The Keegan Award is casting a wider net



Anne Keegan

The committee of journalists behind the Anne Keegan Award for Distinguished Journalism has decided to modify the criteria for entering. The Keegan Award, to quote from the original rules, honors stories that reflect the "dignity and spirit of the common man," that are "distinguished by compassion, character and courage," and that "give voice to the voiceless while muting the voice of the reporter, benefit from the 'eye' more than from the 'I' of the reporter, and touch the human heart."

This was the sort of journalism practiced and championed by late Anne Keegan during her years as a reporter and columnist for the Tribune. Keegan died in May of 2011 at the age of 68.

The award is promoted through the Chicago Headline Club and is given at its annual Lisagor Awards dinner, which this year is May 2. But the judges are former friends of Keegan, augmented by the first two winners of the award, Colleen Mastony of the Tribune and Kim Janssen of the Sun-Times. The judging committee is headed by Keegan's former husband, Len Aronson. I'm a member.

The change we made is, I believe, minor and it's effective immediately. For the competition's first two years we limited it to print journalists. That's just been changed to embrace writers "whose work appears in print, or on established journalism websites."

The reason for our hesitation to make this change is implicit in a Bleader post I wrote in May of 2012 describing the award's first year. I said we didn't have a lot of confidence that we'd get enough submissions of high quality to support the competition: "In newspapering's modern era of shrunken staffs, diminished news holes, and compulsory self-promotion through blogging, Facebooking, and tweeting, we weren’t certain that her kind of journalism clung to any foothold at all. It would be an odd way to honor Anne Keegan if we created an award we believed no one deserved to win."

Aside from the past winners we're a fairly senior group of judges, and if you discern in my 2012 post a bias against social media and online journalism of any kind, I won't argue with you. As it turned out, we got nine fine entries that first year, led by Mastony's, and about twice as many the next year, led by Janssen's. It seemed we had nothing to worry about.

This year, however, entries for the Lisagors are sharply down (as I wrote the other day), and the one Keegan entry was from a blogger hoping we'd reconsider our ban on blogs. Our friends at the Headline Club told us not to worry, but they also told us our prohibition on online journalism didn't make a lot of sense to them. If we're going to honor superior journalism, we need to follow that journalism to wherever it goes, and there's no point in pretending that a lot of it isn't migrating to digital venues.

After a vigorous debate Aronson called the question. I've told you our decision. Entries can be mailed to me at 4027 N. Paulina, Chicago, 60613, or e-mailed to me at Our standards haven't relaxed an inch.

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