JEANC benefits from using entirely digital submissions for their contests

In the span of two years, we at JEA Northern California have gone from mailing weighty manila envelopes filled with awkwardly shaped tearsheets and expensive return envelopes to our annual mail-in contest judges, to a process that is entirely digital — no postage, no packages and storage, no lost entries.

Instead, the new all-digital process has allowed for quicker turnaround on the contest, a change that enables us to announce annual contest winners in the same year the work was created. In fact, many members will receive their certificates and plaques in time for their end-of-year celebrations this spring.

Wondering why your organization might want to go digital? Here are a few reasons:

  • No more mess. An all-digital contest requires no cutting, pasting, packaging, or mailing, which means that it’s easier for our members to submit entries. An easier submission process leads to more entries and, in turn, more winners.
  • Lower costs. By eliminating some of the costs associated with the contest, we’ve been able to offer more contest categories, most notably offering several online-only categories such as feature package, breaking news stream, and audio slideshow.
  • Judges are happier. Most of the judges for the contest — all out-of-state scholastic journalism professionals — have reported that judging for the contest is simpler. They receive an email that names the categories they are judging and instructions, including a link to the Google form where they can submit their winners’ names. After downloading the compressed folder that contains their PDF entries, they simply read through them and visit the Google form to submit the winners in each category.
  • Same year recognition. It can be frustrating when some of your students’, especially seniors’, best work for the year is not recognized until they have long moved on to other things. By offering a contest that accepts work created between April 16 – April 15, we have enough time to package the entries, get them out to judges, receive the winners, and prepare and ship the winners’ certificates and plaques by June 1.
  • Display the winning work. As a regional organization, we hope to highlight all of the great student journalism that is happening in our region. With digital submissions, we’ll be able to feature the work of our member publications on the JEANC website, getting them the notoriety they deserve and making examples of great work accessible to other young journalists.

While going digital was by no means instant — it required much thought, planning, and investigation — we’ve been happy with the results so far. Over the next year or two, as we refine and simplify the process, our hope is that participation in the contest will grow and our membership will continue to benefit from this service.

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Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 26th year of advising student media. He is currently the Director of Student Media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He is the Journalism Education Association Digital Media Chair and co-Director of Media Now. He is the 2023 JEA Teacher Inspiration Award Winner and is a former Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of the textbook "Student Journalism and Media Literacy." You can find him on X and Instagram @manfull. He's a proud father. A transplanted Iowan. And an avid Hawkeye Fan.

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