It is dinosaur thinking to consider yourself a newspaper, writes Melanie Coulson. You are a news organization, committing fantastic acts of journalism online, on tablets, on smartphones and social media. The inky print product is but one platform. The NNAs, sadly, don’t recognize this.

By Melanie Coulson

Gird yourself, I’m about to attack a Canadian journalism institution: The National Newspaper Awards.

It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this post. No, scratch that. This has been years in the making.

I need to begin by stating that I recognize the importance of the NNAs – some have dubbed them “Canada’s Pulitzer Prize” (this kind of identifying through comparison with our American neighbours makes me cringe.) Three of my colleagues were recognized for their journalistic excellence at this year’s NNAs, an achievement that has made everyone in the newsroom proud. But journalistic excellence doesn’t occur solely in print form.

This is 2013, my dear friends at the National Newspaper Awards, it’s time to overhaul your image and your awards mandate. Your slogan is ‘Honouring the best in Canadian Journalism since 1949′ and you’re just not doing that anymore. Many senior media executives were in Ottawa in early May for the Newspapers Canada ‘Ink and Beyond’ conference and the NNAs.  Some lovingly called it “Newspapers week.”

Again, I cringe.


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It is dinosaur thinking to consider yourself a newspaper. You are a news organization, committing fantastic acts of journalism online, on tablets, on smartphones and social media. (I know, I’ve missed some). The inky print product is but one platform. The NNAs, sadly, don’t recognize this. The awards page boasts> the 66 judges who evaluate a news organization’s submission based on the piece’s Idea, Reporting, Writing, and Overall Impression. It also states:

"The qualities of good writing, good leads, color, completeness, quotes, anecdotes are given needs for all entries. To quantify judging, judges can assign points for each category."

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In setting out its judging criteria, the NNA has established a basis for awarding fantatstic acts of longform journalism, in narrative form. I love a good long read as much as the next guy, but to have only ONE category out of 22 for multimedia projects is ridiculous. To add insult, newsrooms are only allowed to enter TWO submissions for the lone multimedia award.

If the NNAs want to remain relevant in a changing mediascape, this has to change.

The colleagues I previously mentioned won their awards for political reporting and business reporting. In our submissions, my newsroom entered pages and clippings for pieces that ran in our paper, as per NNA instructions. Imagine if those categories were truly open, and online projects could be included as entries in all categories. The NNAs need to reward newsrooms who are trying new story forms, who are moving beyond traditional narrative and telling stories in new and creative ways.

They used to be the measure of a quality newsroom. While I still think winning an NNA is a chest-beating accomplishment, I now believe they are the measure of quality print storytelling. And that’s a shame. A single category for multimedia projects merely annexes the efforts of those who are truly the vanguard of Canadian media.

Melanie Coulson is the senior editor of ottawacitizen.com and the first Michener-Deacon Fellow for journalism education. This article was originally published on journomel.com and reprinted here with Coulson's permission. 

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.