By Frank Moher
A number of years ago I proposed a story to Saturday Night magazine on the journalist Barry Broadfoot, veteran western Canadian newspaperman and pioneer in Canada of oral histories (Ten Lost Years, Six War Years), who had a new book coming out. Over the phone, I extolled his virtues to my editor in Toronto, who replied, “And he’s a very funny guy, too.”
Really? Funny? There were all sort of things I admired about Broadfoot, but I wasn’t aware of his stand-up routines. Some time later I realized the editor thought I was talking about Dave Broadfoot, the longtime “Royal Canadian Air Farce” mainstay. No wonder they didn’t go for the story.
It was about that time I decided I was tired of trying to get Toronto media types to get a clue about the rest of the country. This may inform my reaction to the recent announcement of the winners of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, as presented by the trade publication Masthead Online. To wit: that the last thing we need is more awards coming from the centre of the universe, which is, as we all know, Mississauga.
Masthead kindly was in touch with us back when the awards were announced. I e-mailed back to say that we’d probably send in some entries (despite the $50 per entry price tag), if they could tell me that the judges would be drawn from across Canada, and not just Toronto. Awards fests have a funny way of favouring hometown entries, and the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to make sure there’s no hometown. I don’t really care about Torontoists giving one another awards and pretending they’re “national” — one gets used to it — but I don’t want to send in multiples of $50 to support it.
I didn’t get an answer, and so we didn’t enter anything. As it turns out, though, my question was apropos. Of the 30 judges over numerous categories, 20 are from Toronto. Another two come from the States. Precisely eight come from what those of us who live there like to mordantly call the “Rest of Canada.”
Now, Masthead may point to the fact that the Vancouver online mag thetyee.ca ended up winning three awards, including Best News and Best Community Feature. Indeed, they did so in the announcement of the winners. So all is well on the national unity front. The fact that the top awards (for best overall magazine website and best overall online-only website), in both the Red (consumer) and Blue (business) categories, went to Toronto publishers simply means that, er, wait, not that these awards are the same as the National Magazine Awards, where Toronto Life and The Walrus always clean up, or that, on the whole, the judges would prefer to give awards to people they’ve actually heard of and perhaps had a beer with on pub night, but because, um, excuse me, I have to go catch my subway now.
Besides the fact that it’s good to be the self-appointed King of All One Surveys, these sorts of awards are a cash cow for those who administer them. The Canadian Online Publishing Awards received over 250 entries; at $50 a pop, that’s over $12,500. That’s not chump change to a magazine that recently had to abandon its print version. And this was Year One; wait until more players, including more of the big ones, get involved. I e-mailed Masthead to ask if those fees are used to pay the judges or, if not, what they go towards. They haven’t got back to me yet, but I’ll let you know if they do (or, of course, they can reply below). But this time I don’t think I’ll hold my breath for an answer.
Meantime, congrats to The Tyee for its win(s). Much deserved. As for the others: dailyxy.com? Seriously? A magazine that features an advice column by the egregious dandy (but rather good novelist) Russell Smith? Where do you get your judges from? Toronto?
Of course, in saying that, I’m exposing my west coast bias. But that’s rather the point, isn’t it?