Hurricane Wipes Out Some Press Awards, But Fees Will Go to Victims

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By: Joe Strupp

While Hurricane Katrina sparked havoc and dislocation for scores of journalists in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, it has also caused some Florida reporters and editors to groan — but for a different reason.

Nearly 300 entries in the Florida Press Club’s annual journalism contest, which were sent to members of the Press Club of New Orleans for judging, were lost due to the hurricane, according to Stephanie Slater, Florida Press Club president. Slater now says the entry fees for those stories will go to help local journalists hurt by the storm.

“We have press clubs all over the country who judge our entries,” Slater, a reporter at the Palm Beach Post, explained. “We sent these to New Orleans in early August and they were to be judged by Sept. 10.” She said press clubs in other cities, such as Milwaukee and Los Angeles, also were given entries to judge.

But after the hurricane struck New Orleans two weeks ago, Slater attempted to contact New Orleans press club members and was unable to determine if the entries were salvaged. “We assumed they were lost because we could not track them down,” she said. “We decided that they would not be worried about grabbing our entries while they were evacuating so we decided to forgo those categories.”

Slater said the lost entries included those among 10 categories — including, ironically, hurricane coverage. One of those was the entry from the Charlotte Sun of Charlotte Harbor, Fla., which had been a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize last spring for coverage of hurricane Charley in 2004.

Because of the circumstances, the contest will not include those categories, which encompassed about 25% of the awards. “All of the other categories will get awards,” she said. “That is about 30 other categories.” The awards will be given at the press club’s banquet on Oct. 15.

Slater said the pres club plans to donate the $4,155 collected from the lost entry fees to a fund set up to aide Times-Picayune staffers affected by the hurricane. “We decided to give the money to those who really need it,” Slater added.

The fund, organized under the name “Friends of the Times-Picayune,” was opened a week ago, according to a manager at Sterling Bank in Houston, where it is set up.

Slater said the press club is considering changing the rules for next year’s contest to allow the lost entries to be resubmitted. She also said the contest may changes its rules to allow entries to be submitted via e-mail or other electronic options to better protect them from being lost or damaged.

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