Tuesday, 25 March 2008

NNAs feedback

Former Toronto Sun staffers Linda Williamson and Rob Paynter respond to Lorrie Goldstein's column about the National Newspaper Awards drought at Sun Media.

Linda Williamson, former editor, writes: "I applaud Lorrie's column because it accurately summed up the feeling of many at the Sun regarding the NNAs.

I remember the annual battle as an editor, trying to persuade some of the chain’s finest journalists to enter the NNAs, only to meet with the usual protest – “Why bother? Tabloids never win.”

For Sun papers, the NNAs are like the lottery: Sure, the preponderance of wins in certain quarters is sometimes suspicious, but the only sure thing is that if you don’t enter, you’ll never win.

True, the NNA bias seemed to be that tabloid journalists were good at taking photos, but not at stringing words together. Still, this perceived bias made the exceptions that much sweeter. Even the tiny, cash-strapped Ottawa Sun managed four NNA nominations – two for special project and two for feature writing – when I was there between 1992 and 1995.

It’s true that Sun papers have fared far worse in this lottery in recent years than in the past, and the decline seems to have accelerated in tandem with Quebecor cuts. Another factor may have been Quebecor’s plan to pull out of the Canadian Newspaper Association in recent years, to save money on the membership fees.

I’m not sure if it ever went through with this, and it’s not supposed to affect NNA entries in any case, but if it did, it might be another piece of this puzzle.

Enough speculation, however. Let’s at least get the numbers straight. TSF reported that since 1995, the Toronto Sun has had only two NNA nominations, both unsuccessful, in 2004.

Not so. From 1995 to present, the Toronto Sun had 12 NNA nominations (full disclosure – I was one of them, for editorial writing in 1997).

And the Sun chain (I’m talking the six major English dailies here, excluding Bowes and Osprey) had 24, including four wins – although there have been no wins since 1998.

Since 1995, there have been three years where the chain has been shut out: 2003, 2006 and 2007, which may or may not signal a trend. And in 2000, 2005 and 2001, the Toronto Sun was not among Sun Media’s nominees. Clearly, these have not been the best of times.

But for posterity’s sake, let’s give due credit to those who did manage to catch the eye of the NNA judges, including Lorrie himself, who was justly nominated for an NNA for editorial writing in 1994, (if memory serves, I was at the awards that year because the Ottawa Sun’s Rob Benzie was also nominated for feature writing – unfortunately, the CNA/NNA website only goes back to 1995).

Here’s an NNA list ’95 on (all are honourable mentions except where noted):

1995: Heather Mallick, Toronto Sun, Critical Writing; Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, Cartooning; Sarah Green, Ottawa Sun, Feature Writing.

1996: Fred Sherwin, Ottawa Sun, Spot News Photo (WIN); Heather Mallick, Toronto Sun, Feature Writing (WIN); Ottawa Sun team, Special Project; Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun, Sports Writing; Stan Behal, Toronto Sun, Sports Photo.

1997: Dave Chidley, Calgary Sun, Feature Photo (WIN); Linda Williamson, Toronto Sun, Editorial Writing.

1998: London Free Press team, Layout (WIN); London Free Press team, Spot News; Heather Mallick, Toronto Sun, Feature Writing.

1999: Fred Thornhill, Toronto Sun, Sport Photo; Thane Burnett, Toronto Sun, Enterprise Reporting.

2000: John Larter, Calgary Sun, Cartooning; Suzanne Bird, Ottawa Sun, Sports Photo.

2001: Walter Tychnowicz, Edmonton Sun, Spot News Photo; Suzanne Bird, Ottawa Sun, Feature Photo.

2002: Jack Boland, Toronto Sun, Sports Photo.

2004: Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun, News Photo; Mark Bonokoski, Toronto Sun, Columns.

2005: Derek Ruttan, London Free Press, Feature Photo; Earl McRae, Ottawa Sun, Sports Writing.


Rob Paynter writes: "Here's another take on the NNAs and Sun Media:

Awards while I was at the London Free Press (then a Sun Media newspaper):

National Newspaper Award winner, layout and design, 1998; NNA nominee, spot news reporting 1998; International Society of Newspaper Design breaking news award 2001; Canadian Photojournalist of the Year 1998;

And while at the Ottawa Sun with Hartley Steward, John Paton, Rick Van Sickle and Mike Therien, multiple NNA nominations for feature writing, 1992, 1993, 1996 and special project 1995.

I've been an NNA judge twice and I saw no hint of bias against Sun Media. Good journalism wins NNAs."

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