Thursday, May 3, 2007

Indifferent about awards until given one

Craig, in his Townie Bastard blog, wonders how I feel about journalism awards. Fact is, I was ambivalent about them for most of my career as a journalist. In my early days as a writer with The Newfoundland Herald, most of my stuff was crap; I learned how to write in public and am eternally grateful that none of that stuff is available online. So I didn’t even think about submitting award entries.

My writing style had evolved and matured by the time I started at The Sunday Express, but even then, neither myself nor my colleagues thought much about awards. Once in a while someone would say to someone else, ‘Hey that was a great piece – you should enter it for an award,’ but I don’t think we ever did. We were too busy chasing down the next week’s story list. There was absolutely no resting on your laurels.

The folks at the Atlantic Journalism Awards actually created an award for the Express during it last year of operation, apparently to correct the fact that we hadn’t been recognized up to that point (through every fault of our own). We were given a plaque-mounted Five-Year Award of Achievement, featuring an artist’s rendition of all staff members. I had been indifferent about awards up to that point but I must confess, it felt great to receive it… though I have no idea where it is now.

In 2003, I actually entered an awards competition for the Media Spotlight column I wrote for The Express newspaper. That submission won an Award of Merit from the International Association of Business Communicators. And it felt very good.

My take on awards? Easy to dismiss until you actually win one. I invite other journalists to comment on this subject…I am sure there are some interesting views to be shared.


Simon said...

Something I wrote for Atlantic Business Mag was submitted at the regional and national mag awards.

I never knew there were such thing. I knew nothing about them. I was in the dark over the process they used until RA (you know who you are) set me straight.

I never gave it too much thought but I have to confess disappointment at not moving to the next level; maybe I could have justified a rate increase ;-)

towniebastard said...

Yes, well, journalism awards don't normally equal money, sadly enough. Although one I won for best business story came with a cheque for $500. Considering what I was making (R-B paid their reporters an amount that would make people weep) it meant a lot to me at the time.

Sadly, no raise ever resulted from winning an award. But have fun trying anyway, Simon...;)

Anonymous said...

Geoff -
I'm afraid I have to differ with you on how awards were perceived in The Sunday Express newsroom. We did indeed enter the AJAs, and were shut out. (And there's a story to be told there, too, but this isn't the place.) Our former boss, Michael Harris, was deeply proud of the paper's being shortlisted for a Michener prize for its coverage of the Mount Cashel story, and deservedly so. Our problem was that as a weekly, we didn't qualify for the National Newspaper Awards ... and Michael had no interest at all in entering the community newspaper awards. Who could blame him?
Cheers -

John Gushue
(Another Sunday Express alum)

Geoff Meeker said...

John: Thank you for the correction. And you are right. Reading your words stirred some brain cells back to life. I remember the Michener shortlist, now that you mention it, and the hang-up with being a weekly. But I can't recall the AJA story and I am thinking that it's time we went for coffee!

I am chalking the memory lapses up to the fact that my hard drive turned 50 this year, some files may have been overwritten in the intervening years and my RAM could probably use an upgrade.

Nice to hear from you John!

Dawn Chafe said...

Here's my take on Awards programs: I love 'em, want one, but I do have issues with the lack of accountability. The judges do not provide any justification for how they reach their decisions, and quite often (in my opinion), the results are not an accurate reflection of the criteria under which a piece is submitted. I don't enjoy not winning, but I wouldn't mind it nearly so much if someone could explain why I/we didn't win - I think it would be a great tool for improving the quality and content of our magazine. Regardless how I would use the judges' comments, however, we put a lot of time and money into preparing award nominations and I don't think it's too much to ask why one particular entry won over another.

This is a point of view I have been quite vocal in expressing in my role as Chair of the Atlantic Journalism Awards. What amazes me is the number of journalists who don't feel the same way. Most seem puzzled that I even bring it up as an issue. But perhaps that's because I just haven't been talking to enough journalists. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say on this topic.

As a follow-up to Simon's post and his regional/national magazine award nominations, here's an FYI: Atlantic Business Magazine offers a $500 reward for a regional award win, and $1,000 for a national award win. So, if his entry had won (as it deserves to, it's a great piece), he would indeed have received additional compensation.

Dawn Chafe
Editor, Atlantic Business Magazine
Chair, Atlantic Journalism Awards

towniebastard said...

Dawn, talk to Barbara Dean-Simmons with The Packet. Lord knows she has her opinions on how awards are won and the amount of feedback that journalists receive. She'll give you plenty of suggestions.

Simon said...