Cool to be cruel?

Posted on June 2, 2008
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            I’ve had a couple of humourous but cutting reminders lately that cool is often cruel.

            Ralph Benmergui, a mid-tier CBC radio and TV personality, presented the Canadian Community Newspapers Association annual Better Newspapers Competitions awards at the national convention.

            He could not, contain his mirth at the idea of things like a third place prize for best Christmas edition or best newspaper promotion ad in three different circulation categories.

            A few weeks later, Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” sent John Oliver to “The Pollies,” an award show for political advertising. There were awards for such things as best lawn sign for a city council campaign.

            In each case, the cool, big-town, entertainer had great fun at the expense of the little people who work in industries less glamourous than national television.

            I am reminded of an entertainer who said you get some idea of how significant Canadian culture is when someone receives a lifetime achievement award at a national awards show and you have never heard of him.

            To be fair, Benmergui and Oliver find the big time ridiculous too. They are, beyond doubt, bright, witty, irreverent and impartial. They zing everyone.

            Certainly you have never heard of any of the winners much less third place winners in the CCNA BNC awards or the Pollies.

            And yet, the Canadian and Atlantic newspapers have made amazing progress in quality over the years. Much of it was made possible by technology but hardware and software do not, and will not, replace writers, photographers, design and layout people.

            Creative awards are always very subjective. Sometimes, in my humble (HAH!) opinion, the best entry does not win. My papers won some awards we did not deserve to win and did not win more we did deserve to win.

            I always said it was not the winning that was important. It was the trying to win and being near the top every year that was. “If you are not trying to be the best,” I asked, “What are you trying to be?”

            “That will do,” is the deadly enemy of excellence.

            Almost every organization has some program to recognize those who exemplify the objectives of the field of endeavour.

            Yes, the efforts of unknowns are small time and insignificant. They certainly are not as glamourous as the efforts of the nominees for the Oscars, Emmies, Grammies, Tobies, Juneaus, Gillers or Bookers.

            In those competitions too, the best effort, in my humble (HAH!) opinion, does not always win.

            Nor do competitions always lead to continuous improvement. I sponsor and judge the George Cadogan Memorial Outstanding Columnist award each year in Canadian Community Newspapers Association competition. This year,  I was out of the country. Rick MacLean did it for me.

            The column rules call for an emphasis on local issues and a little courage. Some editors don’t seem to be able to read rules much less identify good writing. Many of the entries are not local and simply beat the drums for the populist opinion.

            One editor, two years ago, entered his riding MP’s column which, as any editor knows, is written for him by party hacks in Ottawa.

            However, the general quality of entry does seem to be holding its own and, I think, improving. As an example, a few years ago, Mark Critch, now of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and “Halifax Comedy Festival,” won the columnist award.

            Is there a point to any of this?

            It has led me back to an idea I have had for many years. It seems to me that the unknowns are the category in which most of the real heroes in society are to be found.

            There is no national awards program for best single mom raising three kids or best lone dad with two daughters or a wife crippled by a stroke.

            And yet, every year, every day, there are people striving in a constant state of exhaustion, financial need and foreign territory to do the very best they can for others.

            It is not the winning. It is not the glamour. It is the trying.

            Oddly enough, occasionally someone who gives away victory becomes better known for it.

            Calgarian, Andrew Brash scaled Mount Everest this year. Two years ago, 200 metres from the summit, he turned back. He stopped to rescue Australian climber, Lincoln Hall, who had been abandoned by his own team to die.

            This year, when Brash did reach the summit, his mother mused that he would be just one of hundreds who have now done that if he had not foregone his first opportunity.







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