Monday, June 13, 2005

Winning ways

The choice of maisonneuve as winner of the President's Medal at the National Magazine Awards on Friday night was very well received, although there was an awkward pause as the Publisher/Editor Derek Webster had to be fetched from outside the room. (A continuing problem for the awards is that up to 1/3 of the crowd bail before the presentation is complete.)

There was, as usual, some grumbling among the gathered multitude, both before and after the event. Among observations overheard about the awards were several, in no particular order.
  • There was curiosity about why the "best new magazine" category had disappeared, without explanation. Informally, we heard there were simply not enough entries, or at least not enough good ones.
  • There was some vigorous discussion about the rather lame collection of finalists in the cover category -- and observers noted that most of them were from controlled or newspaper-distributed titles like FQ and Toro, which don't have to meet the rigours of the newsstand.
  • Curiously, given that it has always prided itself on being an event about writers, illustrators and photographers, boldface pride of place was given in the program this year to the magazine the material appeared in rather than to the contributor.
  • Were we wrong, or was there a higher proportion of no-shows among winners, with editors and others going up to accept on their behalf?
  • And what's with the fact that almost none of the accepters bothered to say who they were?
  • While we know that magazine people have short attention spans, the event was very efficiently run this year, at about 2 hours. But this seemed to have been achieved at the expense of listing in the "splash", the nominees. For 9 out of 10 finalists, their only real reward has been in seeing their name up there, ever so briefly, in lights.
Some participants were mightily annoyed -- or puzzled -- by the views of the Outstanding Achievement Award winner, Paul Jones. He essentially said that he had concluded that the restrictions on foreign investment in magazines should be lifted so that more investment capital would be available and so that owners of magazines could hope to get a better return when they decided to sell. He mitigated this by saying that Canadian content regulations should be respected, but the message was still blunt and somewhat surprising. Jones has always been a thoughtful observer of the Canadian scene, and obviously chose to use the bully pulpit to get something off his chest. It was certainly a heavy duty message for what is often a light-hearted and emotional moment in the evening.

(Perhaps Jones's views merely exacerbated the mood of those members of the audience who had attended the Magazines Canada annual luncheon the day before when John Macfarlane of Toronto Life said something that he has said many times before, but rarely to such a crowd: that Canada is too small for most magazines to be successful.

(Macfarlane said this more in sorrow (and based on long experience) than anger, but his speech was certainly no tub-thumping call to arms or the usually self-congratulatory or humourous post-prandial fare of recent years. More like a bucket of cold water. He ended without the customary "brightness on the horizon" sort of conclusion. Then a lot of the same people, somewhat subdued by Macfarlane's candour, found themselves hearing Cathleen Black of Hearst Magazines, the Magazines Canada international speaker, essentially say that she didn't understand what Canadian publishers were whining about.)


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