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Special recognition 2017

There’s a first time for everything.

Michael Koretzky, creator and previous director of the Kunkel Awards, submitted his first-ever entry to the Excellence in Feature Writing category. It was on behalf of a journalist he felt went above and beyond. And Koretzky inadvertently disqualified himself.

The series — “Cuba: Where underground arcades, secret networks and piracy are a way of life” by Brian Crecente and Polygon — is a 12-parter covering various aspects of video gaming in Cuba.

“I’m glad I’m not the Kunkel director, so I can nominate [this series] – because it’s the most ambitious series I’ve read since being reluctantly sucked into the gaming journalism world,” he wrote in his submission. “I realize it’s controversial to award first place to a series of stories when the rules don’t say you can, but the Kunkels are nothing if not controversial.”

Unfortunately for him, he’s right; the rules say you can’t submit a series that long. Since our maximum entries per series is three (a rule he wrote himself), his entry was booted from winning the category.

Putting Koretzky’s foible aside, the judges just couldn’t overlook the series’ enterprise.

“How do we not recognize this? This entire series really is what more of the industry should be striving to do,” said one anonymous judge. “It’s exploratory, it’s well written, it’s detailed and genuine. It really hones in on that piece of gaming’s culture, and I’m so here for it. This one has the best discussion of that culture.”

So, they proposed we award the Cuba series separately from any category — but not without jabbing at Koretzky’s expense.

“Koretzky in his arrogance disqualified his own entry on a category he created,” out judge Gideon Grudo joked.

“I’d call it hubris,” another judge quipped.

Grudo seconded that motion: “I agree. My hope is we disqualify without hesitation, and we consider it for a series award. It’s an outstanding package.”

So here it is: The Kunkels are awarding “Cuba: Where underground arcades, secret networks and piracy are a way of life” the Special Recognition award for 2017. Congratulations to Brian Crecente and Polygon.

Will this award manifest itself as a recurring category? I can’t say for sure yet, but one thing is clear: The judges genuinely believe this series is more than deserving of an award.

 

And with that, the winners for this year’s Kunkel Awards have all been revealed. I wanted to give a warm thank you to everyone who stuck around til the end of my first year as director. Don’t forget to save your favorite video game journalism this year to submit to next year’s awards!

Best feature video 2017

Keep your journalism journalistic.

In the Excellence in Feature Video category, many entries struggled to be journalistic — but at least the first place winner hit the nail on the head.

The first glaring issues among entries was this: many entrants didn’t know the difference between news, feature and opinion videos.

Fortunately, the beauty of feature categories is they are more all-encompassing than news. So, if you didn’t know the difference between news and feature, you may have gotten lucky by submitting to the right place anyway. But for the entrants that submitted opinion videos, you’re out of luck. Stating an opinion as fact is bad journalism.

Since so many entries (in multiple categories) failed to understand the difference between news, feature, and opinion, I wrote up a blog post on how to determine each of these journalism facets — which should help when submitting for next year’s awards. Keep your eyes peeled for that after this award season is over.

On top of not submitting to the right category, what separated the winners from the losers was lack of clarity. Many of the entries buried the lede or failed to qualify it.

Take for example “Becoming the World’s Best DDR Player” by Polygon. Here’s one judge’s opinion on how the lack of journalism makes this piece lackluster:

“The potential is there with the access and the story but why did they languish on the journalism? Almost 90 seconds in and I have no idea why this story is important. The headline hasn’t been clarified, the thesis isn’t established. What’s the point here? Is this just an interview with the American DDR team at this tourney? Why should I care about this?”

Asking why we should care isn’t antagonistic (though I can’t speak for the judge); it’s important criticism for this journalist, and all journalists, to understand. When consulting the 5 W’s and the H (who, what, where, when, why, and how), the “why” is essential. Tell the audience why you’re talking about what you’re talking about. If you just dive into the details without setting up the “why” as the framework, you’ll potentially confuse your readers and lose their interest.

Another entry following a similar theme is “Female Esports Pros Hope To Close The Gender Gap” by Kotaku. That same judge had this critique:

“Good topic but the lede is buried to 02:10 when we see the non-hidden identity nonsense these women have to deal with. The piece itself misses that entirely and paints the story too broadly with LOOK AT THIS WOMEN TALK ABOUT BEING WOMEN and offering little context or journalism around that perspective.”

Takeaways:

  • Context is important
  • Putting the lede/nut front-and-center is important
  • Submitting entries to the correct categories is important

So, a few entries hit the mark in terms of not only submitting to the right place, but entering stories worthy of the “excellence” title. Check them out.

Best eSports writing 2017

eSports intersect the Kunkels with the big leagues.

For the first time in Kunkel history, all three judges agreed on their top placements.

Excellence in eSports Writing is a brand new category with a lackluster opening night. There were only seven entrants, but despite that the judges found three they felt were more than deserving of a placement.

They all agreed the eSports category was broad — it allowed both feature and news stories. That broadness was a benefit.

“eSports definitely benefited from not having a feature and news divide,” said out judge Gideon Grudo. “Same content, very different. eSports seems to be one of the highest grossing things in the gaming world, so mainstream newspapers are putting more resources into it. We may see more mainstream publications entering into these categories.”

Those mainstream publications Grudo’s talking about include The Rolling Stone and ESPN.

The broadness also benefits people submitting entries — one thing we learned from the Excellence in News Reporting and Excellence in Feature Writing categories is that some entrants honestly don’t know the difference between the two. As one judge points out, “Seeing the diversity in entries in the category may encourage readers to understand why there is a news/feature divide in the first place.”

Overall, the judges were pleased with this new category.

“We got really cool stuff to dig into and I’m really glad we did it.”

Before we dig into the winners, I have to acknowledge a potentially-perceived conflict of interest. For the sake of transparency: One of our judges, who at this point remains anonymous, had a brief working relationship with the second place winner of this category in the past. More explanation on that transparency here.

Fortunately for our judge, there’s no monetary value in winning a Kunkel Award — meaning there’s no incentive for being biased. That is, unless you count the certificate we give to first place winners.

So without further ado, the winners for the Excellence in eSports Writing are…

Best college gaming journalism 2017

Which college journos made the honor roll?

One student publication submitted 50 entries to the Excellence in College Gaming Journalism category.

Don’t submit 50 entries.

If the judges feel that one article is wasting their time, then you sure don’t want to waste their time 50 times. Especially if the pieces lack sourcing, balance, clarity — basically anything journalistic. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy you submitted to the Kunkels. That being said, my advice is to be more selective.

What the judges did take away from going over the 50+ entries is the apparent lack of resources going to students seeking careers in gaming journalism.

Here’s an example: One student publication, Byte, submitted several single-source stories of three paragraphs. Here’s one lede:

Esports has had a hard time gaining traction on the sports scene, particularly here in the United States. ESPN’s showing of a DOTA 2 tournament was met with significant backlash back in 2015. This may be set to change however, as the Olympic Council of Asia has decided to introduce esports as a “demonstration sport” next year, and a medaled event in their 2022 Asian Games.

An advisor — or at least an editor — should have caught the bold claims not backed up with sourcing and data. Show us how eSports “has had a hard time gaining traction” and tell us more about this mysterious ESPN DotA 2 tournament.

The editor (or advisor) should have also set a standard of more than one single, lone, asocial source. This singular source was a press release — no human interaction required on the journalist’s part.

Since it’s so apparent that advisors and editors weren’t looking out for these basic journalism necessities, overall the judges felt college newsrooms were not holding gaming journalism to the same standards as they would for news, features and sports.

If the gaming stories aren’t being taken seriously by college journo editors and advisors, then the writers won’t improve in a meaningful way when they (hopefully) transition to a real-world newsroom.

“Games may be relegated to lower priority [in the college newsroom] and that may be fine for them, but it’s not fine for people looking to pursue careers in gaming journalism because they’re wasting their time and they can’t get jobs from this,” said Gideon Grudo, the one and only out judge of the Kunkels.

He continued: “I would hope student journos are getting experience from this and not taking it any less seriously than any other story. Serious reporting is needed and student newspapers should put resources into this just like anything else.”

Another judge agreed, but made it clear not all of the blame lies on the newsroom; writers need to go above and beyond to ensure they are learning the tools for success.

“You get out what you put in. If you’re not demanding assistance and guidance you need as a student pursuing these fields, you’re not going to get it.”

Without further ado, here are the winners for the Excellence in College Gaming Journalism category…

Best news video 2017

Cut to the chase.

The Excellence in News Video/Streaming category had a rough start. There were six entries — and according to the judges, too many struggled to get to the point.

“I would have liked to see an entry that telegraphed the essentials in the first 15 percent,” said one disappointed judge. “Maybe it’s a personal flaw, but I don’t like being strung along and forced to wait through an entire video to understand what the point is going to be.”

When writing news stories (including videos), a best practice is to start the piece by stating the purpose of the article in the very beginning. Some journos call this the nut — the most important bits of the story bundled up nicely in an introductory sentence or paragraph. It usually follows a lede, an opening sentence meant to draw the reader in.

“Call me old-fashioned, but especially when you’re tackling a lot of data or numbers I feel like the approach should be: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you just told them. (In detail, this time.),” that same judge explained.

“In other words, counterintuitively, you give the conclusion very early and then spend the rest of the time backing it up and reiterating it. If you just start slogging through a bunch of numbers without giving a reason to care, don’t expect me to follow very far.”

As a holistic critique of the entries, our non-anonymous judge Gideon Grudo had this to say:

“Presenting opinion as news is misleading and unethical. Generalizing the activities of journos is bad. Generalizing anything is bad. Stick to what you know, report it.”

In other words: Don’t state opinion as fact. Don’t make wide-sweeping claims which can’t be proven and present them as facts. If you have an opinion to share, clearly identify it as an opinion.

“Analysis, observation, and speculation are necessary and totally acceptable, as long as they’re introduced, described, and attributed as such. That’s a big part of the value any person can offer any other person, in any context by which one person has spent the time to look into a topic the other person hasn’t. Also, everything I just said is my flawed, biased, and personal opinion.”

Choosing a winner for this category was tough for the judges. Two of the judges put one piece in their top three — out judge Grudo picked no winners at all. Considering the disparate opinions, the judges agreed, no placements will be awarded. But there is one honorable mention…

Best feature writing 2017

Put your best foot forward.

The biggest takeaway from the Excellence in Feature Writing category was this: First impressions are everything.

“Some of these pieces bury fun quotes. They’re not selling it.”

When doing a feature story — or any story — it’s so important to give readers a reason to care. When you write your lede and nut (the introductory information in your article), you should write something compelling and accurate so readers are drawn in.

What you shouldn’t do is make sweeping generalizations while saving all the good bits for later.

One example is “Superman Returns: What went wrong” by Matt Paprocki of Polygon. The judges felt the journo buried amazing quotes behind a lede that made too many assumptions. Here’s the intro:

Three years after Grand Theft Auto 3 defined the modern open-world action game, EA Tiburon — better known as the team behind Madden NFL — set out to try its own take on the genre. The target: a free roaming superhero simulator based on Bryan Singer’s blockbuster movie, “Superman Returns.” Many had high hopes.

One judge cited a point in the article that would have been a more striking way to start the story.

“There’s a quote about Warner Bros. having problems with Superman’s groin size. That’s interesting. That should be up higher.”

Here’s the quote:

“We would send renderings of Superman, and we would get images back from Warner Bros. with his crotch area circled, ‘Make this part bigger; make this part smaller.’ This went on for months. Somebody trying to get the right balance of, ‘Well, I can see he’s got something but we don’t want to make it too big,'” says the team leader.

This was one of many entries with the same trend of foibles. Fortunately, there were three that made the cut.

Note that one of our judges stepped away from judging this category. They’re sitting out because they know one of the entrants beyond a work-related acquaintanceship. Read about why they’re recusing themselves here.

Best news reporting 2017

Winner takes all.

With a mere 10 entries, the Excellence in News Reporting category didn’t have a lot to choose from. Based on what the judges read, though, they were able to pick out three stories they loved — all from one writer.

The reason? Several stories were ruled out for being opinion and feature, and the remaining did not stand out to the judges as much as one writer’s three stories did.

“If we’re all choosing the same person, our critique isn’t going to be about the writing style — it’s about the story and the reporting,” one judge stated at the get-go. “We can focus on the journalism.”

And as they discussed the journalism, they noticed a curious coincidence. Each of the three pieces hit three different archetypes of news reporting.

“I feel like the journo and these three pieces hit these three really cool corners of journalism: The breaking news one, the super-in-depth-hardcore-tons-of-reporting-didn’t-sleep-a-lot reporting and the journalism about journalism.”

That being said, they wanted to clarify the pieces weren’t picked because they hit three archetypes; the decision was coincidental.

“While it’s important to make the point that news reporting has multiple paradigms, it’s also important to distinguish that we didn’t pick these winners to make that point. We just picked the ones that were best.”

The judges did just that — selecting the top stories they felt rocked.

“I love it. I love it. And I think it’s a really nice testament to how there are different ways to do news. There’s not just one archetype.”

The story that takes first place is investigative and battles misinformation. Those are traits that the judges commend, and want to see more of.

“We have to highlight any journalist that’s fighting that battle — the battle against misinformation. This is one of the most important battles today. It’s one of the most fundamental wars occurring right now. I’m so happy we have the opportunity to highlight that and be able to reward it.”

“It shows that as a journalist you have to be on your toes and be willing to adjust to any situation and write accordingly,” another judge agreed.

Pissed off that one journalist took all three placements? That’s okay. Here’s a solution: For next year’s Kunkels, remember to submit your favorite stories to their appropriate categories. That way, our judges have more than just ten stories to base their decisions on.

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