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Why Medium Changed The Featured Image Of The Grand Prize Winner’s Piece

  • 6 min read

The winning piece had one big flaw you should avoid too

New and self-published writer Randi Ragan won the Grand Prize of the Medium Writers Challenge and $60K.

Still, her dynamic essay has one flaw — although it’s just a formality.

As many writers such as Burk said ‘a flaw that (…) should have excluded the piece from the challenge’, or as Lisa Gerard Braun stated ‘it’s Medium I’m questioning’ and ‘I had higher expectations in Medium’s process and they ended up being similar to Vocal by breaking their own rules.’

Well, I was surprised too.

Keep on reading and I will tell you why and what you can learn from it.

The winning piece is missing one crucial formatting requirement

As you can see, I made a screenshot of the winning piece ‘Keeper Of The Place’ when the Grand Prize winner was announced last week.

screenshot by Kristina God

In her initial story, Randi uses a featured image without any source citation.

What’s a featured image?

A featured image (also known as post thumbnail) is the main article image which represents the content. wpbeginner

What’s the issue?

The lack of proper source citing (as well as formatting, but that’s another story) surprised a lot of new as well as more experienced writers.


Every writer on this platform is constantly cautioned about assigning credit to images.

Especially for the Writers Challenge, (new) writers should read Medium’s Official Rules as well as Distribution Standards thoroughly.

Submissions must…

comply with the Medium Rules and meet Medium’s Distribution Standards. Contest subject to Official Rules. Details and restrictions apply, so visit here for Official Rules.

Here’s more on the initial criteria Medium announced in their blog post:

Moreover, here’s a screenshot of the Medium Writers Challenge Contest Official Rules

screenshot by Kristina God

In the official Distribution Standards (Updated: December 9, 2020) you can read the following in regard to Copyright images:

screenshot by Kristina God

To come back to my screenshot of the initial post, maybe the image of the roadmap is free to use. Who knows.

Nevertheless, Randi did not cite the source of her featured image. Therefore, she did not meet the requirements.

Moreover, she did not format her article properly. For instance, a subheadline is missing.

‘It’s such a big deal, that I don’t even see how it slipped by the writer, let alone the Medium staff’, stated Justiss Goode in the comment section of my article on the Grand Prize winner.

How could the winning entry be corrected?

As Burk said in his short form article:

Randi’s entry could be fixed by simply including the source.

But what if this image wasn’t free to use? Then, this $60K winner would be (guilty of) copyright infringement.

Here’s how Medium corrected the potential issue

A few hours ago Medium changed the featured image, in order to further promote Randi and her story.

The new image gives users a quick glimpse and prompts them to the entire article.

Now it looks like this:

screenshot by Kristina God

It shows a beautiful, carefully designed illustration by freelance illustrator Raphaelle Macaron based in Paris.

Here’s Raphaelle’s portfolio:

screenshot by Kristina God


From a marketing perspective, this attractive featured image with proper source citation is perfect and very professional.


The winning piece can be prominently displayed on Medium’s website and other owned media, as well as displayed on social media feeds when the winning article is shared.

The improbable really happened

Oops! Unfortunately, Randi did it again…

In her latest post, she again didn’t cite the source of her featured image:

screenshot Kristina God

I googled the image of the flying dandelion seeds and successfully found the source.

As you can see in this article from CBC, it’s from Shutterstock.

screenshot by Kristina God

Here it is on Shutterstock:

screenshot by Kristina God

Do I need to credit Shutterstock/the artist when I use images or footage?

As Shutterstock’s Support says:

‘Yes, there are situations in which you’ll need to credit Shutterstock content: any use in an editorial context and in merchandise (….) 
If you use any images or footage for editorial pieces, you must include a proper attribution.

Using Shutterstock images or footage in an editorial piece requires an attribution to give credit.

Final Takeaways

Every compelling story needs an attractive featured image.

One crucial rule of the game of online writing is:

When you write about a topic you love and want to use a Creative Commons-licensed image (from Unsplash, Piyabay, Pexels…), you should have the rights for and cite your source properly!

I want to conclude my piece with Lisa Gerard Braun‘s comment in regard to the Writers’ Challenge 2021:

There should have been an initial AI gate for determining format requirements; the judges would have had a lot less to read thru from what I saw.

A lot were missing subtitles, no photo creds, no cover photo at all.

It saddened me because I had higher expectations in Medium’s process…

It’s important that we can trust Medium’s team to follow their own guidelines.

© Kristina God

Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

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