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Five finalists, including a winner, are traditionally selected in each category by panels of judges chosen by the administrators of the awards. Judges are permitted but not required to choose seven finalists in Service Journalism, Lifestyle Journalism, Reporting, Feature Writing, Essays and Criticism and Public Interest. Judges include the chief editors, art directors and photography editors of leading magazines and websites. Most are members of ASME. A list of the judges is published when the winners of the awards are announced.
Judging results are subject to the approval of the National Magazine Awards Board, which is composed of current and former officers of ASME, representatives of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and veteran judges. Awards may be withheld in any category in which the entries fall below the standard of excellence set by the ASME Board of Directors or in which the number of entries is deemed insufficient by the administrators of the awards. PDFs of or links to finalists and winners are distributed after the announcement of the awards. Selected articles are included in Best American Magazine Writing, published annually by Columbia University Press.