Ink-stained wretches, arise!


I don’t know much about the Globe & Mail’s strategy for dominating the National Newspaper Awards, but it’s working. They received an outlandish 24 nominations for the highest honours in Canadian fishwrap this year. And 23 of them are probably rock solid! But I believe there’s a problem with the one they’re proudest of—at least, it’s the first piece they mention in their own story on the nominations, and the first item on the list of links they have attached.

I refer to Ken Dryden’s colourful, typically Drydenesque 3,000-word essay on concussions in ice hockey. It appeared in the Globe’s Oct. 1 edition, and there’s the wrinkle: the same essay appeared on Bill Simmons’ Grantland.com subsite for ESPN, where it is dated Sept. 30. The NNAs are intended for original content written specifically for Canadian newspapers, as Rule 1 of the competition reflects:

To be eligible, an entry must have been published first in 2011 by a Canadian daily newspaper —whether in print or online—in English or French.

The Globe has not yet responded on the record to a request for comment. (The Dryden essay may also have a problem under Rule 3 if the lawyer-goaltender was paid by both ESPN and the Globe for the copy.)

I noticed yesterday that the Dryden piece was not original to the Globe, and my initial instinct was not to make a big deal of it. Anyone who’s been a freelancer as long as I was has an overdeveloped resistance to offending even the most unlikely future employer. But then I thought: as if Ken Dryden really gives a crap whether he wins a “Newspaper Award”? Five Six Stanley Cup rings and two pensions aren’t enough?

The letter of the rule isn’t the only issue here. These awards are supposed to be a morale boost for professionals who do good work on deadline. I’m not sure the net effect of journalism awards is positive, but the explicit idea behind them is to encourage support for ambitious journalism—to bestir editors to big projects, to provide incentives for applying plenty of resources to breaking news, and to buy time and column-inches for individuals to work on the biggest stories of their careers. In that light, I don’t see the point of nominating Ken Dryden for such an award at all, and especially not for a piece that got sold twice after being written at leisure, as a rich, influential man’s intervention in a policy debate.

Dryden is competing with one of the Globe’s own sportswriters for the shiny bauble in the Sports category. Some other professional inside or outside the Globe, someone to whom an NNA nom would have literal hard cash value, has already been denied. I can’t be the only one irked about this. In fact, Dryden is such a nice guy and has such a keen sense of fair play that I suspect he’d be on my side.


Ink-stained wretches, arise!

  1. Who judges these?

    • Each category has its own panel of journalists (or photographers and designers where relevant). Most are retired or otherwise hors de combat (as ombudsmen, for example), but there are usually a few still-active ones scattered around. The NNA site doesn’t have a list of judges for the 2011 awards.

      • Thanks, Colby – wondered if journalists themselves voted or there were judges set up.

  2. The rule seems a little bit odd. 

    If person submits an article to several publishers, like ESPN and the G and M, and it is accepted by both, and ESPN prints it first, then the entry is disqualified from an award. 

    However, if the person submits an article to several publishers, like
    ESPN and the G and M, and it is accepted by both, and G and M prints it first, then the entry qualifies?

    Or, if the person submits an article to several publishers, like ESPN and the G and M, and it is rejected by ESPN but published by G and M, then the entry qualifies?

    I can see the desire to limit awards to original content, but the rule itself does not seem to be entirely  fair.

    • The reason for the rule is, I think, the reason I have elucidated here: the awards are for full-time journalists employed by Canadian newspapers, or freelancers who have had work commissioned by Canadian newspapers. The awards are not for dilettantes writing stuff in their spare time on spec and sending it to 40 publishers, even if it is excellent stuff. We can’t build a journalism industry on distinguished retirees.

      • OK, so I guess you’re saying it purposely excludes freelancers whose work was not commissioned by Canadian newspapers.

        Although I guess in some cases such people would not be excluded as long as a Canadian newspaper published their work first.

        • Freelancers don’t write on spec. Not for a living. They’ll pitch to a newspaper or magazine at an early stage and then report and write. That’s what we want newspapers to do: to commission and buy stuff, ideally at a rate that only requires you to sell it once.

  3. Are you sure it didn’t appear in the online G & M earlier?  Seems to be a common occurrence (online the day before the print edition) at the local rag.

  4. The Globe page for the essay indicates that it was published online Oct. 3, so no, that doesn’t work.

  5. I have to admit, when I saw the list, I too was surprised Dryden qualified at all for a NNA for a guest op piece

    Ironically, his 1983 book The Game made it to the finals for CBC’s 2012 Canada Reads, defended by Alan Thicke.

    I’m nominating Two Solitudes for 2013, defended by Tommy Hunter (Don Messer, RIP,  is unavailable)

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