Once a year, some of the best sports minds across the country gather at the DoubleTree in Orlando, Fla., to judge APSE's annual contest. Judges spend three days reading and ranking stories from sports journalists across the country, creating an intersection of "stealing" and sharing ideas.
Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor Gary Potosky was this year's contest chair as APSE's first vice president. He was tasked with recreating his favorite three days of the year into an entirely virtual format. This year's contest saw 71 newspapers in the first-ever all-PDF print sections contest, 142 newsrooms participating in the writing, video and photo contest and 45 newsrooms entered in the newly formatted digital contest.
One beneficial tradeoff for judges' volunteered time is seeing the best work from around the country and gaining ideas to integrate into their own sports desks.
"We affectionately call it stealing, but judging is like an ideas program," Potosky said. "You see what other people are doing; you see what works; you see what reads well."
APSE president Lisa Wilson has judged in past years and said while it's a lot of reading, it's gratifying.
"You're just reading good work, so you have the joy of reading some really good stories," Wilson said.
Over the past decade, the digital transformation of the industry has forced newspapers to reimagine what they do as individual organizations, so in a way, the APSE contest committee was prepared to reimagine their contest as well.
"It's the start of building a foundation for doing more things digitally in the future, even when we do get together in Orlando next February," Potosky said. "We expect to be using some of the methodology we came up with this year for some of our judging needs."
Part of the challenge this year was to work around the nearly 150 judges' schedules, as the traditional three-day judging spree was traded for extended deadlines and judges reading material when they had spare time. The contest judging process was the same in principle, but any deliberations over rankings were done over platforms such as Zoom.
"If you were kind enough to take some time and devoted enough APSE to take some time out of your busy schedule to judge — and it had to be over the course of a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of days — then we could live with that," Wilson said. "So we tried to be respectful and mindful of people's time, but it took a little bit longer in the long run to [announce winners]."
Potosky said judges were still working around full schedules and family commitments despite the more extended judging period rather than having days set aside for judging.
"We gave them more days, but, in essence, I think it was less time to judge," he said.
Wilson and Potosky called this year's judging a success and were proud of pulling off APSE's first fully virtual contest. Some work will continue to be done remotely in the future, depending on people's ability to commit time to travel to Orlando. Still, many are looking forward to getting in a room together again.
"It's fun to get in the room with someone and go through these entries and make your pitch and make your case for what you think is some of the best," Wilson said. "There's a lot of group dinners, and you missed the camaraderie. That's one of the best parts about being in APSE — something we've missed for about a year now — is being together. It's like a big family reunion."
Potosky believes relationships created through APSE judging and in the annual in-person convention cannot be replicated in a virtual setting.
"It's just really vital for people who want to get hired; it's vital for people who do the hiring," Potosky said. "It's vital for editors, with each other, to learn what's working around the country at different places and what isn't. Everybody's invested at some level in everybody's success because nobody wants to be the last newspaper standing.
"We want everybody to survive and thrive," Potosky added, "because at some point, if everybody starts falling off by the wayside, then the whole industry collapses. So, everybody's invested in everybody's success."