February 14, 2019 / Ask Mike / Podcasts

Ask Mike: What should I know about CSPA?

Written by Evan Blackwell, CJE

A beacon for student journalism, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) is only weeks away from its 95th annual Spring Convention in New York City. What better time for Mike Taylor, CJE, to interview the organization’s executive director, Ed Sullivan?

For the first episode of the Ask Mike podcast’s second season, Taylor and Sullivan discuss Sullivan’s history, CSPA, and the difference between CSPA’s critiques, Crown Awards and Gold Circle Awards.

The Spark

Sullivan started doing journalism in high school. When a columnist wrote something the school principal disliked, that issue was rounded up and thrown into the furnace.

“I thought after that, I really wanted to do something to help other people avoid that,” said Sullivan.

He knows that censorship still happens at schools, but his organization is working to help keep journalism – both student and professional – alive and well.

The Organization

CSPA was founded in 1925. They offer several conventions throughout the year, including the national Spring Convention. CSPA hosts three competitions: the Medalist Critiques, the Crown Awards and the Gold Circle Awards.

“If you were a new adviser, I would suggest doing the membership. And I would suggest the regular membership, which gives you access to all three [competitions].”

The Medalist Critiques review the publication and send back an analysis of that publication and how to make improvements. Crown judging is separate, which judges the publication against others that year. The Gold Circle Awards are for individual entries, with more than 160 categories where schools can enter student work.

“There’s a lot to pick from and a lot to learn from in those competitions,” said Sullivan.

The Critiques and Contests

Medalist Critiques have been offered since 1925. The Crown competition just started in 1983.

“I kind of look at it as apples and oranges,” said Sullivan.

Medalist Critiques measure the entry against the gold standard of that type of publication. The critique the staff receives will walk through the various strengths and weaknesses, with suggestions on how to improve. Every entry receives a critique and the results aren’t shared on the CSPA website.

“If the Critiques are a sort of bottom-up perspective, taking your publication and matching it up against the critique standards, the Crowns is sort of the reverse. It’s taking the publications head to head, from a top-down perspective, looking at all of them spread out,” explained Sullivan. “It’s comparing it against the others.”

The panel of judges pick finalists, who are recognized for the honor.

Gold Circles are individual entries. A different set of judges picks the best in each category, and those winners are shared.

“A lot of it depends on the pool of entries that year,” said Sullivan. “Sometimes the publications as a group are stronger and more competitive with one another. And it might be more difficult to secure an award that year.”

His advice to staffs looking to win a Crown: there’s not really a formula. If you get a critique every year and follow the judge’s recommendations, you’ll move toward building a better yearbook and closer to earning a Crown. He suggests entering the Critiques from the start, even if you’re still working to improve your program.

“The Crowns will come as you improve in the Critique process.”

The Convention

Their 95th annual Spring Convention will be held March 20- 22 on the campus of Columbia University. Sullivan is expecting about 2,500 attendees.

“It’s a complicated endeavor,” he explained. “We generally run between 300 and 350 sessions over a three-day period.”

Crown Awards are presented at the end of the convention, which happens in the same room where Pulitzers are handed out.

Learn More

You can listen to the new episode of Ask Mike at walsworthyearbooks.com/podcasts or find it on your preferred podcast listening platform, including Apple, Stitcher and Spotify. Be sure to listen to the end to hear Taylor answer questions he’s heard from schools around the country. If you want to Ask Mike, you can find him on Twitter, @yrbkmiketaylor. Don’t forget to use #AskMike. You can also reach Taylor throughpodcasts@walsworth.com.

You can learn more about CSPA at cspa.columbia.edu.

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Evan Blackwell, CJE

Evan Blackwell, CJE, is the Marketing Automation Supervisor for Walsworth. He's been a writer, editor and web content specialist for Walsworth for the past 15+ years, and is the author of the Yearbook Suite's "The Art of the Interview" unit. Prior to joining Walsworth, Blackwell spent five years as an award-winning newspaper and magazine journalist. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.