How Judging Works
We receive thousands of Best of Photojournalism entries every year, and judging them is no small task! Designing and maintaining a contest at this scale is difficult, and there are a few major things that the Best of Photojournalism board keeps in mind for the process:
Judging is done by peers. No matter the division that your work is entered in, it’s being judged by industry peers and experts that have deep experience in the same type of work. Our Video Editing division judges have operated on the same deadlines, our OVPI judges have worked across mediums, and our Still Photojournalism judges have been on the scene reporting alongside you.
Multiple rounds of review and verification. By the time results are public, every winning entry has been seen by a minimum of three first round judges and three final round judges. Three board members of the BOP committee as well as multiple student volunteers are involved in finalizing each division’s winners, and entries are verified for eligibility at 3 different points between when they’re submitted and the end of judging.
Keeping pace with change. Our committee reviews the contest rulesets regularly and makes changes every year to keep pace with what the industry looks like. We balance making these major changes to the contest with maintaining a steady sense of the contest’s identity: representing the absolute best work of a diverse variety of visual journalists across all disciplines.
First Round Judging
Our division chair committee members volunteer their time year round to find and staff dozens — often hundreds — of judges to look through thousands of entries in the first round of judging. Division chairs not only find judges, but also help answer their questions throughout the process, and provide clarity on the spirit of our written rules when needed. However, committee members are not judges, and do not provide feedback on submissions beyond their eligibility for entry in their particular division.
The first round of judging happens online, and remotely. Journalists from around the country log on to our judging portal, verify entry eligibility, and provide scores for each entry they look at on a scale from 1-5. Scores are logged and tracked, and each entry must be reviewed by a minimum of three first round judges, and sometimes is reviewed by four or five journalists during this step.
The scores for each entry are averaged, and division chairs determine a cutoff for each category that elevates the best-scored work to the final round. At the close of the first round, division chairs do a second check on all the entries going to the final round to verify their eligibility. The BOP contest does not reassign entries into different categories, nor do we modify entries submitted with technical issues or deviances from the technical submission guidelines.
Final Round Judging
On the final weekend of February, journalists from around the country gather at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication for an intensive weekend of judging the final work. As part of our collaboration with UGA, judging deliberations are video and audio recorded and kept in an accessible archive for educational purposes.
Assisted by student volunteers, the division chairs moderate a panel of four judges as they deliberate on ranking a First, Second, Third, and Honorable Mention. Moderating is a tough job, and requires our division chairs to pose questions to the judging panel about each entry and help guide their discussion to a conclusion without putting a finger on the scale.
In the case that a division chair or judge has a conflict of interest regarding an entry or entire category, they can temporarily recuse themselves from being in the room during judging. Given our commitment to bringing on judges at the top of their fields, this is an occasional inevitability, and part of the reason we require four final round judges — so that decisions can still be reached with a recusal.
Ultimately, the judging panel will award First, Second, Third, and an Honorable Mention in each category, though it’s important to note that they are not required to award all or any of these designations. Judges may award a First place and no others, or only award up to Second or Third place. Additionally, a single Honorable Mention may only be awarded if a given category has winners in First, Second, and Third Place. The judges may, in rare cases, decide that no work should be awarded. The Best of Photojournalism contest does not allow ties or multiple honorable mentions in a single category.
Student volunteers finalize the winners list and verify them with each division chair, and as each entry is prepped to go live on the Best of Photojournalism website, they are given a final check that they meet all the eligibility requirements of the competition and the NPPA.