With the presentation of the first of ASBPE’s Stephen Barr Awards to Adam Minter of Scrap magazine in 2004, a new approach was launched within the Azbee Awards of Excellence. The new award recognized and honored one single example of journalism, among the scores of Azbee winners, that stood out for its “inventiveness, insight, balance, depth and impact,” at a level that represented the very best work among business-to-business publications. These were qualities exemplified by Stephen Barr, the young CFO magazine writer for whom the award was named—and, incidentally, a highly respected colleague of mine at CFO.
Through the years, winners of this “best in show” prize for their feature articles or investigative pieces have covered the gamut of topics. They have produced work making an impact in smaller industries—including installers of household garage doors, or the “farriers” who specialize in horse-shoeing—but also in such far-wider fields as recycling, pharmaceutical manufacturing, insurance and financial planning.
Consider, to single out just four winners, Shabnam Mogharabi’s Aquatics International piece explaining swimming-pool drownings among minority youngsters (2005); Frank Lessiter’s American Farrier’s Journal article on how unscrupulous horse owners sometimes injure the hoofs as they shoe them, to promote action that could win “gaited horse” competitions (2008); Tom Zind’s explanation, in Electrical Construction and Maintenance, of deadly electrical dangers threatening U.S. troops (2009); or Meagan Parrish’s description for Pharma Manufacturing of widespread impurity levels among materials imported by U.S. pharmaceutical companies for use in the finished drugs they market (2019.)
What all the Stephen Barr Award recipients have in common — besides the handsome crystal trophies on their mantles — is that their stories won over a dedicated group of jurors who spent weeks analyzing the best journalism among national gold-winning feature and investigative entries in the year’s Azbee competition. Two of those jurors — long-time journalists and educators George Gendron and Lou Ureneck — have been involved with Barr Award judging since the beginning. Gendron, perhaps best known for his two decades as editor-in-chief of Inc. magazine, where he helped create the Inc. 500 list, now is managing director and co-founder of The Solo Project, a venture designed as a global platform for independent professionals working in small teams. Ureneck, a Boston University professor and one-time editor-in-residence at Harvard’s Neiman Foundation, formerly was managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and before that editor and vice president of Maine’s Portland Press Herald. Serving with Gendron and Ureneck are Amy Fischbach and this writer, the president and past president, respectively, of the ASBPE Foundation, which sponsors the Stephen Barr Award.
Since helping to create the Barr Award — endowed by Stephen’s parents not long after his death from cancer at age 43 — I have been honored to coordinate the judging process and to work with this fabulous team of jurors. Their dedication to taking the time to “get it right” these past 17 years, no matter how long it took, has been truly impressive.
But my favorite award-related task involves sneaking behind the backs of the unsuspecting winners-to-be, and maneuvering with their editors, and even relatives, to make sure that they will be in the audience for the surprise of a lifetime that this special honor represents. Nearly all our recipients over the years have been in attendance — to be blindsided from the lectern as they are called to claim the prize that concludes the Azbee Awards of Excellence banquet.