CUP, we need to talk about the Johnnies. In an editorial yesterday, Natalie Serafini, the editor-in-chief of the Other Press, brought up some concerns over the annual John H. Macdonald (JHM) awards. Serafini’s words resonated with members and with that in mind, it’s time to have a discussion about the future of the awards.
Historically, the judges have remained secret until after the awards to prevent nominees from trying to sway their opinions. That being said, if an entrant sends a bottle of scotch wrapped in their printed article to one of the judges, they would be disqualified. Having a discussion about releasing the list of judges early on is important for transparency, accountability and street cred. This year’s judges are from publications like Globe and Mail, Rabble, Toronto Star, CBC, and other well-established organizations.
Small versus big papers
Talk of big papers sweeping the Johnnies comes up every year. With more staff and resources, sometimes the odds can tip in their favour. That’s not to say they don’t also consistently produce excellent work, the awards do really reflect the best of the student press in Canada.
Some of the ideas to combat this was to have a small and large subcategory for each award. Another idea was for the three finalists to all be from different sizes of papers. If you have more/other ideas, read on.
CUP versus non-CUP
As it stands right now, CUP members can enter the awards for free while non-members have to pay an entry fee. This has been subject of lengthy conversation in the past and there are a lot of strong opinions about whether non-members should even be able to enter the awards. It’s an important question to raise that there isn’t one answer to, but what’s important to consider is that this year there have been more non-CUP papers entering than CUP ones.
Host paper sweeping the Johnnies
It’s true, it happens — the host paper often wins a boatload of awards and everyone else is left wondering why that is. A lot of it has to do with proximity. Usually, the JHM coordinator is working with the host paper and gets everyone in the newsroom excited for both Nash and JHMs.
Another reason is that NASH is often hosted by large papers that generate quality content. Past hosts of recent NASHs have been The Fulcrum, The Gateway, The Martlet and the McGill Daily — all papers that have regularly been finalists and won awards.
Disqualifications happen. Every year some entries aren’t considered because they don’t adhere to the rules. Often this happens by accident and this time around there have been much less disqualifications than previous years. The policy is that the JHM co-ordinator reports on the JHM disqualifications that is then reviewed by the National Executive and the Chair of CUP’s board of directors. While making all disqualifications public is not ideal, CUP policy is to contact entrants if their work was disqualified and will allow entrants to read the report from the JHM co-ordinator if requested.
Let’s talk it out
Seriously, let’s talk about it. Serafini’s editorial is an important first step in having this conversation and, as you can see above, we have ideas to address this. But lots of brains are better than a few, so let’s have a CUPchat. This Friday at 3 p.m. EST make your way to cup.ca and let’s brainstorm on things we can improve. See you all there.
-Former labour reporter for the Globe and Mail
*the names of the judges have been removed due to a privacy agreement. If you’d like to request the names of the judges for a specific category, please email firstname.lastname@example.org