Anyone for a journalism prize?
The Newswise journalism award listings are interesting reading, up-to-date or not.
If you ask a science journalist how they earn a living, they might point you, with a mix of hope and desperation, to this page. It's the Newswise list of journalists prizes, the most respected list of its kind.* Newswise is a service in "knowledge-based news", so you an expect them to be biased towards science and environment reporting. Even so, they list a surprisingly large number of prizes for science journalists. I trawled through the list of links and found that some are quirky, some are lucrative, and some are broke (and not just the links).

One of the most lucrative prizes is broke. That's the Pirelli INTERNETional Award, which until 2007 gave a total of 80,000 Euros each year to those who helped "promote the spread of scientific and technological culture." The Pirelli website has a marvellous euphemism for the award's current state. They call it a "sleeping initiative", as if it is busy initiating things while dormant, and could spring into life any second. I'm skeptical -- 80,000 euros doesn't just appear overnight.

The Grantham Prize is the US's answer to Pirelli. It is one of the youngest prizes and probably the richest: $75 000 a year going all the way back to 2005. It is for Excellence in Environmental reporting, and last year it went to the New York Times for "Choking on Growth," a series on China's pollution problems. So what kind of story gets $75 000 from Mr. and Mrs. Grantham? Extrapolating from a modest sample of one, they want a story about large-scale environmental damage and human suffering, industrial misdeeds, political intrigue, and brave but beleaguered activists. Some sharp photography [see below] or eerie slide-shows* wouldn't go amiss either.
* see "A Lake in Crisis" tab on this page.

Money doesn't necessarily correlate with prestige, of course. Awards from the American Institute of Physics and the American Association for the Advancement of Science both look a bit tight, each giving a $3000 money prize. Nevertheless, the AAAS believes its prize "represent the pinnacle of achievement for professional journalists in the science writing field" -- and it's hard to argue with an award that goes back to 1945. And who could resist the engraved Windsor chair that goes along with the AIP cash?

Nor does fame correlate with age -- well, not exactly. The AAAS prize and the Gerald Loeb prize (for economics, business and finance reporting) both have a strong lineage -- the latter goes back to 1957. (Incidentally, the Loeb prize seems to include a crystal globe [see image]. I'm not sure what globes have to do with finance, or what crystal has to do with journalism. But the award would certainly brighten up the mantelpiece.)

Is the American Chemical Association famous? Perhaps it is. Still, it has an impressive history for a single-discipline award. It goes back to 1957; past winners include Isaac Asimov and (most recently) Roald Hoffman. And it has a name to match: The American Chemical Association James T. Grady and James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public.

Then there are the smaller heroes of journalism awards. If you had won the Images of Aging Communication Award, the Association for Geriatric Psychiatry will give you a plaque and a mention at their annual do. It won't buy you lunch, but it should give you a warm feeling in your writing fingers.

But there are some prizes on this list that won't warm any journalistic souls, because they (the prizes) no longer exist. The Aging Communication Award is one of many to fall over in recent times. There are some ominous signs in the UK. The Royal Society has suspended this year's Junior Book Prize for lack of funding. And the Association of British Science Writers has not caught enough funding fish this year, so the "Oscars of the science writing world" are on hold. Where the 2008 winners should be listed in all their glory, there is a sad message from the prize organisers.

(As for all of these awards, the list of past winners of the ABSW award is a useful guide to the best science writing of the last few years. The ABSW prize goes back to 1967, which makes their downfall all the sadder and their backlist all the more interesting.)

Money problems seem to have hit some smaller awards as well. The International Osteoperosis Foundation (IOP) will no longer give out its Osteoperosis Journalism Award. And the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has updated its website but not its Public Education Award -- the award has vanished on the new site. These small, specialist awards may not be gravely missed by the journalism profession. But perhaps there are bone stories not being written, and MS scandals not being aired, for lack of professional recognition for journalists.

The list of broken links and lost prizes on the Newswise page is almost as long as the list of active ones. This may have as much to do with Newswise's lack of systematic updating. According to their website, the list is continously refreshed (as of today, the last update was 2 days ago). But Newswise are only as good as the information they receive from prize-giving institutions. And one expects that a media officer for the IOP (say) would have more enthusiasm for logging an award than logging its downfall.

But Newswise must be updating something, and if it's not the dead prizes it must be the living ones. So the best route to science writing glory -- apart from sending imploring emails to Pirelli, joining the New York Times staff, or donating your salary to the ABSW -- is to keep an eye on the new awards that keep appearing over at Newswise.

Or for an up-to-date list of science-related awards, see my next post....
* journalism.co.uk has a similar list, but there's not much on the Newswise site that you can't find on its British equivalent.
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