Here’s how Canada’s National Newspaper Awards work: Every year, journalists dutifully compile entries showing what they think is their best work, and send it off. A panel of three judges creates a shortlist of nominees, and then there’s an award ceremony.
I’ve entered in at least the Editorials and Columns categories every year that I’ve been eligible, I think, so at least a dozen years, probably more. At some point, several years ago, I became resigned to the idea that I was just never going to get nominated. For one thing, the Ottawa Citizen‘s editorials had never won an NNA, not since they began in 1949, and never even been nominated so far as I know. Its oped columnists haven’t fared much better (although some of its columnists have won NNAs in other categories or at other papers, and city columnist Dave Brown won in 1992). For another, it seemed like I just kept swinging and missing. Maybe I didn’t write the way NNA-worthy writers write. That’s fine. Writers don’t write to chase awards — or they shouldn’t.
I kept entering, because it’s a paperwork chore that you just do, when you work at a newspaper. But my 2015 entry was touch and go, I have to say. I left the Citizen in early December, just before the entry window opened. Although I planned to keep freelancing, I was withdrawing from the world of daily newspapers to a great extent. I was opening a new chapter in my life. My NNA entry was the last thing on my mind. A colleague at the Citizen even had to send me a nudge to get my entry in, in January.
I took pride in that last entry, though, because I was able to enter in five categories: Columns, Editorials, Explanatory, Politics and Long Feature. I did a lot of different kinds of writing in 2015, all while running the Citizen‘s editorial pages (and while writing fiction at night), so I enjoyed my last NNA entry as a stock-taking exercise.
Being out of the loop, I had no idea when the shortlist was being announced. And I think I assumed that they let the nominees know by email or phone — if not in advance of the public release, then at least simultaneous with it.
But it turns out that they don’t. I found out through my mentions on Twitter.
I’d just walked out of the Perfect Books store in downtown Ottawa, signing copies of Monstrous Little Voices (if you’re in Ottawa and looking for a hard copy, you know where to find them signed!). I had my six-year-old with me, because it was March Break. I pulled out my phone to tweet about the signed copies — when I saw my mentions, and then saw an email from a Citizen colleague, and got a bit stunned.
It didn’t help that I was placating a hungry, thirsty, tired kid who wanted to go to the museum now while I processed the information.
“Mama got nominated for an award.”
“What does that mean?”
“I … I don’t know? Hang on, let me think!”
I’m on the short list, in the Editorials category.
The award ceremony is May 27 in Edmonton. You can read all the entries, in all the categories, on the NNA site.
I’m very proud to be nominated in such a strong field, and proud of my Citizen colleagues for their deserved nominations. I watched that newsroom at work, under the capable leadership of Joanne Chianello and Andrew Potter, as they covered a triple killing and its political and institutional ramifications, while they were covering a federal election. David Pugliese is one of the best beat reporters in the business. and the always astute and fair-minded Don Butler can report and tell a story like no one else.
So I’m a bit in awe, and my impostor syndrome is flaring up.
It’s interesting, getting a nomination for editorials in particular, rather than columns. Editorials are a weird, tricky form of writing, and I’ve struggled to write them well. As editor, I spent a lot of time musing over what role editorials ought to play in the 21st century, if any, and what their voice and mission ought to be. I’ve written a truckload of them, though, so it’s good to know that someone thought I figured it out! If I did, I owe it to the editors who taught me, particularly my first newspaper boss, Christina Spencer, and to all my editorial board colleagues over the years who taught me how to think and argue, particularly to my friend David Reevely who is the sharpest thinker I know. And to Andrew Potter and James Gordon, who shaped the 2015 editorials in particular. And to Steph Murphy, who so often gave me the space and time to write them, by taking other work off my plate.