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Judges' Blog
POSTED AT 1:13 PM ET, 11/ 2/2010

Conor Williams wins the title

The results are in.

Conor Willliams wins the title of America's Next Great Pundit 2010, and along with it a three-month contract with The Post and a launching pad into the world of punditry.

Conor received 1,559 votes in the final round of voting. Runners-up Nancy Goldstein and Lauren Hogan received 1,167 and 707, respectively.

Conor, a PhD student at Georgetown and a "proud product of Kalamazoo," was a reader favorite from the start. He was the only one of our top three to make it into the challenge portion of the competition as a reader pick rather than as an editors' pick. But as we put him through his punditry paces, he earned kudos from the judges, too. After the roundtable debate, Post Opinions writer and tv personality Jonathan Capehart said Conor was "a natural" on video and stood out for his ability to connect with the audience and with the other contestants. And during the blogging week, last year's contest winner Kevin Huffman praised Conor for "polished work" and good ideas. "I learned something new and was grateful," Huffman wrote. Huffman also warned that with some of Conor's writing, "I can tell you from experience that The Post editors could cut it by 30 percent and you wouldn't notice anything was missing." We're not sure about that claim. But we look forward to working with Conor over the next three months and helping to sharpen his writing and get his ideas out there.

For now, we must say thanks and goodbye to Nancy and Lauren. Both produced strong work during the course of this contest. Our judges picked Nancy as the winner of the blogging week, because they said she wrote the posts they most wanted to read and that left them wanting to know more. Lauren, meanwhile, won points from commenters for her authenticity, especially during the live Q&A round. We have no doubt we'll be reading and hearing more from these smart women.

And so we bring the second season of America's Next Great Pundit to a close. And we leave the final word to you. What was your favorite part of this year's contest? What should we do differently if we do it again? What would you look for in an initial entry to help predict whether a contestant can produce more than one strong piece? Was the top 50 voting round a worthwhile addition? How much should readers or judges be able to influence the outcome? We'd like to know what you think.


Final Vote Results

CW - Conor Williams (1559 votes)
LH - Lauren Hogan (707 votes)
NG - Nancy Goldstein (1167 votes)

BY Marisa Katz

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POSTED AT 7:20 PM ET, 10/28/2010

This week's vote results

The results are in. After watching our final four in a video round-table debate and a live online discussion, readers voted for Ted Reinstein to be eliminated from the contest. Reinstein was a reader favorite in the previous two rounds of voting. And since by day he's a television reporter, the video challenge should have played to some of his strengths. As part of the video critique, judge Jonathan Capehart complimented Reinstein for being "so comfortable and relaxed in your own skin." Yet voters today said Reinstein was the one they wanted to send home. Was there strategic voting in this round, in which we asked readers to vote to eliminate rather than to advance a contestant? We did see one mass "vote for someone else" e-mail make the rounds on behalf of a finalist. But all we know for sure is that we have to say thanks and goodbye to Ted.

That leaves Conor Williams, Lauren Hogan and Nancy Goldstein in the final. Over the past two weeks, we've asked them to demonstrate their versatility as pundits: to prove that they can blog on tight deadlines and on a range of topics, field questions from readers, and present confident opinions on video. We believe all of those skills are essential for a successful and influential modern pundit. But the ability to write a traditional opinion column remains important, too. So now, we've asked them to write the best opinion column they can write. We'll publish those on Monday and ask for your final vote on who should win the title of America's Next Great Pundit 2010.

The official tally for the third round of voting is below:


Semifinal-Round Vote Results

CW - Conor Williams (253 votes)
LH - Lauren Hogan (175 votes)
NG - Nancy Goldstein (430 votes)
TR - Ted Reinstein (734 votes)

BY Marisa Katz

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POSTED AT 6:00 PM ET, 10/27/2010

Capehart's critique of the video challenge

Post editorial writer and TV personality Jonathan Capehart gave the final four pundit contestants some tough love after their video challenge. Watch his critique below. And when you're ready, cast your vote for which contestant should NOT advance to the finals. Polls are open 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. ET.

For a larger version of the video, click here.

BY Marisa Katz

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POSTED AT 8:00 AM ET, 10/26/2010

It comes down to heroes

Thoughts from Post columnist Dana Milbank on the Q&A challenge:

Let's do this by process of elimination.

First one out: Nancy. Asked to name a main competitor, three contestants praised Nancy, and she answered: "Sorry, but I really just don't think about it that way." Also, she praised a New York Times columnist, Krugman, twice.

Next out: Lauren. She praised another New York Times columnist, Brooks.

Then I'm afraid Conor must be eliminated for answering back-to-back questions with "Great question" and "Fantastic question" and then later following up with "good follow-up."

That leaves us with my informal pick for winner of this Q&A round, Ted, who had me at "My heroes tend to be the Will Rogers of the world."

BY Dana Milbank

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POSTED AT 4:31 PM ET, 10/25/2010

Why so unwilling to take a stand?

Thoughts from Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt on the Q&A challenge:

I'm afraid this Q&A read more like a politicians' forum than a pundit free-for-all, with the main object being not to offend any voters (while rallying that Kalamazoo electorate!).

Okay, I know it is hard to do these live discussions. When you're put on the spot like this, your first goal inevitably will be to not write anything really dumb or offensive. And all four of our contestants not only crossed that threshold but also sounded intelligent, reasonably knowledgeable across a range of subjects and quite well-spoken (or, as Vice President Biden might say, "articulate and bright and clean"). But there was just too much "We need less spending AND less taxing," "We need rationality AND emotion." Conor quoted himself, Nancy wimped out when everyone else named her as the pundit to beat, and everyone came out in favor of bridging unbridgeable divides and the like.

A good pundit shouldn't be looking to shock. Thoughtful is good. But a pundit should be willing to give offense in a worthy cause -- and be ready to take the heat for doing so. The goal, after all, is to encourage your readers and viewers to think about things in a new way. 

BY Fred Hiatt

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POSTED AT 3:53 PM ET, 10/25/2010

Where's the personality?

Thoughts from Post columnist and Chatological Humor host Gene Weingarten on the Face the Audience challenge, in which the finalists had to field questions from readers:

Here is my reaction to the online chat, with one caveat: I have only read this last round. I have not read the previous rounds, during which it is entirely possible that one or more of these contestants proved him or herself to have some personality, brio, edge, energy, courage or sense of humor.

But it sure wasn't apparent from this round. They sounded like very bright, well-informed high school students trying to impress and ingratiate themselves with a civics teacher. The responses were all earnest, predictable, wonky, bland and safe. I found not a single idea that was creative or new. I found not a single expression, independent clause, or any sequence of words that made me snap to attention. Most important, I didn't find a single moment of humor. Worse, there was not even failed humor, for which I would have given some credit. It is as though none of these four sees any value in striving for humor. They are all as funny as an aneurysm.

I know all these people are trying hard, but I think they are trying to be inoffensive, which is a perfectly pleasant and nice goal, I suppose, but the last thing one wants in a pundit.

Frankly, I am worried, and not just for this year. For this year, well, if one of you doesn't get better, the "winner" is going to win for being the least bad. But my biggest worry is for the future: There is something wrong with a selection process that produces this level of bland.

I want to end on something positive. You're all literate and clean. Amazingly few typos, dangling participles and whatnot. In other words, good penmanship.

Agree with Gene? Disagree? Weigh in in the comments section. And on Thursday, there will be an opportunity to vote.

BY Gene Weingarten

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POSTED AT 7:55 PM ET, 10/22/2010

The blogging round results

The results are in.

Readers voted for Conor Williams, Lauren Hogan and Ted Reinstein to move on to the next round. Conor, Lauren and Ted will be joining blogging round winner Nancy Goldstein for a live discussion with readers at noon on Monday. And we hope you'll send some good questions their way. (You can submit questions before or during the discussion.)

Also based on reader votes, we have to say goodbye to Amina Luqman, Anthony Tata, Paul Rosenzweig, Robert Lehrman, Ryan McElveen and William Cunion. Thanks to all of you for putting yourselves out there, for writing standout entries that caught the attention of Post editors and readers, and for the energy and creativity and thought you put into this extremely tough blogging week. You should feel good about your work, and we hope to hear more from you.

The blogging round vote tally is below.


Blogging Round Results

AL - Amina Luqman (43 votes)
AT - Anthony Tata (304 votes)
CW - Conor Williams (446 votes)
LH - Lauren Hogan (544 votes)
NG - Nancy Goldstein*
PR - Paul Rosenzweig (25 votes)
RL - Robert Lehrman (273 votes)
RM - Ryan McElveen (280 votes)
TR - Ted Reinstein (638 votes)
WC - William Cunion (380 votes)

* Judges' pick: automatically qualified for next round


BY Marisa Katz

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POSTED AT 8:10 AM ET, 10/22/2010

Nancy wins the round, and some final thoughts

First, I should say I was very impressed by the quality of the writing from the contenders, the top fraction of a percent of those who applied to the contest. Some I am sure will go on to win other rounds of America's Next Great Pundit Contest, and should, based on their facility with the column form and assured prose.

But for the blogging round, it's Nancy Goldstein. My criteria in making the pick: whose arguments did I remember at the end of the week? And whose blog items did I learn enough from that I mentioned something from them to someone else?

And while Amina Luqman and Robert Lehrman wrote a number of memorable posts, as I sat down to think of it, more of Goldstein's items stood out. And she's the only one who wrote something that helped change a live conversation, being the first person to publicly note the connection between the timing of Virginia Thomas' call to Anita Hill and the publication of an unflattering A1 New York Times story about Thomas that very day.

That's what blogging is supposed to do.

BY Garance Franke-Ruta

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POSTED AT 7:01 AM ET, 10/22/2010

Strong finish to the blogging challenge

Final thoughts:


First, the blogging week is hard -- the hardest week of the contest for me. Congrats to the contestants on surviving!


Second, putting yourself out in public can be brutal. It's a new experience for most contestants, and it feels personal when judges and commenters rip into your work. People forget you aren't a public figure -- you're doing this on top of your regular life. While I empathize, here's my advice: Thicken your skin, swallow your pride, and focus on improving as you go. If you win and write columns for The Post, the platform is bigger, the criticism is much tougher, and the editors don't pull punches either.


Nancy Goldstein was my winner because every day, I wanted to read what she had posted. I knew it would be opinionated, fresh and well-written. I agreed with some of her thoughts, disagreed with others, but I always wanted to read it. By the end of the week, Anthony Tata was my runner-up. He had a sharp wit, strong opinions and his writing became tighter. Conor Williams's work was polished and his ideas were good. I think he's a contender.


I'm impressed with the quality of writing and thinking from many of the other finalists, too. I'll be excited to see what you produce in the coming rounds!

BY Kevin Huffman

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POSTED AT 7:32 PM ET, 10/21/2010

Nancy Goldstein wins the challenge

It wasn't easy. But for me the person most likely to write a blog I'll want to read is Nancy Goldstein. She will clearly throw a lot of punches. And she will willingly mix it up with others. She'll tell me about stuff I don't know about -- and will hector me into understanding why I <i>should</i> know about it.

Goldstein made me want to know more about what will happen when whoever controls Congress next year finds the Blackwater mess dumped in their laps. Not something that was on my radar. When folks criticized her for being squishy on whether she liked Christine O'Donnell's Reagenesque optimism, she stood her ground and swiftly amplified her point. I would want to read the Oy vey of the day. Though I repeat: Please don't make the Oy vey of the day something everyone else has already said "oy vey" about.

The posts were chatty and quickly accessible, but not at all dumbed down. There were generous helpings of snark, but, crucially, an earnest moral underpinning to it all. The other contestants were accomplished writers with plenty to say and plenty of talent. But the blog idiom is a very peculiar one that requires a specific set of ingredients to make it work. Goldstein seems already to have them in her possession.

BY Greg Sargent

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POSTED AT 10:07 AM ET, 10/21/2010

Focus on features

I was a little disappointed that in the recurring feature challenge no one suggested anything visual or that involves Web video. Items with art get better click-through and also encourage readers to spend more time on any given page, and in general video and photo offerings are as important a part of any given blog as links.

To the challenge, then. I've divided my reactions to the proposals into categories:


Nancy Goldstein, "Oy Vey of the Day." This takes the standard-issue quote of the day format one step further. It would be a great campaign season feature, and should probably be sustainable after that.

Paul Rosenzweig, "Beyond the Beltway." I like the idea of bringing in some ignored regional issue, but where's the opinion here? Find a take and it's good concept.

Amina Luqman, "The Social Scene column." Blogs plus columns are a good mix and it's good to program the week with something people can rely on on specific days.


Ted Reinstein, "Mind-Mouth-Unplugged." This should be shorter -- let the gaffes speak for themselves.

Robert Lehrman, "The 3Bs: Three ways to get a bigger bang for the buck." Highlighting a worthy ignored cause of the week in a Nick Kristofian vein could work, but three different topics is too many for one blog item and will run through them too quickly.


Antony Tata, "The Weekly Six-Pack." Remember you're pitching to blog for The Post Opinions section and consider the broader institution's existing offerings. Most of the random fun stuff that's really interesting and buzzy online will get sucked up by Melissa Bell's fun new blog Blog Post as it breaks -- a blog that already does a lot of what you are proposing for this feature. And what do the topics listed have to do with your opinions on the world?

William Cunion, "Unintended Consequences." This will be hard to sustain, though I like the idea of bringing history into the mix.

Conor Williams, "Everybody Knows It." If everyone already knows it, no one will read it.

Laura Hogan, "History Repeating." This concept could easily wind up relying on false parallels.

God no.

Ryan McElveen, "This week's polluter of purity." That is not what you want to call a feature on racial gaffes. Just sayin.'

BY Garance Franke-Ruta

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