CSPA Judging Campaign 2017


Questions & Answers

Question: Why do CSPA critiques exist?

First, the CSPA’s Annual Critiques offer a detailed critical look at a student print or online media, designed to pinpoint both its strengths and weaknesses. An experienced faculty adviser is selected by the CSPA to provide the Critique. The adviser-judge provides these specific criticisms by scoring points and offering personal commentary in the CSPA Critique for that type of print or electronic media.

Second, the scoring process yields a total point score, which fits the print or online media or media into one of three broadly defined ranges. Known as Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalists, this is the competitive element, or contest part, of the evaluation.

Finally, standards can be set, but must not dictate content or direction. The CSPA makes no attempt to dictate to schools and colleges what their print or online media should be. It watches keenly what these institutions do, as evidenced by the print or electronic media that they submit for annual evaluation. The Association can then adjust its sights, its scorebooks and its judging to their progress.

Question: What are CSPA's eligibility requirements for publications receiving a critique?

Entering a student print or online media into the CSPA’s Annual Critique makes that print or online media a full member of the CSPA for the following academic year. To begin this membership, the issues or volume of the print or online media from the just-finished year are evaluated.

Print or online media may choose from either full membership (described above) or associate membership, which offers other benefits, including entry into the Gold and Silver Crown judging, but does not include a written Critique.

Membership is open to any student-edited print or online media from a public, private or parochial school or college. Types of print or online media have included newspapers, newsmagazines, general-interest magazines, literary-art magazines, school pages in community newspapers or news websites, departmental print or online media, yearbooks or online media such as student-edited websites.

Alumni or public relations print or online media, even with some student editors or contributors, are not accepted as members of the Association. The primary readership or audience must be students, although secondary audiences may include parents, siblings, prospective students and alumni.

If, by some chance, you receive a print or online media for judging that you believe is not 100% student-edited and intended for a primarily student readership or audience, please contact the CSPA office immediately. We will help you determine whether the print or online media should be judged or not. If it should not, we will return it to the school or college concerned.

Question: Who is eligible to be a publication judge for CSPA?

We recruit our judges primarily from within our membership. Most judges are current advisers with at least five (5) years of experience in the classroom, having done well advising their own publications. We look for advisers who have kept up with changes in coverage, design and technology.

We also have a number of judges who are retired and former advisers, dedicated to the field of student journalism and have continued to evaluate publications for us.

Question: What types of publications/media are available for judging?

Just like our members, there are a variety of publication types to judge, including:

  • Print newspapers, magazines and yearbooks
  • Digital news and magazine sites
  • Hybrid news operations, magazines and yearbooks

Based on your judging application, CSPA will determine which publication types will be sent to you for judging.

Question: After I submit my electronic application, what is/are the next step(s)?

Once you submit your answers, CSPA will review your application and decide whether you're a good fit to join our Board of Judges for this year. You'll hear from us via e-mail within the next two to three business days.

Question: Where can I find a copy of the W-9 form?

Please follow this link to obtain a copy of the W-9 form.

Then, please follow these steps:

  • complete the form
  • print the form
  • sign the form
  • mail or fax the form to CSPA

DO NOT SEND VIA E-MAIL, since your personal information could be compromised in transit.

Mailing address: CSPA, Columbia University, Mail Code 5711, New York, NY 10027

Fax: (212) 854-9401

Question: Is there anything you won't ask me to judge?
Answer: To avoid conflicts of interest with state or local loyalties, we don’t ask judges to evaluate print or online media from their home state. We also ask adviser-judges to refrain from judging any media they have already judged for another association in that same year.
Question: How does CSPA handle shipping between their office and the judging panel?

Shipments to you travel by United Parcel Service (UPS) as long as you use a street address. UPS will not deliver to PO Box or Rural Route addresses.

We will send your package to you at home or at school, depending on your response in the judging application.

When you are ready to ship completed evaluations to us, we ask that you use the United Parcel Service (UPS). Enclosed with each package will be a prepaid return shipping label. Call 1-800-PICK-UPS for pick-up right from your front door.

We pay the return shipping costs directly to UPS. You are not required to pay anything.

When returning materials to the CSPA, make sure you include:

• any print media you have judged (newspapers, yearbooks, magazines);

• your signed copy of the Judges’ Invoice, the completed Scope of Work (SOW) document; and

• the print or online media’ membership questionnaire.

Packing. Please be sure to pack securely. Don’t let materials slide or rattle around inside a box too big for them. Crumple up old newspapers or old paper shopping bags to prevent excessive movement inside parcels. If you are returning yearbooks, this is especially important.

Return all print or online media to the CSPA office. All print media must be returned to CSPA after you have finished the evaluation. If one of the publications included a CD or DVD, please return that as well.
Question: What will I find in the box I receive from CSPA?

When your shipment of print or online media arrives at your doorstep, please check its contents with care. It should contain the following items:

  • the Judges’ Invoice (itemizing print or online media enclosed, providing a due date for their return to the CSPA office and serving as the official form needed to requisition your payment for judging);

  • the designated print/digital media or directions to locate the Web-based material;

  • a copy of the membership/entry questionnaire.
  • Your first shipment will also contain a Scope of Work document that must be completed and returned to us when you're done with your critiques.

You should also receive a note with the link to our blank Critique PDF that you should use for your judging work.

If you are missing any of these items, please contact us immediately: 

Telephone: (212) 854-9400. FAX: (212)854-9401 e-mail: cspa@columbia.edu

Question: Is there a list of guidelines available for CSPA judges?

We've tried to make this list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) as comprehensive as possible.

Should you have a question regarding your judging assignment that does not appear in this list, please contact us directly via phone (212-854-9400) or by e-mail (cspa-critiques@columbia.edu).

Question: How should I approach my judging assignment?

Judging should be a sincere effort to help student editors and faculty advisers improve or advance their print or online media. It should be offered in a positive manner. The critique is a formative evaluation and will be used to guide the print or online media’s efforts during the next year.

CSPA Critiques compare and contrast student newspapers, magazines yearbooks and online media with others in similar circumstances. The Critique judging counters the parochial outlook that often takes hold when only local standards are considered.

Question: Can you explain the judging process?

Judging involves three basic steps: reading the print or online media, writing explanatory comments and scoring the criteria with points.

I. Reading

You should read the print or online media thoroughly and with a critical eye.

NOTE: Please do not write in/on any of the publications.

II. Writing

  • Do word your comments carefully. Criticisms that might be readily accepted if given verbally can appear rigid or unforgiving in print.
  • Do include helpful comments.
  • Do write a critique as though your staff would receive it.
  • Do carefully read the membership questionnaire. Specifically, read the self-analysis part of the form, which asks detailed questions of the staff and adviser. Try to be aware of, and sensitive to, local conditions and limits faced by the staff.
  • Do call attention to general weaknesses in a print or online media. But always make note of strong points and achievements of the print or online media as well as its weaknesses and failures. This type of balanced reading is most important for those that are weakest, but it applies to all.
  • Do explain why points were deducted. For any point deductions, give relevant page numbers, with issue date for newspapers, or other specific locators so staffs can look them up for themselves.
  • Do acknowledge what each print or online media does well. Even print or online media that don’t follow all of the guidelines in the Critique do some things well. Your critique should encourage staffs to do better next year. Point out weaknesses, but don’t dwell on them.

III. Scoring

All editions in the CSPA Critique series are designed for total scores ranging from zero to 1000 points. In practice, no print or online media should be assigned a score of either zero or 1000 points. Neither should any print or online media be awarded “bonus” points to give it a total score greater than 1000 points. 

“Check Plus, Check and Check-Minus” notation. To simplify and speed up the work of the judges and our office staff in completing every piece of arithmetic in every scorebook, point scores have been pre-assigned to each of the check-plus, check, check-minus and "x" notations next to each judging criterion.  Click on one symbol in each row that best describes your evaluation of how well the print or online media met that criterion.

While you're judging, you should periodically review the first page of the PDF, where the overall score and rating will change as you make your selections.

Remember that the scorebooks reflect national norms. They represent a consensus of what should be an ideal student print or online media. While no ideal or perfect student print or online media exists in reality, we have to set a goal.

Question: What should I do if I encounter plagiarism?

Publishing always carries with it the risk of plagiarism. This is true of both professional and student print or online media. Plagiarism may be knowingly done through intentional copying of an entire literary or artistic piece. It may also be done through careless mixing of original and copied material. Or it may involve failure to properly acknowledge material used with permission (but not noted in the body of the work or on a traditional acknowledgments page). Regardless, these are all examples of plagiarism.

Each year, several staffs will inform the CSPA of the belated discovery of plagiarized material in their Critique entry. Other staffs will ask if their print or online media can still be judged because it contains plagiarized material. In both cases, we will judge the print or online media with certain provisions.

Why do we accept print or online media for judging if they contain plagiarized materials? We believe part of learning the good writing and editing embedded in journalistic practice is gaining the ability to spot and remove plagiarism during the editing process. Failing that, a good editor should learn to acknowledge plagiarism promptly upon its discovery. Maintaining the trust of readers and viewers is paramount.

  • If the staff reports plagiarism to the CSPA before the print or online media has been sent to an adviser-judge, it is our policy to include a written statement to that effect with the entry. We ask that the judge exclude the plagiarized material from consideration. You should pass over the material as though it did not exist.

  • If the staff did not find or report the plagiarism and you, the judge, find the plagiarism, it is your duty to deduct points for an incomplete editing job. If specific questions in the particular edition of the critique address plagiarism by name, deduct the points at this juncture. Please explain the reason with reference to the offending material by title, issue, page or other explicit reference. Please be clear in your description but non-offensive with your comments.

Note: Plagiarism is the one case where the CSPA will NOT designate a Gold Medalist rating, EVEN if the point scores support such a rating. A Silver Medalist is the highest rating that print or online media may receive in the Critique process.

In addition, a publication with plagiarized material (whether previously reported or not) will NOT receive Crown Award consideration.

The discovery of plagiarism is certainly embarrassing to the staff, adviser and school or college. Usually, it’s enough for you to identify the plagiarized material in a straightforward manner. Avoid preaching.

If you discover plagiarism and follow the second procedure outlined above, please clear your mind and feelings of the situation while you evaluate the rest of the print or online media. One person’s offense should not be considered damaging to other contributors.

Question: What should I consider when judging publications from overseas schools?
Answer: Some members of the Association are found overseas. These print or online media may be found in schools operated by the United States Department of Defense at American bases. Other schools are operated by independent agencies for children of the diplomatic or international business communities.

If you receive one of these print or online media to evaluate, please give it a thorough evaluation. Most of these staffs and advisers have few, if any, other resources from which to draw inspiration, encouragement or help. You may be the only source of constructive criticism they receive outside their community at any time during the year.

In making point deductions, please watch for certain limits faced by many of these print or online media. Here are some actual case histories: 
  • The local typesetter who doesn’t know any English but is valiantly trying to help the school do its typesetting;
  • The school which must mail its “first time ever” yearbook copy from thousands of miles from the nearest printing plant and simply can’t visit or telephone the plant for corrections, status reports, etc;
  •  The staffs and advisers who will never be able to attend our comprehensive student press workshops or conventions and whose exchange list of other student print media may be non-existent; and
  • Online media that exists in countries with censorship limiting access to the Web. Online publishing according to American standards can be very difficult in these circumstances. (Consult CSPA.)
We’re not asking you to forgo constructive criticism and simply pat them on the back, but we do suggest that you make a special effort to look at things from their perspective and judge accordingly.
Question: When judging, should I take into account a publication's rating by other associations/organizations?

The most frequent complaint from advisers and editors occurs when CSPA ratings vary greatly from ratings given by other national or state-level student press organizations.

You will have noticed that the Association does not supply judges with a history of the recent ratings of print or online media members. We have never done so. We have never found it necessary or helpful.

Other organizations have different evaluation procedures. Their scoring questions seek different information, allocate points in different ways and stress different orientations for the print or online media being evaluated. Other ratings and awards should not be considered by the CSPA judge when evaluating current print or online media, nor should past CSPA ratings be considered by the judge when evaluating current print or online media.

We must assume the print or online media wanted to be considered against the CSPA’s standards when it chose to become a CSPA member for THIS year.

Question: Should I make comments regarding printers, outside photographers or other suppliers?

Judges should be restrained in commenting on the work of professional photographers, printers or other suppliers whose work is part of the student print or online media evaluated by the CSPA.

For example, please do criticize specific problems with printing or photography, but do not directly criticize printers or photographers. Refrain from naming names in a manner that is derogatory or defamatory.

  • Please do not suggest that the staff find another printer because “the one you have is too expensive” or “there are too many printer’s errors in a book this size.”
  • Do not let your comments suggest that another supplier would have necessarily done a better job, or the print or online media would have received a better rating if another supplier had been used.
  • Staffs should be encouraged to make use of services of sales representatives to answer questions, get technical advice or otherwise receive complete service from suppliers.
Question: Is there a specific formula for determining point scores?

Since converting to our PDF scorebooks, all of the point scores are automatically calculated. As you select the appropriate symbols for Outstanding (check plus), Good (check), Needs Improvement (check minus) and Missing (an "X"), points will be assigned to the overall score. While you're judging, you should periodically review the first page of the PDF, where the overall score and rating change as you make your selections.

Question: Can you explain the critique rating system and All-Columbian honors?

The Ratings System. As you make your score selections in the PDF scorebook, points will automatically be assigned and tallied as part of the overall score. You can review the overall point score by going back to the first page of the PDF document, where the updated point score and rating are displayed in real time.

Presently, certificates of award are given to those print or online media that earn the following placings: Gold Medalist, 800-1000 points; Silver Medalist, 600-799 points; Bronze Medalist, 599 points and below.

  • Exception: Gold Medalist ratings should never be given to print or online media that include plagiarized material(s). In this case, we ask that you please adjust your scoring accordingly.

All-Columbian Honors. Each edition of the Critique series is organized into sections. These sections vary from edition to edition, depending on the particular characteristics of the print or online media being analyzed. For example, this edition of Yearbook Critique includes sections titled Reference, Verbal, and Visual. The All-Columbian designation recognizes achievement in one or more of these individual sections.

Each year, the CSPA Executive Director sets minimum point values that must be awarded by the judge for the print or online media to earn All-Columbian Honors. These minimum point values are usually tied to a percentile of the total score. They are intended to represent the top level of competence and achievement.

Question: While judging in the PDF scorebook, how can I check the overall point score?

While you're judging, you should periodically review the first page of the PDF, where the overall score and rating which change in real time, as you make your selections.

Question: How much commentary should I include while performing a critique?

You should definitely provide enough commentary to explain your scoring choices.

While the marks you've chosen next to each criterion provide the basis for the overall rating, your comments help to reinforce why you've selected your choice.

When you select "Outstanding" and "Good", your comments should give examples of superior work or technique; give recommendations for improvement when you select "Needs Improvement" and "Missing".

Question: When I finish a critique, should I sign it or otherwise identify myself to the publication staff?

Since its inception in 1925, the CSPA has always kept confidential the identities of individual members of its Board of Judges. This policy is in keeping with academic traditions.

We believe it is the Association that renders the critique. Surely, the judge plays the major role in completing the critique, but there are supporting players as well. Editors of various editions of the CSPA’s Critique series, for example, contribute much time, energy and knowledge to the testing of the scoring criteria. Members of the Board of Judges from prior years offer specific suggestions and criticisms, and review draft manuscripts for new editions of the Fundamentals series and their accompanying critique scorebooks. The CSPA office staff double checks certain aspects of the evaluations.

Confidentiality prevents the adviser and staff from reading the final critique and either endorsing or rejecting the scores and comments based on the “reputation” of the judge. If they don’t recognize the judge as a “household name,” they might believe their print or online media was sent to a “nobody” while the school next door received a “name” judge for its critic. Therefore, the usefulness of the critique can be reduced, not enhanced, by knowing the identity of the judge.

Maintaining confidentiality also prevents the reduction of the evaluation to one person’s opinion. Naming the judge serves to overemphasize the personal opinion of the judge in the critique, instead of stressing the national norms expressed in the Critique and the Fundamentals as interpreted by the judge.

Finally, we do not wish to get adviser-judges involved in lengthy defenses of their work, involving correspondence or personal phone calls. If judges were identified, this would happen. Instead, we encourage dissatisfied members to call or write the CSPA office, requesting clarifications. Using our experience in monitoring the total evaluation process, we may initiate a written review by the same judge or get a complete reevaluation of the print or online media. During recent years, such reviews involved fewer than three percent (3%) of total print or online media evaluated.

Question: How long will CSPA give me to judge publications?

We ask that you judge four (4) publications within five (5) weeks. With each shipment of publications, we provide a deadline - please be aware of the deadline and try to comply.

If, by chance, you need an extension to your deadline, please let us know right away. We can (and will) work with your schedule.

If you feel overwhelmed, please do not keep the publications, hoping you'll get to them as some point. Please return your shipment so we can assign the publications to another judge. Each shipment contains a pre-paid UPS label for your convenience. There is no penalty or hard feelings - we understand.
Question: How much does CSPA pay for judging?

CSPA offers an honorarium of $50 per judged publication.

Question: How long does it take to receive the judging honorarium?

Once you have completed and submitted the critique scorebook, the scores and comments are checked and processed by the CSPA staff. Then, the process of payment begins.

Unlike many other student press organizations, the CSPA is not an independent group simply hosted at its sponsoring institution. The Association has always been wholly owned and operated by Columbia University. Therefore, all payments for judging are processed and approved by the University.

We do not write the checks in our office. The University requires us to requisition checks from its Controller’s office. This process can take up to one (1) to two (2) months to produce a check. The check is mailed directly from the University controller’s office to your address.

Tax information. The Internal Revenue Service requires the University to keep detailed records of all judging payments. Records are organized by your Social Security number. You must complete an IRS Form W-9 with name, address, SSN and your signature.

If you have any questions about payments, please do not hesitate to write to the CSPA Executive Director.

Question: The PDF scorebook isn't working. What should I do?

Please open the file from within Adobe Acrobat or Reader by clicking on File > Open and pasting the link into where the file name would go. This will force the scorebook to open in Acrobat or Reader.

Our scorebooks are designed to work properly in Adobe Acrobat or Reader. The Mac operating system automatically opens PDF files in its Preview software. (Even from within the Safari browser.)

Preview is NOT a good fit for our PDF scorebooks. Preview strips away all of our programming. The PDF viewers built into Chrome and Firefox also strip away our programming. On very RARE occasions, scorebook data will go through using these viewers; it’s not the norm.

If you're still having trouble with the PDF scorebook, please e-mail Antonio Rodriguez (ar245@columbia.edu). He may not respond immediately, but he will help troubleshoot your issues.

Question: I've completed all of my comments and scoring in the PDF scorebook, but the "Submit" button isn't working. What's wrong?

Our scorebooks are designed to work properly in Adobe Acrobat or Reader. The Mac operating system automatically opens PDF files in its Preview software. (Even from within the Safari browser.)

Preview is NOT a good fit for our PDF scorebooks. Preview strips away all of our programming. The PDF viewers built into Chrome and Firefox also strip away our programming. On very RARE occasions, scorebook data will go through using these viewers; it’s not the norm.

If you're still having trouble with the PDF scorebook, please e-mail Antonio Rodriguez (ar245@columbia.edu). He may not respond immediately, but he will help troubleshoot your issues.