Monday, June 27, 2011

A Pondering About Magazine Awards...

Where were the Alberta Awards Accolades?
The awards season has wrapped once again. Shout-out to Anders Knudsen for winning Best Art Direction—Cover for the December 2010 issue of Avenue Calgary at the Western Magazine Awards (WMAs). 

There were no big surprises with The Walrus leading the wins at the National Magazine Awards (NMAs) and Swerve doing the same at the WMAs. The winner of Best Cover at the NMAs did stir up some fuss, but frankly, I was pleased to see an underdog get some recognition.

I was disappointed that more Alberta magazines didn’t come away with accolades. There is certainly no shortage of talent here. So what’s up?

Big Awards for Big Budget Magazines
Well, there are a few things to consider (and I'm not just making excuses, really!). First, the costs. Many magazines are on such tight budgets that they have no money to devote to sometimes hefty entry fees. Or they can only enter one or two pieces versus 20 or 30. As well, in the magazine world, you often get what you pay for. So, big-budget mags can hire the best writers who tend to have more winning pieces. Big-budget mags also tend to have great editors and art directors for the same reasons. And so, the winner’s circle tends to be somewhat small. (There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule, but you get what I’m saying.)

Time and Familiarity Are Factors
Second, it takes time to select and prepare entries. For mags with tiny staffs or which are volunteer-run, this almost immediately takes them out of the running. Third, familiarity and subjectivity play a role in who wins. Human nature often has us selecting what is “best” based on what we are familiar and comfortable with; what we know and love essentially. Alberta magazines may not have the same reach as larger mags. 

Alberta Industry Still Growing
Finally, while the Alberta industry has made great strides in the level of creativity and professionalism, it’s still young and has room to grow compared to some other parts of the country. But certainly several of our titles are analogous to national ones.

The Awards Judging Process
Having judged for both the NMAs and WMAs, I know firsthand that the spectrum of entries is gargantuan. Some are truly spectacular while others are lacking at best. The whole process is somewhat tricky. Judges only see an entry in and of itself. But this is not how they exist in reality. A feature exists within the pages of a magazine—that is, with other content all packaged together. And so, judges rarely experience an entry as a reader does. Also, judges don’t often know what a magazine’s mission or audience are—two critical factors for how a story comes together. If judges don’t fit the target, the story may have little appeal to them.

Alberta and Indy Magazine Recognition, Please
All said, there will always be winners and losers. Most of the time, the winners genuinely deserve the recognition. I just wish that more Alberta magazines, or independent publishers in general, were able to throw their hats in the mix for consideration.

--- Colleen Seto
AMPA Blogger-in-Residence