Friday, June 03, 2005

The cheapest of shots

David Zimmer's back page comments about the National Magazine Awards in Masthead's June issue is as mean-spirited a piece as has come along in some time. It think it is meant to be witty. But it is ill-informed and shockingly rude towards one individual who does not deserve it.

There are lots of ways that Zimmer could have attacked the MagAwards, but it is the cheapest of cheap shots to attack the amount of money that accompanies the prizes. Yes, Zimmer may have meant to be funny, but to ream Terry Sellwood, the immediate past president, is unfair, unfunny and just wrong on many levels. I speak as a former longtime board member and former President. I've been where Terry Sellwood is, and sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

The MagAwards are a huge success story -- a sparkling event that has been run for more than 25 years on the proverbial shoestring. It has one employee and a volunteer board and a huge coterie of judges who do an amazing job for nothing. But most of this is done with only the slimmest of contributions from the dominant players in the magazine industry. The MagAwards board has had to go begging for corporate support from outside the industry when the people who benefit from the awards, or at least bask in the reflected glory, fail to step up to the plate.

When tickets cost $150 (as they do now), people assume that this pays for the program. In part, it does, although for many years the ticket barely covered the rubber chicken dinner. Now, at least, the Carlu venue and the buffet approach allows the awards to make some money on the spread. But it is a not-for-profit charitable organization and plows every dime it makes back into the program. Problem is, in recent years, there was no surplus and, worse, small deficits gnawed away at the rainy day reserve that had been built up.

I can see the perspective of a freelancer, who could use the money. It is too bad that prize money is somewhat less than it was; it should certainly have been growing. That was why the MagAwards in its earliest days tried to pay the biggest award money of any comparable programs. Look at the paltry prizes at the National Newspaper Awards. But one look at the income statements would have set that straight.

Did Zimmer ask to see the minutes of the board? Did he ask to look at any of the studies done in recent years about judging and prizes (one of which I wrote)? Did he make a comparison of the year-over-year revenues and expenses of the awards over a period of time? We will never know what research he did, because his article doesn't say. Had he done any, it has to be assumed he wouldn't have taken the cheap shot at Sellwood or done such damage to the image of the awards. It's decidedly unfunny and unfair.

It was clear from Zimmer's tone that he knew Sellwood was speaking ironically and (if he knows Terry as he claims to) in his usual tone of Eeyore-ish badinage. To use a series of out-of-context quotes in the way he does is mischevious at best and plain rotten behaviour at worst.


Blogger Jon Spencer said...

Wow. I read Zimmer's piece as tongue-in-cheek irony. He mockingly whines about award sizes, and then makes it clear (to me, anyway) that it had been in jest ... by making his REAL argument -- that Terry and (one assumes) others who have given their time so selflessly should get major props.

Of course, I don't know David Zimmer, so I have no clue whether he's prone to irony ... or if this is just his latest public flogging of the NMAF awards' worth.

Or maybe you were replying in jest too? I'm not always at good at irony...

11:32 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

I don't know David Zimmer, so can only read what's on the page and it was sarcasm I'd say rather than irony. One good indicator: Terry Sellwood took it entirely personally, and badly, as well he might.

2:26 pm  
Blogger Jon Spencer said...

Oh that royally sucks. I mean, I was laughing out loud at just how "Terry" Terry's quotes were. I was thinking how nice to be giving Terry the kudos he deserves, and in such an entertaining fashion.

But if it wasn't meant in fun, then the lines like "this giant of a man" take on a really nasty edge. Indeed -- sarcasm rather than irony.


3:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Zimmer's piece is not mean-spirited. It is not shockingly rude. It's not ill-informed. It doesn't say that the MagAwards are bad. It doesn't "ream out" Terry. It just seems to have struck you the wrong way. Most of the points you make are already included in the piece you're criticizing, so if you subtract all that away, what you're left with is that you didn't like it. Fair enough.

(My own suggestion for a cash-strapped awards dinner? Better next time to increase the prize money and to withhold everyone's carrots.)

--Tom Carpenter

re jon spenser said: There, that's right. Jon Spencer's initial take was exactly what virtually any reader would have gotten from the piece.

10:52 am  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

Virtually any reader except me and the person who is the subject of the article. Maybe I am not the one who misunderstood...

10:59 am  
Blogger Jon Spencer said...

I DO have to admit that the opening of the article goes on quite a bit, for something that is meant to be "laughed off" once you realize it was all meant sarcastically.

My guess is that Zimmer's primary intent was indeed to laud Terry Sellwood, but perhaps hoping to make both points.

Yet as it turned out, it's possible to take the second point the wrong way because the first point was made too enthusiastically.

I've since heard that the piece WAS indeed intended to give props to Terry, so it's really a question of success/failure rather than one of intent.

11:09 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Zimmer said:

William Shields at Masthead directed me to this blog and I have to say, the vigour of D.B. Scott’s post did leave me a little dumbfounded. For the record, "Fool’s Gold" is entirely tongue-in cheek, nothing more than a whinge over $250 from an impecunious freelancer. I have no complaint with the NMAF, and nothing but admiration and respect for Terry Sellwood. (He’s a great guy and funny as hell.) As Jon Spencer noted, the reason the quotes sound so much like Terry is that he uttered all of them; anyone who knows the guy will recognize the hangdog delivery. (Note that I did make a point of saying the quotes were taken grossly out of context; a cue to most readers that the whole thing was a farce.)
True, Terry didn’t take the story very well at first but, according to a recent e-mail he sent me, he’s able to laugh about it now (perhaps he’s just being nice). Curiously, the only two negative responses to the story – so far – both come from former NMAF board members (Scott Bullock submitted a letter to Masthead). Frankly, I don’t know how best to reply. My urge, of course, is to crack a joke, but I worry that I’ve stumbled into an irony-free zone.

5:54 pm  
Blogger D. B. Scott said...

David Zimmer (and Tom Carpenter) seems to be saying "C'mon, dontcha have a sense of humour?" Clearly, Zimmer intended to be funny and ironic. The joke fell flat and he's blaming the reader for not getting it.

I think Terry is just being nice, because that's who he is. I know he wishes this would just go away and so it shall.

7:17 pm  

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