For those who have, like us, been waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the finalists in the Contest of Our Time—the WaPo’s marvelously well-advised Star Search-for-bloviators that is “America’s Next Great Pundit” competition—well, you can now, finally, exhale.
That’s right, America: The finalists have been announced! Calloo, callay!
And they are, quite literally, a select few. “About 4,800 contestants entered,” the Post declares, in the tone of a college brochure trying but failing to be breezy about its ‘selectivity’ rating, “each sending us a short opinion piece and bio.”
Among the entrants were people from all 50 states and D.C.; students in their late teens and retirees in their 80s; people boasting Washington insider knowledge and people claiming to represent average Americans; devoted Democrats and die-hard Republicans and all political perspectives in between. We editors enjoyed reading. Some submissions made us smile. Many made us think. Collectively, they were inspiring. Having to narrow the field to ten finalists wasn’t so fun.
While the pundit contest is, as we’ve noted, gimmicky/misguided/farcical/fill-in-your-preferred-adjective-here, the Post has managed, actually, to narrow down its entrants to an impressive group of finalists—bio-wise, at least. The bunch features a Nobel laureate, a Teach for America exec, a Middle East expert, a small-town-weekly editor, and more. Diversity!
So…which of these will be America’s Next Great Pundit? In the grand traditions of American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and, of course, The Next Food Network Star…that’s your call now, America. (Well, um, kind of. Per the Post’s delicate wording on the matter: “reader votes will help to determine who gets another chance at a byline and who has to shut down his or her laptop.” So…it’s partially your call, America.) But, still: Democracy! Or an approximation thereof! And, of course, punditry!
Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.