One thousand four hundred writers. Two weeks. One champion.
It is what Conor Williams '05 calls "the Washington Post version of a reality show," and he is right in the thick of it.
Williams is one of 10 finalists left in a competition, run by the Washington Post, titled "America's Next Great Pundit." The winner receives a three-month contract with the Post as a columnist and blogger—something enviable enough for 1,400 individuals to compete for.
This week Williams, along with the other finalists, participated in the blogging round, during which each was given an overnight topical assignment to write about every evening. The contestants also had the opportunity to write on a subject of their choosing on some additional days. The posts can be seen on the contest website.
The blogging culminates today, when readers can vote for their favorite writer of the group in the hope of sending him or her to the second of four rounds. In each round, a combination of votes and judging will send fewer and fewer candidates through until a winner is chosen after the fourth and final round.
"It's not my full-time job though it's taking up an absolute ton of my free time," said Williams, a Ph.D. student in government at Georgetown University.
Williams said he is looking forward to getting past the blogging round—where word counts were tightly restricted—and writing longer pieces.
When asked what he thought his chances at the title were, Williams chuckled.
"That sort of depends on Bowdoin students," he said. "I need a lot of votes."
Williams felt that regardless of where he ended up, the experience already had been worthwhile.
"I'm enjoying myself at this point," Williams said. "I'm in the top 10—it's an accomplishment in and of itself. [But] I see no reason why I can't contend for this."
Writing about politics was something that Williams started doing his senior year of high school, a practice he continued while at Bowdoin. He began writing for the Orient and by his senior year was writing a regular column.
Williams also was involved in politics academically; he was a government and legal studies major with a concentration in political theory. Williams completed an honors project on John Dewey with Professor of Government and Legal Studies Paul Franco.
"It's going to come as no surprise given where he's landed," Franco said, "but he was a wonderful student."
Franco said he specifically remembered the first time—one of many he said—Williams took a class with him. It was a first year seminar called "Athens and Jerusalem" the beginning of which was marked by September 11, 2001.
"What could you do in a first year seminar but talk about what this all meant," Franco said. "Perhaps a foreshadowing of his punditry—[Williams] had very interesting and thoughtful opinions."
After graduation, Williams taught as part of the Teach for America program in Brooklyn, New York before heading to Georgetown in pursuit of his Ph.D. degree in government. Williams has written political prose in several places prior to the contest, including Dissent Magazine and the Center for American Progress.
Of the 1,400 original applicants, five were immediately chosen as finalists based on their submission essays. A further 50, including Williams, were pit against each other via public voting. Williams was one of the top five vote getters, pushing him into the group of 10 finalists.