Friday, November 6, 2009

"Major Awards:" Follow-on Notes

Other Side has been remiss in attending to all the issues that need attending to. Intentions outstrip performance by a good 3 to 1 or so.

This post is an effort to scratch one item off the "to do list," or as others might say, remove one item from "the job jar."

The good intentions were hinted at in this item reporting on a major honor sent our way.

This story was inspired, in part, by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama, and the reports of various prizes being awarded to the local newspaper at the annual gathering of the Northeast New England Newspaper Association.

It is important to note that there are "absolute awards" and there are "relative awards." For example, the Oscar is given to the "Best Picture" of the year, regardless of how good it is in an absolute sense. If all the movies in any given year were undistinguished, the least undistinguished would still win the Best Picture award. Even worse, if all the movies stunk, the least stinky would win Best of the Year.

I'm not aware of any year in which it was declared that no movie worthy of "Best of the Year" was nominated, and so no award was granted. Similarly, I don't know of any year when a Nobel Prize for Peace was not awarded because no achievement worthy of the prize had been nominated.

This phenomenon is in keeping with the general decline in our culture. No matter how low we sink, there is always someone or something that, relatively speaking, is "best." No pass, no fail; this is grading "on the curve" taken to it's most destructive extreme.

I'm reminded of the state's ranking system for which town should receive funding for construction of a new school. I visited with the officials in charge, and it became very clear that there was no absolute standard for receiving funding. Rather, the whole system was based on allocating a predetermined amount of funding every year.

There was no pass/fail grade on the applications submitted by the various school districts; there was simply a "scoring" followed by a rank ordering of the applications. If 30 applications were received, and 27 of them really didn't warrant new school construction, it didn't matter. The state had a sum allocated for the year, and it would be spent no matter what. The awarding of funds was completely relative, and the primary goal was to spend every last available dollar, whether it was warranted or not.

That's the way the annual awards the local paper is so good at winning work. Every win is for "Best of the Year" in this or that category. Further, the award selections are made by industry peers, rather than objective outside authorities.

Given this standard of merit, and the rather small number of newspapers in our area, the net result is that nearly every paper gets to claim some "award winning" performance for the year.

The process is not particularly rigorous or error free. Not that long ago, our local paper's former opinion editor was awarded the prize for best editorial of the year for an item she didn't write. When I pointed that out to her and the editors of the paper, they blew it off as just an irrelevant nit.

It turns out that in the recent award cycle, Seth Koenig was deemed the Reporter of the Year. I know Seth a bit, and believe him to be a fine journalist. But he works for a newspaper that is anything but robust and dedicated in it's pursuit of the story behind the story, and that falls flat on its face in the "government watchdog" role.

And it seems to be getting worse week by week, month by month, even if they were voted the "third best" daily newspaper of the year (out of how many?) These awards, if you read the annual reports, give the distinct impression that they are handed out with an eye towards "egalitarianism," if you get my drift. In other words, everybody gets some, because the association wants to make sure there are no self-esteem issues among the publishers and editors.

Which is probably why "four major newspapers in Maine had circulation declines in the most recent six-month period, according to a report released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations of Schaumburg, Illinois.

Out of the four, the Times Record had the greatest decline, with circulation for Monday-Thursday down 19.5% compared to 2007, and Friday circulation down 15.2% over the same period.

Chris Miles must be really glad he and his firm bought the paper, and must really feel good about how they're serving their readership.

And those awards they've won and the circulation figures confirm the merit of their efforts. Good work, folks!

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