Neal and EXCEL Award Winners Strive to Make Their Respective ‘Tables Bigger’

At the Tony Awards last Sunday, director Kenny Leon accepted the Tony for Best Revival of a Play for the well-deserving A Soldier’s Play (which I was fortunate enough to see pre-pandemic). He spoke about the need to be more inclusive: “No diss to Shakespeare, no diss to Ibsen, to Chekhov, to Shaw—they’re all at the table,” Leon said. “But the table’s got to be bigger.”

Leon’s speech reminded me of a couple 2021 EXCEL Awards winners that made the table bigger in their respective niches. One is the American Bankers Association, which won a Gold EXCEL Award for Best Website (General Excellence) for Banks Never Ask That. This is a clever microsite that has responded to a common problem, with a quiz to test your scam IQ. “Show us you have what it takes to outsmart online scammers, then encourage friends and family to do the same!” There’s also a humorous video about phishing. “I love fishing,” says Tim. “No Tim, not the kind with rainbow trout and good memories of grandpa,” the narrator says. “This is bad guys tricking you into sharing your password or pin.” Later a millennial woman says that, “senior citizens are always falling for internet tricks.” “No,” the narrator says, “people under 30 are more likely to become victims of identity theft for phishing. “Sorry,” she says, “typical millennials. Narrators are so helpful.”

Second is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which won a Silver EXCEL for Rising Up, focusing on women scientists. It leads with an inspiring tic-tac-toe scientist board and then moves to engaging intros. “’If someone tells you that you can’t do something, then that probably means that you should go and do it. Don’t let other people hold you back,’ says Andrea Dutton, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who studies ancient coral reefs with an eye on today. Jennifer Eberhardt studies unconscious psychological biases at Stanford University, and her findings have been used to reform police departments and challenge the constitutionality of death sentences. “Racial bias is something that’s difficult for many people to see and to talk about. I’m looking at something that’s everywhere, yet it’s invisible at the same time.” The real faces are powerful.

Our coverage should also be powerful and push boundaries. Here are 4 more examples of the great work done for the Neals and EXCEL Awards this year. Entries for the 2022 Neals open next week on Oct. 6. (I know, crazy. October is just about here!) And the EXCEL Awards open on Nov. 15.

Amplify important and lesser-known stories. DTN’s Progressive Farmer featured a wonderful story from Chris Clayton, ag policy editor, titled Grappling With a New Farm – Young, Black, First-Generation American Determined to Succeed as a Farm Owner. “Like a lot of children growing up in a small Nebraska town, Zemua Baptista remembers playing with tractors in the living room as a boy—’carpet farming,’ as he describes it.” Later in the story we get this quote from Baptista: “I still see it when I tell people I’m a farmer and they kind of look at me. For me, to give a face to a minority farmer is a good thing.”

Provide tools/new ideas for our audience. For Best Profile, American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News won a Neal for a wonderful profile titled A Day With Jennifer Doudna: Trying to Keep Up With One of the World’s Most Sought-After Scientists. It chronicles the day she spoke at the University of California, Berkeley campus. “It’s clear that being considered the Beyoncé of science has reshaped Doudna’s life. But has it reshaped how she views herself?” The article leads to a sidebar story titled Jennifer Doudna’s Tips for New Entrepreneurs. One story presents the person, and the second presents how to help their audience succeed.

Spotlight under-the-radar stories. There’s an excellent Q&A with Alda Ly in a “Next Progressives” feature in the Neal Award-winning issue of ARCHITECT Magazine. “What led to the founding of the firm,” Ly was asked. “I’m a woman of color working in a field traditionally dominated by men. Initially, this launched me on a path designing for women, but it quickly morphed into designing for those who aren’t typically considered.” Later, when asked about her ambitions, she said, “Working with inspiring clients to push the boundaries of traditional building typologies…”

Adding complementary elements to a story. SHRM won a Neal for Best Instructional Content for a story titled How Should HR Handle Political Discussions at Work. “It was just a picture, and it was in an employee’s cubicle,” the story by Susan Milligan begins. About a third of the way through the article refers to a “SHRM poll conducted last October [that] found that 42% of employees have had a ‘political disagreement’ at work, and 12% have experienced political affiliation bias.” The link led to an 11-page, beautifully designed pdf with results from that poll. “Over half of working Americans say politics and the discussion of political issues have become more common in the last four years.” With the poll, pull quotes and fun wordplay—“While HR can hardly have Aretha Franklin’s iconic song ‘Respect’ playing on a loop, there are some actions HR and legal experts advise”—it’s a valuable story for members.

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