Beard's Prestigious Awards Go Platform Free

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Last week the James Beard Foundation announced a change in its journalism awards: Anyone who writes a story in print or on the web will now be eligible for its journalism awards.

Before, most of it was restricted to print. Now, whether you blog, publish features on your own website, or write for a group website, you’re eligible. Even the award for the “Best Food Section of a General Interest Publication” includes the web.

Since the announcement, I’ve been mulling over the ramifications of this decision and arguing with myself:

The blogger and online writer in me thinks it’s great. Beard has entered the 21st Century and leveled the playing field. No longer do writers have to get published in a newspaper or magazine to be eligible. A quality story is a quality story, regardless of where it appears.

The old school print journalist in me is a little miffed. In what other field do professionals compete with amateurs for industry awards? As one of my old school print friends asked, “What does this say about our profession?”

Then the blogger in me gets mad. Who you calling an amateur? That’s an outmoded term. Certainly many online writers do not think of themselves that way. And neither does Beard.

Then the cynic in me steps forward. Not to worry. Cream rises. That is why agents and publishers have a 97 percent rejection rate. The judges will just have more people to reject.

Besides, the entry fee is $100 per award. In the old days, print publication paid the fee. Now, individuals will have to fork over the money, per category. That’s a big dissuader.

To top it off, the  head of the Beard journalism committee told the New York Times that few newspapers had entered the awards last year. Maybe they’re widening the field because they need the money.

Why did they make the change? “Because we cracked a window … and noticed it was 2010 outside,” wrote Kat Kinsman, a member of the journalism awards committee, in CNN’s Eatocracy.

“This is not a dance on the grave of print publication,” she continued. “Despite economically challenging times, staffing cuts and the competition posed by the immediacy and accessibility of online journalism, both magazines and newspapers continue to produce vital, vibrant, resonant journalism. Rather, this is an acknowledgment that online contributions should no longer be relegated to the kids’ table. Many of the same journalists who originally crafted their careers from ink and paper have found that the impact of their words and images are not lessened – and in fact can often be enhanced and delivered to a wider audience – via digital distribution.”

Here are the revised Beard award categories and entry form. Deadline is January 7, 2011.

Do you agree with her? Do you have your own set of arguments? Where do you stand on the widening of who can enter the  “Oscars of the Food World?”

You might also like these prior posts:


  1. says

    So, my comment is from myself, who will never win a writing reward…. I think a lot of bloggers will shell out the $100 to put their name in the hat. Why shouldn’t they? Don’t we as bloggers often suffer from at times little recognition and little appreciation?

    • diannejacob says

      Definitely, Stephanie. It’s just that most food bloggers are not writing journalism-style pieces, as you attest.

  2. says

    I think including the exploding world on online food blogging and writing is valid and necessary. Most of today’s food discourse is happening online, however, I agree print journalism is different in some aspects than the *somewhat* instant world of online publishing. I haven’t read the entry form closely but a good middle-ground to me is to have separate categories like simply ‘Print Journalism’ and ‘Online Journalism’. Separate but equal. Just my two cents.

    • diannejacob says

      That’s how it was, but now it’s all one category. Re your comment about “instant” publishing, I suppose there are blog pieces that take days to write, but I must admit, I haven’t seen many of them.

  3. says

    My first reaction is that I’m thrilled to see the change, even though most of my work is still in print journalism. Why should fine journalists like Barry Estabrook or Francis Lam be barred from the awards just because they’re writing for Salon or on a personal blog rather than for Gourmet? Why should some of the great pieces from Leite’s Culinaria, or from individual blogs, not be eligible except in a single “blog” category? It makes no sense.

    Where it might get sticky now, I think, is trying to differentiate “good journalism” from “good writing”. And, I don’t mind the idea of separate print and online categories, simply because it might level the playing field a little more — print still has an outsize share of the resources, and a staff writer, sadly, can often do things that a freelancer or an individual blogger can’t.

    • says

      My concern—and I hope I’m entirely wrong—is that print writers will sweep the categories, and shut out online writers and bloggers. I wonder if the very real bias against web writing will be more keenly felt and as a result we take a giant step backwards in how bloggers and online writers are perceived. Again, I wish for nothing more than on the day nominations are announced to be proven 110 percent wrong.

      • diannejacob says

        How interesting to hear from someone who has won a few Beards, David.

        I wonder if the judges will come mostly from print, or whether they’ll recruit differently this time, to try to avoid bias.

        Also I think there IS a difference between them. Look at the pieces you wrote for the New York Times. Not only did you bust your buns on them, but you had the benefit of an enthusiastic, professional editor who pushed you, helped shape the story, asked questions to help you flesh them out properly, and who probably did a little line editing too.

        That’s quite different from when you write a blog post for Leite’s Culinaria. You can be moving and lyrical, but it’s not the same kind of reporting and research. It’s you, alone at your desk, writing a personal piece. And you know how some people feel about personal pieces — that they’re easy to write and indulgent. Personal essay is still the majority of what I see on the web.

        Who wins Beard awards? Take a look at this prior post. It’s mostly white, well-educated men like yourself, dahling, who’ve written for the majors. So maybe you’re still in the running.

        • says

          White, check. Well-educated, check. Male, check. Write for the majors, um, nope. I’ve written nothing for a major (read: print) publication this year, with the exception of a recipe layout for Fine Cooking. And I’m not sure I really want to anymore. I’m enjoying the freedom and creativity of writing for the Web.

          But I disagree with the editing, researching, and reporting aspects. I’m working on a piece right now that has me contacting Temple Grandin, some farmers, and others. It will go through the gauntlet of editors and copy editors and fact checkers at Leite’s Culinaria. But it’s your assumption—I think held by many—that online posts aren’t that rigorously written, edited, and checked that might shut them out of the running.

          It’s reality vs. perception.

          • diannejacob says

            Not just perception, according to Melissa Trainer, who commented further down and who has worked for online sites.

            Anyone else want to speak up about whether they were edited and fact checked when writing for online sites?

    • diannejacob says

      Hmmm. Several good points here, Rebekah. True that award-winning journalists have migrated from print to the online world and are doing fine work there. Also true that there should be more than one category for all the online writing.

      You have raised a good point about true journalism and storytelling. There is much more of the latter online.

      And also true that staff writers — the few who are left — have more resources. They often have longer to work on a story, expenses that are paid by the publication, and a calling card that gives them more credibility than the average writer. They might get to work on a few drafts of a story, all shaped after discussions with an editor.

      That reminds me: print pieces and big websites also have the benefit of an editor who helps shape or rewrite the piece. It’s not a level playing field from that standpoint.

  4. says

    I’m torn also. I too am a blogger, but come from a traditional print journalism background. Your average blogger can’t compare to a journalist. As a journalist, you’re a trained researcher and writer with a corporate publication behind you. Yet, on the other hand, a blogger is free in ways a journalist isn’t when you’re writing for someone else’s publication. A blogger can say whatever he or she feels and that freedom equals risk-tasking that makes great writing.

    It’s tricky. But we’re in a brave new world of online journalism. I think the Beard Foundation is doing the right thing. Let’s just hope the quality remains top-notch.


    • diannejacob says

      Good points. I don’t think there’s a problem with the quality. The same people tend to win, and every once in a while a new person breaks through.

  5. says

    I agree with the changes; IACP saw the lines blurring as well, and made similar changes to its Bert Greene categories a year ago. IACP still has a separate blog category, but we accept all platforms in our other categories.

    • diannejacob says

      So IACP was ahead of Beard in making these changes! I did not know that. I haven’t judged Bert Greene journalism awards for a few years. Thanks Julia.

  6. says

    I think it’s a great move. I don’t think it matters where the judges are recruited from–the writing pieces are judged blind and the lines between what is “suitable” for print vs on-line are now so blurred, I don’t think most folks can really tell where the article appeared–unless they recognize the writer’s style or voice. (It’s hard not to pick up on Alan Richman’s brand of snark!)

    • diannejacob says

      I have judged blind for IACP’s Bert Greene journalism awards. To be honest, I knew who two of the writers were who were finalists for the award. I wasn’t trying to do so. It was just obvious. In one case, the geography gave the guy away; in the other, I recognized his style.

      My point is that most online writing is in personal essay form. Print has more styles than that.

  7. says

    Re the concerns expressed about ability to judge/compare across disparate platforms, IACP found that the judging was easier than we thought; the cream rises very clearly to the top. And in recognition that an individually written blog is a different animal than a blog or other platform backed by editorial staff, IACP added an individual blog category. Looks like JBF has essentially done the same thing.

    • diannejacob says

      Yep, that was my experience as a judge, and that was in the print category. It kind of bothered me. The top two finalists’ pieces were so far superior to the rest of what was submitted. As I said, I recognized both authors, and knew they had won awards before. I wished that someone else would have overtaken them. My only challenge was to find the third piece that would comprise the three finalists.

  8. Candace Davis says

    I think that it is a good thing, not only because there will be more competition for professional journalists, but because it also raises the bar for food bloggers. In the end, It’s all about content and high standards of journalistic practice–professionalism.

  9. says

    I guess I have a lot of thoughts on this topic but my first question is this: How will the judges be judging these entries? Are the parameters the same or are they shifting now that entries are coming from so many arenas?

    I’ve worked on both sides of the coin when it comes to food publishing/writing. I started at Gourmet magazine in 1989 and worked there until 1994/95. I witnessed the meticulous attention to detail and the never ending recipe testing, fact checking and proofreading. Gourmet was my training ground and I’m very grateful to have worked there.

    When I moved into the freelance arena, I wrote for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Again, the attention to detail was great. In the last fifteen years, the shift has been so dramatic. Now, when I publish on my blog or on Amazon’s Al Dente blog, I am my own editor, writer, researcher, fact checker, designer and even photographer. Online writers, even the accomplished ones who have years of experience, are being asked to do so much more for so much less these days. All of this is done on a dime without a support staff–no editor, no dishwasher, no mailman, no food shopper, no tech team! I guess my question is this: How will the judges take all of this into account and what is the benchmark now that the playing field has been leveled across the board?

    And, yes, now that print publications have closed their doors or zapped their weekly food sections, I do believe this move to include online media is an economic revenue producing move for the Foundation.

    • diannejacob says

      Wow, thanks for this insider info, Melissa. Very valuable. Kind of sad too, eh?

      I don’t think the judges will take your situation (and those of other online writers) into account. They will read the piece at face value and not consider whether a team was involved, whether it was edited, fact checked, etc. That is not their job.

      Hah. So I’m not the only cynic about this move being a revenue producer? Still, it can’t contribute much to the budget, compared with all the meals the Beard Foundation does.

  10. says

    I enjoyed your repartee with yourself..seeing both sides of the coin as it were.

    I admit I feel some affinity for the print journalists and also admit my thinking is highly prejudicial based on my experience in a different field with some similarities. Many of them had to journey through college and grunt jobs and work themselves up into a system before seeing themselves achieve any measure of commercial success. Bloggers may not have gone through any of that process and yet want the same legitimacy.

    It’s a conundrum for sure and sadly, seems a main reason for the closure of the Journalism School at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I would have preferred seeing them take on new aspects of what journalism means today than abandon the program. I personally believe that becoming a qualified professional writer requires more depth of education or experience than comes from having a keyboard and a free blogger account requires.

    • diannejacob says

      Bloggers may be self-taught, it’s true. But they may also have creative writing degrees, or be talented writers just the same. They have gone through their own processes – a different path. David Leite, for example, was an ad copywriter, and that background has served him well.

      I didn’t know that the journalism school closed. What a statement that is.

      Re having a keyboard and a free blogger account, that’s just a starting point. Starters do not typically win awards.

  11. says

    In a word: Exciting. The Oscars opened up years ago to include Independent films and Foreign films into the mix, even in the Best Picture category. Can’t say that I can remember off the top of my head what percentage of Indy films have won an Oscar since their inclusion, though. And, don’t get me started on the year Titanic won all of those awards – let’s hope we don’t see that with the Beards.

    Still, any change that creates opportunities is a good change.

    • diannejacob says

      Okay, so this goes to David’s comments, that they let the small fry in but they don’t win any awards. I suppose you have to start somewhere.

  12. says

    I’ve come to realize that much of what I post on my website is not widely “accepted” by the general blog-public. And don’t get me wrong, I have a decent following, and many are pleased with what I contribute. But the average blog-hopping reader in search of a recipe, usually leaves my place disgruntled. I’ve singled out two main reasons why. The first being that my posts are not “Today I cooked ragù” – my style’s been dubbed as being too journalistic. I’m also perceiving how food bloggers are–for the standard cooking blog public–apparently supposed to only share recipes. In my writing, recipes are a bonus at the end of a food story.

    So, who knows, maybe I should give Beard a shot!

    • diannejacob says

      Maybe you should, Eleonora.

      I heard the same complaint from Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef during a panel I moderated on storytelling at the recent BlogHer Food conference. She said people complain that it takes too long to get to the recipes. Her answer is to tell them just to scroll down. She’s not going to stop telling stories.

      • says

        And neither am I, Dianne!
        I’m going to craft a Shauna-inspired button with “just scroll down” on it…

        Thanks for your reply.

  13. Karen says

    Dianne –
    Once again you have lobbed the hand grenade into the punch bowl Dianne! Bravo!

    I see so many themes writhing through this conversation – and they all are valid. Just this morning I was at a meeting where the speaker was the retired Managing Editor of a newspaper. She told us in no uncertain terms about the conflict that goes on as subscription and advertising revenues disappear and the internet takes on more and more importance. The bottom line is, according to her, $$$$$. The only reason more print houses have not gotten themselves fully onto the internet is they can’t figure out how to get people to pay for their content. And I must agree with her. The real task for all the publications is to figure out how to remake themselves into something that is valued and will be bought.

    I still hear in all these many conversations that we have had in the last few months an undertone of anger from print journalists. They appear to be saying that the “bloggers” are somehow not credentialed enough to merit any praise or recognition. Really? It is almost as if some are saying “just because I had to pay the dues to belong to a group that is quickly becoming antiquated, then the rest of you should have to pay the same dues to be what you are! And so there!”

    If any one of us is smart enough to beat the bus to the stop, we can figure out how to get on board. It really seems pretty simple to me, but then, I am just thinking out loud again…..


    • diannejacob says

      I guess print journalists made a decent living for a while and are now being derailed, and who wouldn’t have a problem with that? But it’s not the fault of bloggers who want to get their words out too. And as you say, if you are smart enough to beat the bus to the stop, more power to you. Great expression, Karen.

  14. says

    I understand the frustration that some trained journalists might feel, in regards to “their” award being opened up to “amateurs” online. I would tell them to get over it, and fast. It’s not as if Ms. “I Made Ragu Today” (with her horrid out-of-focus flash photography, and blog post riddled with typos and words like “yummy!”) is going to take away anyone’s James Beard Award. These awards are still going to be given to those who have earned them, no matter where the work is published.

    The comparison isn’t perfect, but I’m sure there are chefs who have won JBAs without any formal training; is anyone crying about how unfair that is to the chefs who have proper degrees? Good writing is simply good writing. Why should a great writer, who hasn’t yet gotten that lucky break from Condé Nast, be relegated to a different bracket than those who have?

    This is 2010. People are publishing work on the internet. Most of it is dreadful, some of it is truly brilliant. As many others have said, the cream will absolutely rise to the top.

    • diannejacob says

      Wow Beth, what a statement.

      You ask, “Why should a great writer, who hasn’t yet gotten that lucky break from Conde Nast, be relegated to a different bracket than those who have?” Because that’s how the system works, because the Conde Nast writer has paid his or her dues, because that writer had certain advantages that most of us don’t — like living in New York, or going to the right school.

      But I think the bottom line is form. Few people are writing long reported pieces on the net. Most are writing about how much they love a certain kind of pie, or where to get peppercorns. Not the same thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  15. Candace Davis says


    I’m just curious…do you think that the bloggers will not be subjected to the same criteria that the professional writers and journalists are? Or do you think that the criteria will be “dumbed down” to make it more fair for the bloggers? What’s your opinion?

    • diannejacob says

      The criteria is the same for every category, regardless of medium. I guarantee you it will not be dumbed down. Perhaps an individual blog will be judged more on strength of voice compared to the rest, but that’s about it.

  16. says

    This all reminds me of when I worked for a men’s necktie company. I started off as a quality control inspector in the warehouse even though my background was design. When a design assistant job opened up in the design department I applied and had to fight like hell to convince them to give me a chance because I didn’t have the benefit of a bachelor’s degree. I got the job. I was the best design assistant they’d had and I ended up training all the the new design assistants after me. The designers told me I would never be able to be a designer without at least a bachelor’s degree (I only had an AA in fashion design from a trade school). They were very elitist and looked down on anyone who came up through the ranks without their “credentials”. Eventually I got a job that only a designer had previously held as the color specialist. I had to fight for that promotion too and I got it based on the skills I could show I had.

    I paid my “dues” by having to work twice as hard for every promotion and every raise I got at that job than the designers did in the design department.

    Blogging may be available to almost anyone but the real number of great writers and potential great writers is exactly the same as it was when there was no internet, there’s just one more way to be heard.

    Real skill comes from practicing a discipline assiduously, whatever it is, and through education – whether acquired by one’s self or given to one through an organized education. Real skill is always visible and no one who has it has gotten it for free.

    I’m glad the awards will be open to the online food writers who haven’t necessarily appeared in print because the truly great ones have certainly paid their own dues to be the writers they are.

    • diannejacob says

      Good points, Angelina. I like what you said: Real skill is always visible and no one who has it has gotten it for free.

  17. says

    I was stunned last year when I heard that they had so few entries in the James Beard cooking competition last year that some of the prizes went begging. In fact it was so bad there was talk they might end the awards. Wish I could remember where I read that. New York Times? But let’s face it – print newspapers are going the way of the dodo bird. And yes, cream always rises to the top.

    When we were all a lot younger James Beard was the top guy in the world of chef-dom. Bigger than Wolfgang Puck or so many others who have TV shows and websites. He was a very big man and his cooking was traditionally rich. Every kitchen had at least one James Beard cookbook.

    I think putting the contest on the internet is the right thing.