Last week, J-Source published an op-ed from Melanie Coulson who said the National Newspaper Awards need to make some changes to reflect journalism in the digital era. In this letter to the editor, Scott White, the chair of the NNAs board of governors, responds to that column, arguing the program has never been afraid to adapt to the changing landscape of journalism.

By Scott White, Chair, Board of Governors, National Newspaper Awards

Melanie Coulson’s recent opinion piece about the National Newspaper Awards raises some important issues about the relevancy of one of the country’s premier journalism awards programs as newspapers transform from print to digital platforms.

But those who haven’t read the fine print of the NNAs rules might be surprised to learn the awards do in fact recognize excellence in digital and multimedia journalism over many categories.

The NNA Board of Governors has been dealing with the transition of digital journalism for many years. A Multimedia Feature award was introduced in 2008, and online-only elements for several categories such as breaking news have been included for several years. Starting in 2012, digital journalism could be submitted in 21 of the 22 categories. The lone non-digital category is Presentation, which honours exceptional skills in the design of printed newspapers.

(With the exception of Presentation and Special Project, which also recognizes newspaper layout, entrants are not required to submit printed newspaper pages as proof of publication. Digital URLs have been accepted as proof of publication for several years.)


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The Board updated its rules for 2012 to state: “All categories now permit `all journalistic tools’; ie., text, video, audio, and social media.” This means cartoonists can submit animated cartoons and editorialists can include video commentary. It also means reporters can include video, tweets and blogs in any of those 21 categories.

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Several years ago, the board updated its definition of a newspaper as follows:

To be eligible, an entry must have been published first in (the year of the contest) by a Canadian daily newspaper – whether in print or online – in English or French.

This recognized the fact that some of the best journalism in Canada was being done online only and not being printed on newsprint. This rule evolved further last year when the NNAs redefined what is meant by a newspaper in this digital age:

The Governors may, on application by the owner of an Internet site and in advance of the due date for filing entries as set by the Governors in each year of the awards program, deem the Internet site to be “a Canadian daily newspaper” if in their view it either –

(i)  is an electronic Internet version of a printed Canadian daily newspaper, or

(ii) has all of the following characteristics –

(a) it is produced in Canada and is intended for the general reception of the public;

(b) its journalism is similar in nature to that published in daily newspapers as traditionally submitted to this awards program and the particular categories thereof and is suited to being considered on the same footing as entries from daily newspapers in the same category under the existing rules and guidelines;

(c) it is not intended to be in itself a promotional or marketing effort of any company, political party, government, institution, cause or person;

(d) its journalism is not supported by outside funding(e) it is a “daily” publication in that it produces news and original journalism on a regular and not on an occasional basis; and

(f) it or its contents are not submitted to any awards program in the community newspaper, magazine or broadcasting industry sectors.

This rule change allowed news organizations like Yahoo and the Huffington Post to enter the NNAs. In fact, HuffPo Canada was nominated in the Investigations category for work it did in 2012.

Coulson’s opinion piece seems to raise some questions about the definition of a newspaper these days. It is a difficult thing to define – witnessed by the somewhat lengthy definition the NNAs have used in its own definition of who is eligible to enter the awards.  But the NNAs have truly evolved to include and recognize the work done by traditional newspapers and new media newsrooms on all platforms.

The NNAs are not open to work done by broadcasters, magazines or community newspapers. There are existing awards programs that recognize the journalism – including digital journalism – produced by those organizations. Will the NNAs ever be open to all Canadian news organizations, regardless of their legacy platform? That’s an inevitable debate that will happen in the future as the type of work newsrooms do becomes more digitally focused.

I expect more changes to the NNAs rules of entry will happen in the coming years. I’m proud to be associated with a program that has never been afraid to adapt to the changing landscape of journalism. In doing so, there needs to be recognition that long-form storytelling is still important, but that the digital tools available to journalists should also be awarded.

Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, is the chair of the Board of Governors of the National Newspaper Awards. The full list of rules and entry guidelines can be found at the NNA website: http://www.nna-ccj.ca/.

Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.