The story behind the new EIC rules

By Ashley Schroeder, OU Editor
Several hours were spent thumbing through back issues of Outdoors Unlimited for references of a need to change (or not to change) the rules for OWAA’s Excellence in Craft contests. Thanks to Jesseca Whalen for helping me with this task of searching through 66 issues of OU from January 2005 through December 2010. Though we may not have found the very first mention of the contests — or all mentions, for that matter — reference to updating the contests picked up during the past few years. Here’s what we found:
September 2005: From the Feedback section of Outdoors Unlimited:

  • EIC Challenged? “I’d sure like to be able to answer T. Edward Nickens’ challenge to donate half my Excellence in Craft winnings back to OWAA (Feedback, July 2005 OU, page 5). But even though I won a first and third, the total income was only $88. Of course I was honored to have won, but it cost $79.60 for my entries and postage. That left me with a net of just $8.40. I spent most of that on women and whiskey, and the rest I spent foolishly.” John L. Sloan, Lebanon, Tenn.

Here’s the page from September 2005 OU (click to enlarge):

February 2006: Outdoors Unlimited included minutes from the December 2005 Board meeting:

  • [Terry] Brady mentioned a member suggestions a Web page/blogging contest. Theis seems to be best attended to in a committee. Photo Contest rules were discussed briefly in terms of converting everything to a print format. Brady will query our photographers about this. Earl Nottingham, co-chair of the Photo Section, will judge the Photo Contest this year.”

Here’s the page from February 2006 OU:

August 2006: Again, mention of contests was recording in meeting minutes. From the general membership meeting at the summer 2006 conference:

  • “Good of the order: [Michael] Furtman spoke about the Photo Contest. He feels that allowing prints, slides and digital images is a huge problem for judges. He urges the board to revisit returning all prints as he feels it is the only fair way to compare images from any medium.”

Here’s the page from August 2006 OU:

August 2007: Concern about dwindling sponsorship for the Excellence in Craft contests was recording in the minutes for the  summer 2007 Board meeting.

  • From the standing committees reports:

“Contests: [Peter] Schroeder raised issues of finance and will discuss recommendations under the Financial Report. Sponsorship of contests is a concern.”

Here’s the page from August 2007 OU (click to enlarge):

April 2008: The next mention was in the Board meeting minutes from the winter 2008 Board meeting.

  • From the standing committees reports:

“Contests Committee: [Rich] Patterson went over chairman Jack Ballard‘s extensive committee report. No action by the board.”

Here’s the page from April 2008 OU:

August 2008: Former president Phil Bloom‘s inaugural speech mentioned the contests:

  • “Better days are ahead, but we’ll get there only if we continue to address our challenges with smart decisions. In the coming year: … At the same time, ad hoc committees have been put on the fast track to explore transforming our conference into a ‘can’t-miss’ event, our Excellence in Craft Contest into a more manageable program and our Web site into a more useful enterprise that informs, educates, entertains and serves our members.”

Here’s the page from August 2008 OU:

November 2008: Bloom’s column called out the lack of response to his October 2008  piece dedicated to discussion of a need to update the EIC contests.

  • “Although letters to the editor never pass for scientific polling, especially when a well-orchestrated letter-writing campaign has been launched, they do provide some insight into which way the wind is blowing. Outdoors Unlimited offers the opportunity through the Feedback section, but any more what would seem to be significant issues of our organization garner little input. Take for instance the following: … And October’s column was on the need to revamp our Excellence in Craft contest. I’ve heard from three members. Hey, maybe nobody’s reading the columns. …”

Here’s the page from November 2008 OU:

January 2009: The Feedback section included letters about the contests.

  • EIC rules too burdensome: “Thanks for the kudos to the Outdoor Writers of Ohio for how their contest is run. It just so happens that organizing the contest (with a little help) is my responsibility for the next OWO conference. However, the OWO contest has been done the same way for who knows how long. I read your column (OU, October 2008) and had to write to say that I quit submitting to OWAA’s EIC in my second year of membership for the simple reason that it was a big pain in my ass. Locating prior programs that met the subject criteria and making copies of radio programs was plain overly burdensome and just not worth the effort. This is not to mention that the award ceremony, due to the sheer number and volume, seemed like it lasted into the wee hours of the morning. The OWAA board should just wave the wand and implement what works rather then try and reinvent the wheel. On another note, you should try and make our conference next May. OWO is rockin’ and rollin’ with new members and supporting members in case you haven’t checked in lately. All thanks to OWO’s new permanent conference and supporting member chair.” –Chip Hart, Bavaria, Ohio
  • Go for the EIC overhaul: “Just wanted to say that I completely agree with the president’s message in the October OU. I say go for the changes in the EIC Contest as you’ve outlined.” –Chip Gross, Fredericktown, Ohio
  • EIC rules slight supporters: “I just read Phil Bloom’s article in Outdoors Unlimited (October 2008) and agree the EIC needs an overhaul. The Sportsman Channel would be happy to sponsor a contest this coming year, too. But the real reason for my e-mail is to ask that the EIC include a contest for supporting groups, much like SEOPA does with its contest. I, too, would love to see a plaque on my wall for all the hard work we do daily in communicating to the universe about TSC.Unfortunately, there aren’t many “contests” for me to enter – and if there are, they want a $400 entry. (That’s hard to justify with tight budgets.)” –Michelle Scheuermann, The Sportsman Channel, New Berlin, Wis.
  • Level the EIC playing field: “Years ago I was asked to chair one of the EIC contests – print media, fishing. I was apprehensive when I said “yes” because I was fearful of not finding judges. I contacted a mix of well-known national guys and even some local fisheries biologists. Only one person turned me down. Rules at that time specified no names on entries. Imagine my surprise to find bylines included on the entries of more than one high-profile, regular contest-winning member. I kicked those out and, hopefully, didn’t mess up because I was asked again a few years ago to chair a hunting/shooting contest. That time I respectfully declined. Chairing a contest was a great experience and I appreciated the work of the other judges but, in my mind, there wasn’t a level playing field, even with missing bylines. Freelancers were disadvantaged because they generally don’t do artwork to support their stories and they generally don’t write titles and they generally don’t write cutlines. When we judge the “total package,” staff people have a marked advantage. I have no solution to this problem. The words would be more important if we judged only manuscripts. I rarely enter contests. I’ve had, what I thought, were pretty good stories that were trashed by bad titles, misleading cutlines, typos and fuzzy photos. Anyway, I hope your committee can come up with something that works. This summer I was local chair for the Federation of Fly Fishers International Fly Show and Conclave in Whitefish, Mont. The trade show, normally attracting around 70 exhibitors, had less than 20. Chalk it up to the economy. The rest of the show was fine. I suggested FFF drop the trade show at future Conclaves until they can prove a cost-benefit effectiveness for exhibitors. Maybe the contests should rest for a few years. Phil, thanks for all the work you’re doing for OWAA. Fishfull Thinking …” Jerry Smalley, Columbia Falls, Mont.
  • Broaden, refine EIC contests: “I agree with Phil Bloom’s EIC column in the October Outdoors Unlimited. I read it after reading Page 18, where I discovered 12 of the 19 EIC categories were unsponsored. I’ve been an OWAA member since 2003; I also joined the Association for Conservation Information that year. When ACI was having trouble getting items to auction at its conference last summer, I e-mailed a few company reps I knew and some I didn’t. In less than two weeks, we had about $2,000 worth of items ready to contribute. I tell that story because it’s hard to believe that a few e-mails, some to people I don’t even know, could be so productive, yet 12 of 19 OWAA contest categories have no sponsors. You asked for thoughts about the contest, so here goes. I’ve won an EIC award and NAGC and ACI awards, although sometimes it was hard to figure out which article fit which category. Let’s come up with a list of categories – big game hunting, saltwater fishing, shooting, paddling and whatever we need – then match them with media (newspaper, magazine, video, audio). It’s very much what we do now, only refined. Let’s name the categories for what they are. I know the criticism – that’s too much, we’d never find sponsors or judges. And it would take all night to hand out awards. Well, it’s not too much, and we don’t have to hand out awards. Why not put them in a PowerPoint to show during dinner instead of announcing every award? And why require sponsors to put up money? Why not let them give a fishing reel, shotgun or gift card instead? Afterwards, post the winning entries on the Web site so we can read, hear and view award-winning material. Better yet, move the awards dinner to the first night so we can trade stories about winning material. If OWAA is going to thrive, it’s going to have to look past the horizon and attract new blood. We need travel writers and cyclists and hunters and hikers and rock climbers and skiers and anglers and anybody else who writes or shoots video about the outdoors. We’re not going to attract people who could bring life to this organization if there’s no payoff. We need all the outdoors enthusiasts we can get. Jeff Williams, Little Rock, Ark.

Here are the pages from January 2009 OU:

August 2009: And more mention of the contest was published on OU Online. From the summer 2009 Board meeting minutes:

  • “Contest Review — [John] McCoy gave an overview of a proposal, requested by the Board at the winter meeting, to revamp and streamline the Excellence in Craft Awards competition. McCoy outlined a template designed to rearrange most contests into media-based categories instead of theme-based, and to reduce the number of contest categories by approximately one-third. Moved Paula Del Guidice/Mark Freeman to adopt the proposal. Discussion on the proposal’s details ensued. The consensus of the Board was to tweak some of the contest-category definitions. The motion was called to question, with the understanding that categories be tweaked and voted on at the Board’s end-of-conference meeting. Motion carries unanimously.”

Here’s the link to the original post: https://owaa.org/ou/2009/09/minutes-board-mtg-1

March 2010: From the January 2010 winter Board meeting minutes:

  • “Excellence in Craft Contest Rules — Nickum went over recommendations the committee had formulated for Excellence in Craft Contest rules. Board members worked through the categories and suggested several adjustments. Board members then considered mechanisms for funding contest prizes. The consensus of the Board was to set supporter levels at $500 and $1,000. Full sponsorship of a category would be set at a level determined by the amount of prize money awarded for the category. The Board tabled further action pending additional committee work.”

Here’s the link to the original post: https://owaa.org/ou/2010/03/winter-board-meeting

April 2010: Announcement of a basic outline of the new contest rules, along with a comment by Tom Watson:

  • “March 27, 2010 — The Executive Committee unanimously approved a new Excellence in Craft Contest program comprised of seven contests: Magazine/E-Zine; Newspaper; Television/Videocast; Radio/Podcast; Fine Arts; Photography/Illustration; and Book/E-Books. The new EIC Contest completely replaces the old contest format. Contest rules are currently being refined by the Contest Committee.”
  • Glad to see e-zines officially listed, the other categories seem well suited for the scope of outdoor writing venues out there. Good work!” Tom Watson

Here’s a link to original post: https://owaa.org/ou/2010/04/new-excellence-in-craft-contests

summer mtg minutes
It wasn’t until the 2011 rules and deadlines were published in September 2010 (after unanimous approval of the rules at the June 2010 Board meeting), that the OWAA Board and HQs received criticism from members regarding the Board’s decision to redo the EIC rules.

Since then, OWAA President Tony Dolle asked Bruce Cochran to chair an ad hoc committee that will provide suggestions for further revision of the rules. This ad hoc committe’s information will be presented at the January 2011 Board meeting. Members will be updated as soon as possible following the Board meeting; meeting minutes will be published in a spring issue of OU.
For recent updates to the rules, contests and sponsors since September OU, check out the EIC website. To read ‘Why we did what we did,’ a column by the co-chairs of the contest rules committee, along with other discussion of the new contests, read issues of OU published this fall, all available in the OU archive.