The Houston Press Club has had its share of struggles trying to hand out awards to journalists, and if you knew how obsessed with awards most journalists are you'd be pretty shocked by that statement.
It's had years when the Houston Chronicle was the only entrant in the large-paper breaking news category, yet failed to win the top prize (Hey, they did get a second- and third-place award that year!), they've had years when the Chron has seemingly boycotted it out of pique, it's had years when the Chron simply forgot to enter and left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as the only big paper in the contest.
Last year the HPC handed out no awards in the large-paper breaking-news category, so this year they've taken a different tack -- they've combined such stories with the feature-story category.
Which is kind of like the Grammys combining Best Metal Album with Best Modern Classical Recording, but HPC head Debra Fraser tells Hair Balls they had no other option.
"[T]here were no Breaking News awards for large print because there were so few entries...so, rather than let it disappear...it's combined with Features. None of the other categories made sense because they are more beat-driven, so that would be confusing," she says, ellipses hers.
As the economy has cratered, and the whole medium of print endures a period of adjustment, reporters and newspapers are simply not entering contests like they used to. The entry fee for HPC's Lone Star Awards, which are supposed to be statewide, is $30. Fraser says the trophies cost $75 each.
She says it's too soon to tell how many entries they'll get for this year's contest, but it will likely be up to award-hungry reporters -- and not their papers -- who will pick up the slack.
"We saw some Major Dailies drop off a couple years ago when the outlets stopped picking up the tab. Many reporters didn't even realize it had happened, because it was always "taken care of," Fraser says. "That's why we've tried mightily to keep this the most affordable contest in Texas. Most Major Daily entries must now be prepared and paid for by the reporter, so they come in randomly, not in bulk. I know some of them came back last year, after noticing they hadn't won anything lately...perhaps more will this year." (She ended with an emoticon, but we just can't bring ourselves to include it.
This all means little to nothing to the great unwashed public, of course. Except maybe you might consider even a little more skepticism the next time you hear about "an award-winning reporter."
He or she might not have had much competition.