a good writer! real feature feel to the writing with strong information threaded in.

SERIES

Judged by Mike Toner, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for “When Bugs Fight Back,” a series that explored the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics and pesticides.

  1. Emily Unglesbee and Katie Micik, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Sorghum’s Growing Pains” – Judge: “A timely and comprehensive analysis of the convergence of forces – from international trade to changing climate – that are driving a revival in the sorghum market. A particularly insightful series because it not only looks at the causes of the revival, but at the potential future pitfalls.”
  2. Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s draining water fight” – Judge: “A thorough, insightful presentation of the issues and what’s at stake in the legal clash between rural Iowa drainage districts and the Des Moines Water Works that may foreshadow tensions between upstream and downstream interests across the country.  Fairly balanced and clearly presented.”
  3. Rhonda Brooks, Dan Crummett and Dan Miller DTN/The Progressive Farmer “In the beginning” – Judge: “A highly readable, richly detailed look at the decisions yield-conscious farmers make before their crop emerges and in the crucial early growing season that follows. These case studies excel in showing the myriad micro-decisions that add up – or don’t add up – to a successful crop.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Marcia Zarley Taylor and Elizabeth Williams, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Cash rent reset” –
  • Judge: “An impressively balanced and nicely documented account of the pressures and risks cash-for-rent farmers face in coping with the business of managing their costs. Farm finance made interesting.”
  • Thomson Reuters staff, “Chicago Pits: End of an era” – Judge: “Whatever, one wonders, will television do without the visuals of hand-waving commodity traders? A nicely nostalgic look at the soon-to-be bygone age of ‘the pits.'”
  • Jerry Hagstrom, The Hagstrom Report, “From field to float” – Judge: “Flowers? Well, maybe they’re not the biggest crop in America, but these articles – with perfect Rose Parade timing – offer a delightful hint of the breadth of the nation’s agriculture.”

 

COLUMNS

Judged by Joe Carroll. Joe is a Chicago-based Bloomberg News reporter covering Big Oil. He was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 2003.

  1. Heidi Clausen, The Country Today
  2. Mikkel Pates, Agweek
  3. John Harrington, DTN/The Progressive Farmer

Honorable Mention

  • Lori Potter, Kearney Hub

EDITORIAL

Judged by Jane Schmucker, a copy editor at the Toledo Blade. Jane was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 1996 when she was a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator.

  1. Barb Glen, Western Producer – Judge: “An easy first-place choice for me. I like how the “Responsible Irrigation” piece, for instance, gives very specific examples — improved nozzles — along with a very wide overview that includes numbers from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. I wonder though if “riposte” and “nascent” — words that both fit where they are used — are harder words than would be necessary to make your point. How many of us would be willing to bet our paychecks that the majority of our readers could correctly define those words? My fear is that most would be quicker to turn the page than they would be to google the word.
  1. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator – Judge: “These editorials clearly draw on years of work in agricultural journalism. A newcomer to the field would not have produced these. I really hate, however, using CAHRC for the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council. If you must put the abbreviation in parentheses after the first reference, it’s just not commonly used enough to use at all. And I can’t imagine this one is that commonly used among the majority of readers — even for a specialized publication.”
  1. Geitner Simmons, Omaha World-Herald – Judge: “Quiet but very solid work. These editorials appear to be less reliant on original reporting and ideas by the author as those placed higher. I would have rather not had the abbreviation ‘NRD system.'”

BEST BLOG

Judged by Sue Burzynski Bullard. Sue teaches journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 2014, the Society of Professional Journalists named her its Distinguished Educator of the Year. As a visiting faculty member of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, she has taught journalists both internationally and in the United States. Before joining academia in 2007, Sue was managing editor of The Detroit News.

 

  1. John Vogel, American Agriculturalist, “Nor’east Thinking'” – Judge: “John Vogel doesn’t shy from rooting out the details of a problem and giving readers unexpected insights. For example, in a piece on the decline of milk drinking by school age children, he points to suspicious competitors to milk found in dairy cases.  Good old milk need not even be an ingredient in “faker” milk drinks. Plus those single cans and bottles can be expensive, with one costing the equivalent of nearly $40 a gallon.”
  2. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An Urban’s Rural View” – Judge: “Urban C. Lehner has a knack for succinctly contrasting opposing views into a single, readable blog. His own opinions are also to the point.  He liberally laces his writing with links to original sources, giving readers more facts with a click. Topics range from controversies over organic food to analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
  3. Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Production Blog” – Judge: “Are bees addicted to nicotine? You’ll find the answer and more interesting topics in Emily Unglesbee’s informative blog.  She makes complicated stories easy to understand.  For example, she cheerfully details her problems with a specific weed in a small garden plot, then reports the larger weed issue facing farmers.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

  • Ed White, The Western Producer – Judge: “How do ag reporters tackle the job? Ed White tells how in a collection of blogs tied to specific agricultural issues. He offers insights into how farm policy develops, and how it changes, or can be changed.”
  • Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Morning Agriculture” – Judge: “This blog wraps up daily agriculture news with plenty of links to details. Agricultural-related issues are collected in an easy-to-digest snapshot by reporters Jenny Hopkinson and Helena Bottemiller Evich.”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Production Blog” – Judge: Pamela Smith writes in ways that grab reader attention, and keeps them reading. Her blogs are populated with people grappling with the many issues facing agriculture. And when it gets to the core issues of each piece, she reports the available facts to help readers reach informed conclusions.

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Judged by David Skoloda

  1. Staff, DTN The Progressive Farmer, “Rebalance your business” – Judge: “Time to Rebalance, a thorough examination of how farmers are making the complex decisions they face in a period of low commodity prices and high operating costs. Staff writers accomplished this with interview-based story telling that makes the special edition highly readable. As with all the Progressive Farmer entries, the graphics and photography are excellent, providing further evidence of the investment the magazine made in this project.”
  2. DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “The Art of Planting” – Judge: “The Art of Planting, a farmer-narrated tour of planting preparations from reviews of new technology such as multi-hybrid planters and high speed planting to scrutiny of seed costs. As editor Jim Patricio put it in his thoughtful introduction to the special issue, “we lead off this issue with the story of how one Minnesota family plans its planting season. We also hear from an Arkansas family about its near obsession with getting seed in the ground early.” Farmers have their say in this extensive review of planting preparations. And the potential of new technologies is well explained.
  3. Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “An Ontario Phosphorous Reduction Strategy” – Judge: “Baxter’s ambitious project traces the routes by which phosphorous enters waterways from farm fields and contributes to algae blooms such as those in Lake Erie that spurred research. She writes for the Ontario farmers who want science-based regulation, but the research she cites will have broader implications for agriculture.”

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

  • Staff, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Changing Climate: Food Security’s Fragile Balance” – Judge: “Changing Climate: Food Security’s Fragile Balance, includes stories about farmers who are already adjusting their operations to climate change. The special section includes examples of farmers who are focusing on climate- smart practices to manage nutrients, soil and water in response to highly variable weather. This venture into climate change reporting is a clear sign that agriculture is not in denial., includes stories about farmers who are already adjusting their operations to climate change. The special section includes examples of farmers who are focusing on climate- smart practices to manage nutrients, soil and water in response to highly variable weather. This venture into climate change reporting is a clear sign that agriculture is not in denial.”
  • Melody Bomgardner, Chemical & Engineering News, “A few tender shoots” – Judge: “Venture capital’s influence on the future of agriculture is examined in this fascinating story of the start-up companies that may contribute to world food security in the years ahead. It’s a solid mix of science and business writing.”
  • Staff, Iowa Farmer Today, “Water wise” – Judge: IFT’s stories examine what’s at stake in the efforts to keep nutrients on the farm and out of the waters headed for the Mississippi River.”

NAAJ writing contest categories

Writing contest categories:

News: Informs readers about a timely, important, interesting agricultural issue or event in an objective, thorough manner.

Spot News: Covers breaking news–news that is time-sensitive and written under tight deadline. Entries in this category would include (but not be limited to) stories written for wire services and the Internet. A statement of 100 words or less describing the conditions under which the story was written and/or the time significance of the story MUST accompany entries in the spot news category.

Feature: Takes a broader or more human look at an important or interesting agricultural issue, event or experience. It may be longer and more in-depth than a news story. This category includes human interest and technical articles.

Series: Contains multiple stories focused on an agricultural issue or event. The series objectively explores the subject in great depth from various points of view.

Column: Allows the writer to express personal observations, humor or feelings on a topic. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Editorial: Requires the writer to build arguments on fact and logic to address a certain issue. An editorial should state a position and convince the reader of the need for action. Include three selected examples to submit as a single entry.

Best Blog: Can be on any agricultural topic posted by one writer and updated regularly. A blog can include various writing styles to share the writer’s insight and expertise, but should encourage audience reaction. Blogs must have appeared on a media website or standalone, and were first online rather than in a publication. Blogs generally have features such as reader feedback and links to other sites. Include three examples of blog posts, along with any reader comments, to submit as a single entry.

Special Projects: Takes reporting to a higher level. The overall entry shows careful planning and enterprise. The entry also shows that time, talent, and in some cases, monetary commitments were made to produce the project. May be a team effort.

Student: There are no sub-categories for students. Each student may submit up to two entries, published in 2015 in a student publication or a publication that would have employees eligible for NAAJ membership.

NAAJ 63rd Annual Meeting Announced – Save the Date!

The 63rd meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists will be April 24-26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

The meeting will be headquartered at The Cosmos Club. To reserve a room at  the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, call 202-387-7783. The room block is under North American Agricultural Journalists. The rates are $190 to $255.  Reservations will be accepted through March 24, and you should act early to be sure of a room there.

The NAAJ-Sonja Hillgren Scholarship  and Writing Awards Banquet will be April 25 at the National Press Club.

Registration details are available here.

2014 Writing Contest Winners

(Awards for the best writing in 2014 were presented April 27, 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.)

NEWS

Judged by Mike Toner, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for “When Bugs Fight Back,” a series that explored the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics and pesticides.

Judge’s Overall Comments:
On the heels of last year’s record American grain harvest, this year’s entries in the NAAJ news category yielded a bumper crop of journalistic gems. Choosing the best was no easy task. But there were so many top-notch articles it was nonetheless a rewarding experience. It was a reassuring one too. In an era when some lament the demise of news reporting, the overall quality of these articles attests that, at least in the world of agricultural journalism, the traditions are still strong.

1. Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters, “Syngenta risks fresh China corn dispute with unapproved trait.” – Judge: A thorough, thoughtful, and nicely balanced account of the tangled web of decision-making that faces farmers, corporations, and public policy makers each time a new genetically engineered trait moves out of the laboratory and onto the farm. This analysis provides a clear, concise and yet satisfyingly complete overview of the chain of decision-making, or indecision, that that stretches from export markets halfway around the world to the local grain elevator.

2. Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “The Forgotten Ones.” – Judge: Insightful reporting on of how efforts to tame nature’s excesses often have unintended consequences. The story – one community’s flood control is one cattleman’s nightmare – is a familiar plot line, but this article tells the story from the grass roots — a scale enables the reader to appreciate, on a human scale, the impact of alterations in the quantity and seasonality of stream flow projects.

3. Gil Gullickson, Successful Farming, “@#$*% Weather! No, it’s @#$*% climate change!” – Judge: Much has been, and will be, written about the prospect of climate change. This account, however, succinctly chronicles the changes that are already occurring. Neatly avoiding the trap of blaming single isolated on climate change, this account provides a broader perspective that documents, with hard statistics, how climate – not the weather – is changing around us.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Mikkel Pates, Agweek, “No Room in the Bin” – Judge: A readable, informative report – one of number submitted this year – on how farmers have coped with the surfeit of riches resulting from record grain harvests and transportation bottlenecks.
  • Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “California Drought Transforms Global Food Market” – Judge: A fine account of how multi-year shifts in climate, here manifested by the drought in California, not only change the face of farming at home, but create ripples in the market that reach around the world.
  • Dan Miller, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dowdy Posts Historic Yields” – Judge: An informative report – rich both in technical details and in colorful anecdotes – of one man’s persistent, some might say obsessive, effort to squeeze ever greater yields out of the land he farms.

SPOT NEWS

Judged by Catharine Richert, a Minnesota Public Radio News reporter. Catharine was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 2008 when she was a Congressional Quarterly reporter.

1. Tom Polansek, Thomson Reuters, “Deadly pig virus re-infects U.S. farm, fuels supply fears” Judge: For me, this story had it all: it was well-written, well-sourced and clearly required aggressive reporting to nail down the specifics. The author clearly and concisely explained why the second wave of sick pigs was important to the industry and national policy. I was also impressed that the reporting spurred federal action.

2. Rod Nickel, David Ljunggren and Solarina Ho, Thomson Reuters, “Canada orders railways to boost grain shipments to ease logjam” Judge: This is a great example of spot reporting done well. The authors took a seemingly mundane news development and surrounded it with political and economic context.

3. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Crop forecast sends corn prices to near taxpayer subsidy trigger” Judge: This author clearly knows his stuff. Rather than write a run-of-the-mill story about corn prices, he put the situation in context, explaining how the development could impact the long-term cost of the Farm Bill.

Honorable Mention: (in no particular order)

  • Christine Stebbins, Thomson Reuters, “Hedge Fund Buying Doubles MGE seat prices” – Judge: This is a great little scoop, one that clearly demonstrates the author’s deep sourcing and knowledge of the issue.
  • Jamie Klein and Garry Lenton, Reading Eagle, “Weather-related ills snowball for farmers’ – Judge: This story had several strong points. First, it gave a general audience a hint of what it’s like to grow crops in difficult weather. The authors used vivid language and imagery to describe unique challenges to area farmers.
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Nutrition labels set for a major overhaul” – Judge: Great scoop about the timing of the administration’s upcoming nutrition label announcement as well as strong political context.
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “PED continues to spread” – Judge: What impressed me most about this entry was the author’s depth of knowledge on the subject, which made two quick turn-around stories that much more interesting to read.

FEATURES

Judged by George Edmonson, retired Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter.

Judge’s Overall Comments:

With more than 100 separate pieces to read, I knew I’d have to be fairly brutal in my approach. Nonetheless, I often found myself lost and fascinated as I read about an event such as the founding of the Joplin Stockyards or the impact of sugar quotas on the workers at Goetze’s Candy.

Overall, the quality of the entries was excellent. Whether originating in a publication with a specialized audience or a general news service, the level of thoughtfulness in the approach and clarity of the writing was admirable. My only complaint was that a handful seemed, to me, more appropriately suited for a category covering investigative or news writing.

As in past years, I came away from my reading impressed by the quality and diversity of coverage in this field. And while I’ve no doubt that economics and demographics continue to exert a strong influence, the evidence of a corporate willingness to support travel and in-depth, on-the-scene reporting was heartening. Now, to the winners.

1. Bryan Gruley and Leslie Patton, Bloomberg News, “Starbucks Seeks Rust-Resistant Coffee to Save Joe as We Know It” – Judge: “A lyrical examination of a giant company’s efforts to combat the deadly fungus threatening its future. Gruley and Patton put readers on the scene and guide them expertly through the processes and procedures. Using colorful descriptions (the wet mill is “a groaning, hissing contraption of tubs, troughs, hoses and augers that strip the fruit of its skin, washes a slimy coating from the beans and begins to separate the best.”) and clear writing (“Although coffee is one of the world’s most valuable commodities, it’s essentially an orphan crop. No developed nation farms it in a significant way. Until recently, the squads of scientists toiling over corn and soybeans in multimillion-dollar laboratories had left it alone.”), the writers draw readers in and propel them along the way. This story was a joy to read, appealing to both the reader’s senses and intellect. It is a fine example of thorough reporting and excellent writing.

2. Jesse Hirsch, Modern Farmer, “So You Want to Be a Farmer” – Judge: With a clever conversational style and a clear step-by-step story structure, Hirsch provides an entertaining and revealing look at what wanna-be farmers actually face. Using his own experiences lend color and scene, while broader facts and figures provide context. The reader is rewarded along the way with choice nuggets, such as learning that trendy heritage chickens look great but don’t taste so good or discovering that the consultant who gives seminars to aspiring farmers got out of full-time farming and recalls that “the stress was unbelievable!”

3. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Last Rock on the Planet” – Judge: This story showed how a tightly written, thoroughly reported feature can be fun to read and informative. Patrico deftly guides his readers through the beauty, hardship and quirks of New Zealand farming.

Honorable Mention (listed by judge in no particular order):

  • Jonathan Knutson, Agweek, “Mixing Oil and Cattle”
  • Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World-Herald, “More Beef, Less Cost”
  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Farming on the Mother Road”
  • Amy Bickel, The Hutchinson News, “Politics Aside, Food-Stamp Need Real”
  • Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “Hopping Ahead”
  • Luzi Ann Javier and Marvin Perez, Bloomberg News, “U.S. Can’t Get Enough Sugar for Dum Dums with Import Curb”
  • Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico, “Behind the School Lunch Fight”

SERIES

Judged by Steve Buist, investigations editor, The Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator. Steve was NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award winner in 2009.

1. Marcia Zarley Taylor, Katie Micik and Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s Great Affluenza.”

2. Brian Cross, Western Producer, grain transportation.

3. Jamie Klein and Ford Turner, Reading Eagle, “Unwanted Horses.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Chris Clayton, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Farming on the Mother Road.”
  • Jeff Wilson and Lydia Mulvany, Bloomberg News, “Crop Slump.”
  • Bloomberg News staff, “Turning the Tables: The Global Food Challenge.”

EDITORIALS

Judged by Joe Carroll, a Chicago-based Bloomberg News reporter covering Big Oil. Joe was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 2003.

1. Mikkel Pates, Agweek, “Battling the Critics” “Who Wins?” and “Measure 5 a Setback” – Judge: Wow! From the very first line this is a punch-up of a read: long knives, dirt-on-the-boots, Spud Scam, etc. All of these entries represent top-of-the-line, crisp and compelling writing. It feels like your smartest friend confiding at your elbow. The insistence on listing everybody’s hometown is a little distracting but I realize every publication has their reasons for certain style requirement. This author’s stuff is brilliant.

2. Jim Massey, Country Today, “Ag should target animal abusers, not videographers,” “FDA gets egg on its face for cheese-aging flip-flop” and “Immigration action gets discussion off dead center” – Judge: Strong writing and clear, cogent reasoning that lead to rock-solid stances on difficult issues. More publications and editorialists would benefit from mimicking this model. Well done.

3. Barb Glen, Western Producer, “Data on losses by wildlife…,” “Environmental policy must…” and “Federal funding adds…” – Judge: (no remarks)

Honorable Mention :

  • Phyllis Griekspoor, Kansas Farmer, “With Farm Bill passed, let’s move on immigration reform.” “KanCare ‘savings’ proving quite costly” and “Waters of the U.S. serious issue that deserves thoughtful comment”

COLUMN

Judged by Jane Schmucker, a copy editor at the Toledo Blade. Jane was the recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as agricultural journalist of the year in 1996 when she was a reporter at the Youngstown Vindicator.

Judge’s Overall Comments: In the midst of all the doom and gloom surrounding journalism careers these days, I am encouraged by poring over this good group of entries in the columns contest. Newsrooms might be getting smaller and budgets leaner, but readers across the country are still getting sound advice and easy-to-understand explanations of complicated issues as well as the generally delightful columns that result in newspaper and magazine pages being pushed across the kitchen table, urging someone to “Read this one!”

1. Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Fix school meals? Sorry, we’re from Washington,” “Keep the lights on for the bluefin tuna” and “Walk a mile in the Europeans’ shoes” – Judge: I really like these columns. I like them so much that I feel like I did as a kid in school, faced with writing a book report on a novel that that was my new favorite book ever and wanting my report to be a worthy tribute to a long dead Harriet Beecher Stowe or Margaret Mitchell. Fact is, these columns by Urban Lehner, which boil the economic, political, and social issues of our times down into an interesting, easy-to-read form, make some of the columns that I read on a daily basis look, in comparison, like a collection of paragraphs written by a kid in school. Urban’s work is just that good. The only “fault” I jotted in my notes as I read and reread these columns was his use of the word “comestibles.” Will all of his readers know that word? I wondered. Is he showing off a little? I asked myself. I don’t think all of his readers know that word. (I ran it by three Ohio farmers. None knew the word. One was a high school valedictorian in the 1980s. Two are four-year college graduates.) And any thesaurus offers a number of easier words that mean the same thing. But if he’s showing off a little bit, he has every right too. The readers will stick with him in these columns. And he just might teach them a new a word in the process.

2. Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg News, “Biotech Wheat Grows in Montana — So Does Industry Mistrust,” “Drought may need to get worse before California finds answers” and “Ethanol’s Era Ending as Bacon Now Brings Profits Home” – Judge: Short, succinct columns that busy people have time to read and that relay need-to-know information in an easy-to-absorb format. I liked the leads and I found the columns to be fact-filled.

3. Laura Rance, Manitoba Co-operator, “Hay there,” “Finding a better balance” and “Lunar eclipses, voodoo — and doughnuts” – Judge: “I was so encouraged by “Hay there.” I think it’s incumbent on publications to take responsibility for corrections and even clarifications and amplifications. And here’s a column built on explaining what happened with a phrase that wasn’t even really incorrect, but wasn’t the best choice of words for a photo caption. All of the columns’ voice is one of great knowledge of the local agriculture scene.”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Ed White, Western Producer, “Railways need crop forecasting assistance to plan service,” “Profits will be harder to find in future markets” and “Farmers need first-hand market assessment”
  • Pamela Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Dow’s gutsy decision,” “Weed patch lessons; diversity is the key” and “Rotate your thinking”
  • Jacqui Fatka, Feedstuffs, “Immigration implosion” “EPA water rule still murky” and “Getting FSMA right”
  • Cheryl Tevis, Successful Farming, “Compassion contagion,” “Mind your own business” and “Clearing financial landmines”

BEST BLOG

Judged by Patricia Klintberg, a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award as farm writer of the year in 1995.

1. Jim Patrico, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Machinery Chatter Blog – Judge: Jim Patrico’s entries combine a conversational style with tight writing and descriptions that put you in the driver’s seat with him. “You are there”, as they used to say on TV. As he recounts his adventure, living the dream, of driving any new Chrysler vehicle of his choice, he tells us when things began to go wrong: “On my second trip through the road course, I noticed signs for the off-road trail. They lured me like the scent of pizza lures a teenager.” In the 2nd entry, One of Those Days, an account of one family’s handling of the unexpected machinery breaks, mud-slogged and overheated trucks during harvest, again, you can visualize every delay and feel their well-concealed frustration. Any farmer would identify with this story. In the 3rd entry, Launch Season after the Gold Rush, Patrico leads us into a lucid discussion about how market conditions influence machinery manufacturers decisions on the type of equipment innovations to pursue. Low commodity prices, high meat prices equal new machines that cut, condition and bale. Good reporting, analysis and story telling. If a Blog is for readers who can never get enough information, they will be waiting for the next installment from Patrico.

2. Pam Smith, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, Production Blog – Judge: Pam Smith’s writing is detailed, full of color and good reporting. In Bringing Down the Bee Barrier, she tackles a subject — the care and feeding of honeybees and why it is important –that is at the periphery of most farmer’s consciousness. Grain farmers don’t need bees to make a crop. As she says, “So there was a great sucking sound when I expressed the viewpoint that I think farmers can be arrogant about this issue.” She makes a strong case for a change in attitude. Likewise in Tending Your Traits, which covers the complexities of choosing from the potpourri of genetically engineered seed, she says farmers need to be sure that the seeds they choose to grow result in a crop that can be sold overseas, citing Viptera as an example. China won’t import grain with this trait. You can almost see her wagging her finger at farmers telling them to “go into this planting season with your eyes open as to the risks and benefits. know what traits you are growing. Communicate with your grain buyer. We’ll all sleep a little better if we follow through and keep our grain stream clean…” She also provides a National Corn Grower’s Association website called Know Before You Grow, that farmers can use. In “Filling Out a Big Crop” she shows her farmer creds, carefully hedging her predictions about the 2014 crop with great reporting and years of observation.

3. Ed White, Western Producer – Judge: Ed White adds a new dimension to blogging with video interviews that expand his reporting and bring his points home. With the trend to put every bit of writing online, the addition of video adds a welcome element to his stories. Ed’s writing is conversational and engaging. In the story about the Agri-Innovation Forum, he includes a video interview with Rob Wong, whose company has developed a product called Neo-Pure, an all natural, residue-free sanitizer. White’s story concludes: “There’s a huge gulf between isolated farms in Western Canada, the laboratories of science-based startups and the concrete canyons of Bay Street and Wall Street, but when people can successfully connect those three elements, good things for farmers, consumers and investors can flow.” The story, On GMOs, if the informed and the users don’t get out and talk, who will?. includes a video that seeks to rebut the inaccuracies that prevail about GMOs with an interview of two public sector scientists who are blessed with the ability to put complex scientific terms into plain English. A third story, For grain, farmers and railways there’s never a normal year, but let’s start acting normal again, covers the realities of the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board and the new reality that has left some of the players–railroads, grain companies and farmers–without a net. Still he says, “I sense there’s a more constructive mood out there, after the glib optimism of 2012-13 and furious outrage of 2013-14 have left many wanting to get beyond the politics and ideology and into practical solutions.'”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • Urban Lehner, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “An Urban’s Rural View.” – Judge: Urban also has a conversational writing style and uses short sentences to bring the reader along. In A Battlefield Report From the Food Wars he reminds us that perception is reality. If companies think it will improve sales to only use eggs produced from range roving chickens they will do it. Not a nod to food safety an acquiescence to consumer folly. He also takes on the locovore movement propelled by a Vermont based index that works best in–you guessed it –Vermont where small is the realm to which all farmers aspire. In Urban’s story the NYT reports that Alaska’s increase in the production of local produce makes it 16th in the nation in the locovore index. But as Urban says, “this is Alaska we are talking about.” A state that imports 95 percent of its food. Meanwhile California, which grows more fruits, nuts and veggies than anywhere else in the nation is 37th on the locovore index–BECAUSE–local food is sold in Chain stores. I love stories that reveal what’s behind statistics. Remember Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” The third entry about the value of the dollar was less engaging to me.
  • Emily Unglesbee, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Caterpillar Droppings,” “War of the Words” and “Get in the Mode” – Judge: Caterpillar droppings: sassy, clear, good reporting on a new potential pest. 2nd story–again, her personality adds a lilt to her writing. She makes you want to have a conversation. 3rd entry–note the play on words in the title–is about the excruciatingly complex resistance issue. Good website references for farmers to help prevent the spread of herbicide resistant weeds.
  • John Vogel, American Agriculturalist, “Can Amish Survive Economies of Scale?”, “EPA Loads Cleaner U.S. Waters With Red Ink” and “If Only Uncle Sam Would Think Like a Farmer.” – Judge: John’s voice is clear throughout. In the first piece he spells out why the Amish can compete: “Pennsylvania Dutch have different values: No cash rent to pay. Most purchases are made with cash-down discounts. No fertilizer bill since livestock generate all the nutrients needed. To them ‘high maintenance’ refers to horses that don’t pull their weight, not wives….” Likewise the opinion piece about the EPA rule makes a thorough and strong case against it. And finally he makes it plain that when people complain about what is going on in Washington DC–he offers 10 farm lessons that Congress should heed to end those complaints.

SPECIAL PROJECTS

Judged by Sharon Schmickle, a journalist with MinnPost.com since 2007. She previously worked for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Sharon was NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award winner in 1992.

1. Reuters staff, “Farmaceuticals.” – Judge: Thanks to impressive investigative efforts, this timely series adds important, specific information to a vexing problem confronting poultry producers, regulators and consumers. It is courageous and tough-minded journalism.

2. Marcia Zarley Taylor, Katie Micik and Todd Neeley, DTN/The Progressive Farmer, “Ag’s Great Affluenza.” – Judge: This project represents ambitious enterprise journalism. The investment of time and effort to analyze the aftermath of the boom years is a true service to agriculture.

3. Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Coping with Wild Weather.” – Judge: This well-written, well-researched piece explores a fresh angle on the age-old story of weather as it affects farming. The piece is loaded with new information, including specific tips for farmers.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order):

  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Planning for Profits.” – Judge: This sophisticated annual economic review is appropriately global as well as local. Clear presentation of complex subjects. Good work.
  • Mary Baxter, Better Farming, “Our Collapsing Bee Colonies. – Judge: This important piece is rich in information but also skillfully nuanced to reflect the many unknowns surrounding the collapsing colonies.
  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Weeds to Watch.” – Judge: The writers of this well-planned package have done a great job of presenting highly technical information in highly readable form.
  • Jamie Klein, Reading Eagle, “The Volunteers.” – Judge: An impressive amount of time and effort went into this coverage of one of rural America’s most important services.
  • DTN/The Progressive Farmer staff, “Technology Sets the Table to Feed the World.” – Judge: Few Americans adequately understand the global reach of their agricultural systems. This project not only addresses the reach but also puts it into perspective of the global needs.

2016 NAAJ WRITING CONTEST

The 2016 NAAJ Writing Contest is open!

We are using the same online platform as in recent years, so most of you should be more or less familiar with the process. Basic instructions and deadlines are below. The instructions (and your previous contest experience) should be adequate to get you launched.

The main chore to complete early is to gather your best work in an electric folder or file so the stories are easy to find and grab when submitting entries.

There are no new contest categories. The categories and descriptions are here.

The only change is a return to prohibiting entering a story in more than one category. That is, it is no longer possible to enter the same story in News and Features (or whatever categories).

This is a return NAAJ’s earlier, longstanding policy of requiring entrants to make a decision where a story belongs. It also, obviously, gives more members an opportunity to win an award for their good work. This rule change is noted in the general instructions for our contest on the BetterBNC site.

Good luck! Enter early and often!

David Hendee
Staff Writer, Omaha World-Herald
NAAJ Contest Coordinator
1314 Douglas St. Suite 700
Omaha, NE 68102

Desk: 402-444-1127
www.Omaha.com<http://www.Omaha.com>

NAAJ 2016 WRITING CONTEST INSTRUCTIONS FOR CONTESTANTS

This year again, entries to the 2016 NAAJ Writing Contest will be submitted using BetterBNC Media Awards Platform.

Below are directions for preparing and submitting entries. If you have questions, please contact contest coordinator David Hendee at 402-444-1127, david.hendee@owh.com

IMPORTANT: BetterBNC is optimized for the Google Chrome browser; and Firefox for PC and Macintosh/Apple. Please have a recent version downloaded and installed for the best contest experience.

The deadline for all entries is 11:59:59 p.m. EST, Feb. 8, 2016.

1. Login.

a. Go to www.betterbnc.com.

b. Click contestant login

c. Select the appropriate contestant type:

1. If you are the single point of contact for your organization, select Contestant Manager, then skip to “d. Contestant Manager Login”.

2. If you have received an email authorizing you to submit entries on behalf of your media organization, select “Authorized Entrant” on the log in page, then skip to “e. Authorized Entrant Login” below

3. If you are an individual submitting your own entries (including nonmembers and freelancers), please see the “Open Call Contestant Only” instructions below

d. Contestant Manager Login:

1. Select the contest you would like to enter

2. Select your Media Organization

3. Enter your password**

4. Click “Login”

**Note: If it is your first time logging into your account, use the temporary password: bnc (lower case). After you log in using that temporary password, the system will require you to update your password. Going forward (including future years) you will log in with the password you set. If the designated Contestant Manager should leave your media organization, please contact your  Contest Administrator to have the contact info in your account updated.

e. Authorized Entrant Login:

1. Select the contest you would like to enter

2. Select your Media Organization

3. Enter your email address

4. Enter your password

5. Click “Login”

f. Open Call Login:

1. Click “Open Call Login” in the blue bar at the top of the page

2. If you already have an Open Call Contestant account, enter your email address and password, then click “Login” and skip to section “g. Request to make entries in a contest” below

3. If you do not already have an Open Call Contestant account, click “Create your Open Call account”

4. Fill out the form

5. Click “Submit” at the bottom of the page

Once you fill out the form to create your Open Call Contestant account, the system will send you a validation email with a link that must be clicked before you can log into your account.

g. Request to make entries in a contest (Open Call Only):

1. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text in the blue bar at the top of the page

2. Select “My Contests” in the menu that appears

3. In the “Available Contests” section, check the box next to the contest you would like to enter

4. Hover over the red “Open Call Contestant” text again

5. Select “Manage Entries”

2. Submit Entries

a. Click “Submit Entry” from the Manage Entries page

b. Select a Division (group of Categories)

c. Select a Category

d. Select the Media Organization where the entry was published or performed (Open Call Only)

e. Enter the entry headline or title

f. Add entry content (may vary by category)

1. To upload digital file attachments (other than audio/video), click “Browse”, navigate to the desired file, and then click “Open”. Allowed file types are PDF, DOC/DOCX, TXT, JPG, GIF, and PNG. To upload additional attachments to a single entry, click the “Browse and Attach More Files” button. BetterBNC will allow up to about a 20MB file, however, we suggest keeping your files around 5MB in case the judges have a slow connection. For files larger than 20MB, you can click the “RealView” icon on the Submit Entry page to create a free account, upload your files, and then copy and paste the URL into the URL field on the Submit Entry page. You may also use a similar 3rd-party website that provides hosting services (scribd.com, issuu.com, etc.)

2. To add web/audio/video content, copy and paste the content’s URL address into the provided Website URL field. To host your content online, either upload it to a free streaming content website (e.g.YouTube) or talk to your IT person about adding it to your stations/publications website. Make sure the content will be accessible online throughout the duration of the contest and awards process.

Here are some examples of free streaming content websites where you can upload audio and video content:

a. Audio: www.kiwi6.com, www.tindeck.com

b. Video: www.youtube.com, www.vimeo.com

3. IMPORTANT: Please be sure that items are not behind a paywall or a password-protected area. If they are, you must provide username/password info in the Comments section of your entry. Judges may disqualify your entry if work samples are inaccessible.

g. Add Comments

h. Enter Credits

i. Click “Submit Entry”. For hardcopy/mail-in entry categories, print and attach the entry label (which automatically appears after each entry is submitted) to each hardcopy item and follow contest shipping instructions (contact the contest administrator for more info).

3. Pay for Entries

a. When all entries are submitted log into your account

b. Navigate to the Manage Entries page

c. Click “Calculate Entry Fees.” You will be directed to NAAJ’s website for payment.

d. Follow the on screen instructions to pay for your entries.

Revised Jan. 12, 2016

Members visit Norman Borlaug statue

NAAJ members attending the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. in April 2014, were escorted to the new Norman Borlaug statue in the U.S. Capitol. Here is a video by member Ed White, The Western Producer. Pilgrimage to Norman Borlaug Statue

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North American Agricultural Journalists - Upcoming Events :
2016 Writing Contest Winners

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2017 NAAJ Writing Contest

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NAAJ 2017 Annual Meeting – Register NOW!

North American Agricultural Journalists - Award Spotlight

2016 Writing Contest Winners

The awards for 2016 articles will be presented April 24, 2017, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. NEWS Judged by Patricia Klintberg,  a former Farm Journal writer and recipient of NAAJ’s Glenn Cunningham Award... More...