Photo graphic

NPPA has withdrawn from The CCC Awards.

This afternoon, a tweet from a photographer with 1,700 followers spread like, well, a pandemic. Within hours, other Twitterites attacked the National Press Photographers Association and The CCC Awards for encouraging students to, as one tweet put it, “go out and put lives in danger to make images for a contest or your portfolio.”

SPJ replied…

…but of course, this is Twitter. No one ever claps back with, “Hmm, interesting argument. I might still disagree with you, but I see where you’re coming from.”

Nope. Instead there was lots of punctuation and abbreviation. As in, “OMG guys they’re trying to justify it?!?!!” Then it got weird….

SPJ’s position seems to run afoul of values expressed in even their own ethics code (e.g. “Minimize harm”).

…which isn’t what that means at all. “Minimize harm” refers to what we report, not where we go. Otherwise, journalists would never get out of bed.

Someone also tweeted, “This is a dicey decision for a contest. Have you checked that you’ll hold no liability if someone dies?”

(Shortest possible answer: No liability. Longer answer from an attorney we consulted: “An elevated quantum of risk in everyday life, of which everyone is equally informed and aware, doesn’t justify redistributing liability for the outcomes of voluntary actions.”)

Then there’s this, which seems to imply all awards are immoral…

Journalism is a public act, it is done for an audience and an awards committee should not be an audience. 

…which means, I guess, there shouldn’t be Oscars, Grammys, Tonys, or Olympic medals.

NPPA’s position – and ours

I respect NPPA’s decision to depart these awards much more than I respect Twitter’s. NPPA emailed its members…

While this contest was aimed at highlighting those already working on stories regarding the coronavirus, we know that many student publications have suspended operations, and we must discourage actions that could endanger the health of our members and the public. This contest was not compatible with those values, and therefore we are withdrawing from this program. Therefore, we have removed messaging regarding our participation.

For our part, we’ve added this edict to General Rules. In fact, it’s now the first rule…

Safety first and always. You’re expected to work responsibly and not endanger yourself (and thereby others) by risking exposure. Any submission that appears to violate established safety protocols will be disqualified.

…and we’re happy to clarify that. But myself and the others involved in these awards stand by them. We also give student journalists (and their advisers) much more credit than Twitter does.

These students often toil alone, wondering if anyone is reading, listening, or watching their work. One of last week’s inaugural winners was Michigan State’s Focal Point newscast. Professor Bob Gould, who oversees the broadcast, gave me permission to share this with you…

Our students are thrilled. This is fantastic! They’re working really hard on creating stories that are meaningful not only to the Michigan State community, but for those in their hometowns as well. We knew that we couldn’t use the studio, so we had to come up with a new way of doing business. Most of the newscast was shot with iPhones and edited with whatever software they had access to at home. It was truly a team effort.

And a safe effort, too.

What now

In fairness to the students who have already entered our photo category, we’re keeping it this first week, even as we remove NPPA’s name. We’ll find other judges.

As contest director – but not a judge – I’ve peered at the submissions so far. All were shot from a safe distance: empty parking lots, campus statues with masks over their bronze faces, inspirational signs in office and apartment windows. That sort of thing.

Tomorrow is the first deadline for the photo category, and we might very well get rid of it the next day. But that decision won’t be made on Twitter, and it won’t be made hastily. Like the journalists we are, we’ll consult experts and our partners. We’ll multi-source and then decide.

There’s nothing more hypocritical than a thin-skinned journalist, so I’m not offended by anything that happened today. I admit, though, I’m weary from it. I hate when journalists attack each other like free-press enemies attack all of us.


Anyway, as of right now, you can still enter The CCC Awards. It’s still free. And it’s still worth it.


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