The Globe and Mail has returned the Online Journalism Award it received from the Online News Association last month for its Breaking Caste multimedia series after realizing it had entered in the wrong category by mistake.

The Globe and Mail has returned the Online Journalism Award it received from the Online News Association last month for its Breaking Caste multimedia series after realizing it had entered in the wrong category by mistake.

As a result, The Chronicle of Higher Education has won the Feature, Medium category, for its piece, “The Education of Dasmine Cathey.”

The OJA changed the criteria for news organizations this year, for the first time having entrants placed in categories based on staff size as opposed to the audience metrics it had used in the past. The Globe had entered Breaking Caste had in the Feature, Medium category, but because of The Globe’s staff size, the entry should have been made in the Large category. The Feature, Large category was won by CNN's series on slavery in Mauritania.

Jill Borra, The Globe’s executive editor, reached out to Online Journalism Award chair Joshua Hatch last week to bring it to his attention and offered to return the award, Hatch told J-Source in an interview.

“The fact that there was a change [to the categories], by nature, creates confusion,” said Hatch.

Borra did not immediately respond to a J-Source request for comment, but The Globe’s story on the award win now runs under an amended headline and has added a note to reflect the return of the award. The note reads:


Note to Readers: The Globe and Mail has returned an award it received from the Online News Association after learning that it was mistakenly entered in the incorrect category. It was brought to our attention that due to a misinterpretation of the entry instructions, the multimedia project Breaking Caste – which won for Best Feature, Medium at the Online Journalism Awards – had been submitted in the wrong size category. The Globe and Mail alerted the ONA, and has returned the award.


The Globe series told the story of girls of the Prerna school in Bihar, India — a school that The Globe says “offers a remarkable and life-changing opportunity to ‘untouchable’ girls to gain an education” and was reported by India-based correspondent Stephanie Nolen.

Changes to OJA categories

Hatch explained the reasoning for changing the category divisions this year. “We were trying to get at what are the potential resources an organization can throw at something, not simply what they did throw at something.”


But because organizations can be structured in such different ways – between partnerships, freelancers and potential separation of digital and legacy staff – Hatch said the confusion was understandable and the Online News Assocation has been taking feedback to make changes for next year’s awards. Overall, though, he said the new categories did make things “more fair than in the past” when they were divided based on audience metrics.

The difficulty arises when “trying to balance giving guidelines and rules that are broad enough to account for different variations out there and narrow enough to address them,” Hatch said.

Asked why The Globe’s entry into the wrong category was not caught by the ONA before presenting the newspaper with the award, Hatch said that with over 900 entries, they simply don’t have the resources to audit every single entry to make sure they’re in the proper category. “We just didn’t notice it,” Hatch said of The Globe’s entry. “We weren’t intimately familiar with the entrant.”

Hatch said that he believed the misentry was not intentional, and that The Globe didn’t realize the mistake until award night or shortly thereafter when it noticed it was up against organizations much smaller than it. And such, the newspaper offered to return the award, Hatch said.

“It was an honest mistake,” he continued.

The judges then went back and reviewed the other entrants and decided The Chronicle of Higher Education was most deserving of the award.

Among the changes that will be made next year to alleviate some confusion is a spot on the entry form for organizations to explain why they think they belong in the divisions they enter. “We’ll have a clear way to see their rationale,” Hatch said. “That will allow us to say ‘hey, this doesn’t seem right’ or ‘that does seem right.’”


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