The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Mediacheck

Rethinking the Websters

Thirty years in, it’s time to look at B.C.’s increasingly corporate journalism awards.

By Paul Willcocks 20 Oct 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

image atom
Jack Webster: What would he say about today’s awards given in his name? Photo from Webster Foundation.

Look, I think the Webster Awards are great. I have one — well, not the actual glass trophy anymore, but I won and was really pleased.

And the idea of recognizing and encouraging great journalism is more important now than it was 30 years ago when the whole thing started.

But a discussion of the Websters in a Facebook group for B.C. journalists this week set me to thinking that we should look at whether there are better ways of achieving the goal of “promoting and recognizing the achievements of B.C.-based reporters.”

Here’s the way it works now. Journalists, or their organizations, enter their work in one of 13 categories. There’s also a Lifetime Achievement Award and the Bill Good Award for general contribution.

Judges — a mix of ex-journalists and community members — pick three finalists in each category, and those are announced in early September. The winners are announced at a big dinner. This year’s event was held last week at the Hyatt Regency, with individual tickets at $185.

The Websters are, at this point, mostly about the big dinner. It’s glitzy, at least by the standards of the journalism world. There are name speakers. Businesses buy tables. Back in 2005, Sean Holman got a seating plan for the dinner and reported 23 of the 116 tables were bought by journalists and their employers while 45 were bought by other companies, from lobbyists to big business. The media contingent has likely shrunk since then.

The dinner is expensive and feels much like a corporate schmoozefest. The Jack Webster Foundation, which runs the awards, had revenue of $195,000, according to its 2016 Revenue Canada filing.

It spent $206,000. Some of that is managing the award process. Some — about eight per cent, according to the filing — goes to charitable activities, presumably support for student journalists and two fellowships that fund a short course at the Poynter Institute in Florida.

But it’s mostly about the dinner.

Of course, its revenue also mostly comes from the dinner, through ticket sales — largely to non-media organizations — and sponsorships by banks, a lobby firm, Port of Vancouver, the Urban Development Institute, and others with deep pockets.

A journalism awards event funded by people who want to influence journalists is problematic. The media have done news stories on businesses sponsoring political conventions that implicitly ask what they expect in return. The same questions apply in this case though the sponsors can claim a simple interest in recognizing journalistic excellence.

A lot of the debate on the Facebook page centred on the foundation’s board, co-chaired by Anne McMullin of the Urban Development Institute, the developers’ lobby group, and Ernest Yee, formerly an HSBC vice-president and executive director of the B.C. gambling industry's lobby group. It’s an impressive group, but it’s short on people with recent journalism backgrounds and long on those with special interests in managing the media. Five new trustees were named this year, for example — all from lobbying, communications or public relations companies. Most have political connections; none has worked as a journalist in at least a decade.

The trustees aren’t paid, and it’s understandable that the foundation is looking for people who can sell tables at the dinner and raise money.

But a journalism awards foundation run not just by non-journalists, but largely by people whose job is to spin the media, is problematic. No matter how pure everyone’s intentions, there is an appearance of conflict.

What’s the solution? For starters, rethink the whole approach with a focus on the foundation’s mission of “promoting and recognizing the achievements of B.C.-based reporters.”

The big dinner event drives the Websters now and shapes the foundation. If you’re committed to a dinner that relies on corporate sponsors and businesses willing to spend $1,850 a table, then you need a board that can make it happen. Journalists aren’t good at that.

So what about a new approach? No dinner, no speakers (who are generally ignored anyway). Just an hour of drinks and a fast-paced award event. That should be enough to hold the sponsorships and much of the ticket sale revenue, while cutting costs dramatically.

Which could leave more money for new approaches to celebrating the achievements of B.C. journalists.

Why not share the stories on social media, or make a video of a couple of winners talking about why the story mattered and how they did it? Or ask media businesses for a full-page ad, and spots on TV and radio, highlighting the winners’ work? Media outlets write about the awards, but their stories are generally focused, understandably, on their own successes. There isn’t a broad public recognition of the great work being done by B.C. journalists.

Perhaps there would even be enough money to increase the amount supporting journalism, funding internships or allowing finalists to apply for money for professional development or a reporting project.

What about chopping the number of categories to allow more focus on the winners and reduce costs? The Webster Foundation had one award — best reporting — for its first three years. That’s not enough, but maybe 13 is too many.

And what about involving working journalists in looking at all these issues? A committee composed of trustees and journalists could usefully look at the awards, questions of conflict and how best to achieve the goals set out 30 years ago.

The Webster Awards are important. In a time of cynicism about the news media, they are a reminder of the excellent public interest journalism being done by established and new media outlets. The recognition is really important for journalists.

But there are a lot of troubling aspects to the current approach. I expect Jack Webster would be among those pushing for a tough look at the way the awards have evolved.

Story updated Oct. 20, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. to add additional information about Ernest Yee.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll