What it’s like to be an Azbee judge

Azbee judges share their thoughts on what it’s like judging the national competition.

Registration is open for the 41st Annual Azbee Awards, and that means the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) is looking for industry professionals to step up and apply to be judges for this year’s Azbees.

While volunteering to judge for the Azbees may seem to be a daunting task, many who have participated as volunteer judges in the past say it’s a good way to network with other journalists from across the country and a great way to garner new ideas for their own publications.

Both Michael Lear-Olimpi, assistant professor of communication at Central Penn College in Summerdale, Pennsylvania, and Melinda Taschetta-Millane, editorial director at Scranton Gillette Communications in Arlington Heights, Illinois, have served as Azbee judges for about two decades. Both say the judging experience is enjoyable.

“It’s editing, teaching and leisure reading,” Lear-Olimpi says. “You can’t beat that combo.”

These two Azbee judges provided some of their experiences to help dispel some hesitations others might have about judging the Azbees.

Michael Lear-Olimpi
Michael Lear-Olimpi

Michael Lear-Olimpi, assistant professor of communication at Central Penn College in Summerdale, Pennsylvania

Years Judging Azbees: About 20

What prompted you to become an Azbee judge? I’ve always been interested in sharing knowledge—whether through reporting or teaching. About five years into my career, I developed a keen interest in editing and began my “second” (but simultaneous) career along with reporting and writing and discovered, when colleagues pointed it out, that I was good at [editing].

What is it like to be an Azbee judge? I have the privilege of reading some of the best writing in specialty journalism from across the country. It’s great. The stories are fascinating and provide miniature education courses—not only on writing, but on specific topics. It’s cool when I can enjoy and help to reinforce a standard of excellence in writing and learn how to weather-seal my deck or build one myself and then seal it. I love the deadline rush. I’ve been a journalist since 1978, if I include my years as a student. I’ve become accustomed to the cortisol high deadlines produce.

What are the responsibilities of an Azbee judge? Azbee judges must maintain impartiality while examining entries for excellence that deserve recognition. We also provide feedback. Also, if we’re Super Judges, we answer questions other judges have about entries, such as whether a particular entry is in the correct category.

How do you make time to be an Azbee judge? I usually carve out early morning, night and weekend time after my primary job duties and family time are over.

How do you remain unbiased in judging? I try to ensure I’m not biased by reading every Azbee entry as though it’s the first I’m reading and the most interesting piece of narrative on the topic I’ve ever seen. I strive to be aware of my level of interest and fatigue, too, so that I take a break from reading contest entries when I feel I’m getting tired or restless, or when distractions might be annoying me. I also take note of the publishing companies, and if I see an entry written or submitted by a friend or someone with whom I used to work directly—I pass that entry on to another judge.

Who would you recommend to be an Azbee judge, and why would you encourage people volunteer to become Azbee judges? I believe judges should have a respectable amount of experience as writers, reporters and editors. I also believe judges should have had some distinction conferred on them for their journalistic talent. I believe judges from academia should have journalism experience, and it’s great if some of that experience is B2B or other niche-market journalism. I’d encourage someone to be an Azbee judge to serve the trade and act as an example- and benchmark-setting mentor.

Melinda Taschetta-Millane
Melinda Taschetta-Millane

Melinda Taschetta-Millane, editorial director, Scranton Gillette Communications

Years Judging Azbees: About 20

What prompted you to become an Azbee judge? I really enjoy looking at what other people have accomplished over the year, and as a bonus, finding new ideas that I can adapt for my own publications and sites. I find it very rewarding to read through others’ accomplishments, and it’s also a great way to keep active as a journalist. One can never network too much.

What is it like to be an Azbee judge? It was so rewarding [doing it the first time] that I kept doing it. I found that everyone at ASBPE, as well as the other judges, were very helpful and fun to work with. I enjoyed comparing notes with the other judges and narrowing down the entries to the best of the best, which is not an easy task. Being a judge is definitely a time-commitment, but I always feel it Is well worth my time. I typically work on entries in the evening at home. I’m always so impressed at the quality of the entries and the creativity that went into each article, each page design, each electronic element.

What are the responsibilities of an Azbee judge? As a judge, I agree to evaluate anywhere from 10 to 100 entries, depending on the number of entries in my assigned category—and also depending on the number of assigned categories I am asked to take on. Judges are given several weeks to complete the judging process, and I try to dedicate several hours per evening to this process. I have found it easiest to go over all of the entries first in a read through, and then go back and focus more time on each entry, so I have an idea of the topics and level of complexity involved. Judges must be objective, which I have never found to be a problem. If you find that a colleague or industry competitor has submitted one of your entries, you can recuse yourself from that particular entry.

How do you make time to be an Azbee judge? I make sure that the time is scheduled on my personal calendar.

Who would you recommend to be an Azbee judge, and why would you encourage people volunteer to become Azbee judges? I always encourage my colleagues to come on board as judges for the Azbees. I also encourage recent graduates and young journalists to get involved with ASBPE so they can network and become familiar with the work that other companies are doing. It is a great experience. It helps to generate new ideas for your own company, and it is a wonderful way to network with other journalists.

ASBPE is in need of judges for this year’s awards. Two categories enter a screening round prior to judging that takes place from Jan. 11 to Jan. 29, 2019. Judging will take place from Monday, Jan. 21 to Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. To sign up, click here and fill out the form by Dec. 7.

Megan Smalley

Megan Smalley is associate editor for the Recycling Today Media Group at Cleveland-based GIE Media Inc. She focuses on writing, editing and podcasting for Recycling Today magazine. She has been with GIE Media since 2017 in several positions, including associate editor for Lawn & Landscape magazine and managing editor for Recycling Today magazine. She has been working in B2B media in the Cleveland area since 2014. She received a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University in May 2014.

Smalley previously served on the executive committee of the ASBPE National Board of Directors, and she is involved in ASBPE’s social and website committees.

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