Let’s get the clichés out of the way first thing. Be careful what you wish for, change is never easy, anything that can go wrong, expect the unexpected … I’m sure there are more I just can’t think of, but we seem to be hitting all of them this year.
This has been a challenging year for the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism. First the photo division has been delayed as we transition to a new judging system. Then the TV judging suffered a major hardware failure. The TV editing division has been delayed as well. And now we’ve had to announce that portions of the photo editing division will be re-judged after it was discovered that a number of entries were not seen by the judges.

I can’t even begin to answer to the proverbial perfect storm of problems. But I’ve had a host of questions about the delays in the still judging and I want to address those.

When the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism competition was created a decade ago the idea was already in the minds of the committee that this new, digital online contest could be conducted in a new way. No longer would we be limited to flying in just a few judges for a week or two of intensive judging. Because the contest was virtual, we could have judges, many more than is typical, from all over the world, weighing-in. We could have specialty judges, experts in their topic area, review the categories in which they were best suited.

And somewhere over the years the idea got put on a back burner. Things were going pretty well, entries rose every year. The contest had found its place in the visual journalism world and making changes, outside of small tweaks in categories and rules, simply was not the priority.

Then came the great downturn in the journalism industry. Sponsorship monies dried up, costs rose, and an idea that had been stewing for years came back to the fore. It was time to embrace that vision from the early days, time to change how we were doing things.

No doubt it would have been better to make the leap with greater advance warning. The logistics would have gone more smoothly. The shock to the system for those who enter and follow the contest would have been less. The challenges for the volunteers (and remember, they are all volunteers) who run the contests would have been easier to address. But in the end it’s what we’re doing.

As I write this small teams of judges are viewing and voting on their choices in the largest categories. If you’ve ever watched judging of almost any contest before you know the drill, in, out, out, out, in … it goes by fast. The images have to be pretty strong to get by this stage. The difference this time is there are more judges, judging fewer categories, with more time, oh, and they’re not sitting in a room together.
Once that stage is done, in a couple of weeks, then the finalists images will be uploaded to a centralized server and the core judging team will gather virtually, via Skype or conference call, and view all the remaining contenders one by one and begin naming the winners.

It is thanks to a partnership with PhotoShelter that all of this is possible. PhotoShelter founders Allen Murabayashi and Grover Sanschagrin have been working with the committee since the decision was made to do a virtual judging to adapt systems for this purpose. They’ve tested and fine-tuned to the point they’re ready to go. The NPPA cannot thank them enough for this effort and looks forward to working with them as we take this system forward.

In the end I cannot deny that this has been a difficult and awkward time in the history of the BOP. But good people with an honest desire to make the BOP better for the future have been working to make these efforts pay off in the end. Once the judging has been completed for all the divisions of the BOP I will be meeting with the committee to plan our next steps. We will review how things have gone, identify what we need to do going forward and any further changes will be announced with greater clarity and timeliness. I thank you all for your concern and your patience.

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