The Lisagor Awards make a thrilling comeback

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Peter Lisagor
When I last reported on the Lisagor Awards, in mid-January, just 71 entries had been received by the Chicago Headline Club and executive director Aimee DeBat was worried—more worried than she let on.

At the same stage a year earlier some 400 entries had arrived, and the Headline Club wound up with more than 600. Journalists pay to enter the Lisagors—club members $30 an entry, nonmembers $50. And they pay again to come to the dinner in May, eat chicken, and find out if they've won something. These are hard times for journalists, and DeBat tells me membership in the Headline Club has slid from 400 to 300 since she arrived three years ago. Wipe out most of the revenues from the Lisagors and—well, how long would there be a Headline Club?

This year's original deadline to enter was midnight last Friday, January 31. By January 30 DeBat was up to 496 entries and figured she'd wind up with around 550—a number she could live with but that didn't excite her. The Headline Club decided to extend the deadline to midnight Monday, February 3.

The new total: 822!

That's possibly the highest number of entries in the long history of the awards. "I'm actually pretty flabbergasted by the number—in a very positive way," said DeBat Tuesday morning. "Monday was crazy" with last-minute entries pouring in; and after midnight, when she went to bed (her office is in her home), she kept being awakened by her ringing Blackberry, as laggards called and called again begging her to cut them some slack. DeBat stood fast.

"I really do believe it was because of your article," DeBat just told me. "I think because you took an interest early on you helped motivate these deadline-oriented journalists."

If my article had anything to do with this, I replied, it's that journalists read it and bells went off: 71 entries! That's way less than one per category. [There are 121 categories.] If I enter I'm almost sure to win.

So everyone entered. And the sure thing became not sure at all.

I did some fast calculations. Last year DeBat got 608 entries. So this year there are 214 more, and if we conservatively assume they're all from Headline Club members (which they aren't) paying $30 to get in the game, that's more than $6,000 in additional revenue.

I think we're looking at a bigger piece of chicken, I told DeBat. Maybe even veal.

"Is that what you want?" she said. "If you'd like a certain thing, run it by me. I don't know, I just always pick chicken."

There's so much excitement in the air at the Lisagors, who can taste the food?

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