To be Fair
We still have the entry from Jon Tobias to post before we select finalists. And I see that 3,000,000 people in California intend to vote illegally. The system is rigged, most assuredly. And I get to be the one who rigs it!
A bit of history. A Word with You Press has sponsored close to 50 contests since its inception in 2009. Judging methods have been varied, from having guest judges such as Kristine Grant and Ruth Joyce to (presently)Pulitzer-Prize winner Jonathan Freedman. I have also simply made the call myself from time to time. Sometimes we had finalists, sometimes not. Sometimes we had contestants eligible to vote, and sometimes a requirement for their vote was that they had commented on at least three stories posted. When Kristy Webster won several years ago, in close competition with a story posted by Elizabeth Sloan (of Moscow) I was actually pulling for Kristy, not because of the merits of her story, but because the $500 prize would be considerably more important to her at the time, a single mother with two children, one with special medical needs, a car broken down, and Christmas fast approaching. Elizabeth, who I know quite well, was/is employed at the University of Idaho and had a brilliant story submission, and could easily have won based on “merit.”
Everyone who had entered the contest was entitled to three votes: two for their favorite, one for their second favorite. Interns on the staff at the towers were allowed five votes: three and two. In the event of a tie, His Moiness had seven votes. Four and three. I was entirely relieved when the final votes came in that I was not required to be the tie breaker, and one of my finest pleasures ever was to call Kristy shortly before Christmas to tell her to check her Paypal account.
In the past, others, like Pafia at the moment, took umbrage to what was seen as a cavalier method of selecting finalists, when I made those selections independently. If we had five finalists, three were merit based, and two were selected at random, pulling the names out of a hat or hat surrogate. So here is the controversial reasoning behind that:
Merit is subjective
I get to be the judge because I control the levers behind the curtain, but many stories were equally well-written if one judged by consensus, so why is one selected over another? The short answer is that the finalists all appealed to my tastes, sensitivities and prejudices. The same would be true in this contest. Choosing two finalists at random to add to the three who were there on my perception of merit to me seems a reasonable counter-balance, especially if the finalists and readership had no idea who was randomly selected. And, I will add, in one instance a randomly selected finalist ended up winning the contest.
It sometimes occurs that as people get ready to cast a vote that stories surface that never got posted. My fairness doctrine extends to them, and in that instance, once I have called the contest closed and I am made aware that something had fallen through the cracks, to compensate the author they are automatically entered into the finals. In this case, it includes Sarah Akhtar and Jon Tobias, a really fine writer who has won a contest in the past, and who I suspect will move on to be a much-read novelist.
Here is how it will all play out for The Drinking Fountain. Jon and Sarah are finalists by default (the default is mine, ha ha!) I will email every participant and give them a single vote for their favorite, which could include their own entry, if they like. Top three vote-getters become finalists as well for a total of five. I will announce a fresh prompt that will be the sole basis for judging. I will select, based on my own tastes, three from these to send to Jonathan Freedman (with whom I just spoke). The winning entry will be the one that most poignantly evokes our painful past but inspires us to a more hopeful future, reminding us that we have more in common than our pain. Clarity and use of language will work to their advantage, as well as reverence for humanity. Jonathan won his Pulitzer Prize by doing just that over the course of two years writing for the San Diego Union Tribune, humanizing the struggle of Mexicans crossing the border in search of America. The real fruit of his efforts was to see President Ronald Reagan grant amnesty to 3,000,000 people living in the shadows, because Jonathan transformed them from being a statistic to being flesh and blood.
I wonder, were these the same 3,000,000 that Donald Trump informs us voted illegally? Remind me to ask Jonathan.