national Arts Festival Banner

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Deadline: August 31, 2015

Are you an arts writer, broadcaster or photographer in traditional media or publishing online? Then it’s time to get your portfolio together, because the National Arts Festival and Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) are calling for entries for the third annual 2015 South African Arts Journalist of the Year Awards (SAAJAs).

“We’re looking for journalists who help spark and shape conversations around the arts; whose passion for the arts is palpable in their work; and whose journalism is deeply rooted in the ethics of their profession,” says Festival CEO Tony Lankester.

Journalists – or their editors – may submit as entries portfolios of work or individual items published between January 1, 2014, and July 31, 2015. Competition content categories span news, feature and review work, published in either written, visual, multimedia or audio formats.

“We’d like to encourage all journalists to give some thought to entering,” BASA CEO Michelle Constant says. “Apart from some very attractive cash prizes, winners will also have the satisfaction of enhanced peer-recognition for their work and the platform on which they publish. The awards are a great career and brand-builder.”

Journalists can nominate themselves, but it’s also open to editors, colleagues or readers to nominate an arts writer they admire, and for arts publications to enter their brand.

“We’re not looking for praise singers,” Lankester says. “We’re looking for those journalists who offer insightful, well-researched and mature commentary on the industry, and who keep our artists, their work and the cultural industries in the spotlight in our country’s media.”

The SAAJAs are putting a special emphasis on digital media this year, revising categories to place journalists active in social media and on the internet on a par with those working in traditional media. “Just about every publication in the country puts pressure on the amount of print space allocated to the arts,” says judging panel convener, Gwen Ansell. “So writers – and especially young writers – are turning to the internet to publish their work either in emerging online titles or on self-managed blogs. Because the array of platforms and publishing options open to arts journalists is changing, the way we structure the awards needed to change, too.”

This increased openness to new media is also demographically transformative. Limited formal arts journalism employment in mainstream newsrooms has led in previous years to fewer SAAJA entries than we would like from writers at the start of their careers, writers covering community arts, young women writers and writers who may have historically been marginalised and thus prevented from being published in the mainstream.

This year, “we’re casting the net as wide as possible to ensure a diversity of voices in the competition,” said Ansell. “The media in general haven’t fully addressed transformation in editorial decision-making about what counts as a valid arts story. This has presented us with some challenges, and so we’ve done a lot of introspection on enhancing the diversity of entries. By making a special call to the many excellent and motivated young journalists publishing on digital platforms, we hope to showcase the quality of the arts journalism done there.”

BASA CEO Michelle Constant also emphasises the role of the competition in another transformative project: boosting arts coverage across all media. “We know that newsrooms are under increasing pressure to take into account the economics of allocating space to the arts. We hope that awards like this can add some prestige to those publications that do cover the arts, and help protect those few vital media spaces left for debate and discussion about them,” she says.

Details of how to enter your work, or nominate work for the awards, along with more information about categories and criteria at

Closing date for entries is August 31, 2015. Judging will take place during September and winners will be announced later this year.