Lise Bissonnette, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis and the editors of Toronto Star and Metroland Durham Region were among the award winners and honorees at the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) 13th Annual Awards Gala who took the opportunity to comment on the state of journalism and its future during a gala dinner at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.
The Toronto Star won the Excellence in Journalism Award in the large or national media category, sponsored by the Jackman Foundation and the Canadian Journalism Foundation. “Editors, publishers and even owners are only as good as their reporters, and this country has some great reporters -- I’d like to say mostly at the Toronto Star, but also at The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, and the Sun papers,” said Michael Cooke, editor of the Toronto Star, during his acceptance speech. “It’s the journalism of pursuit, the journalism of energy. We’re blessed to be working with this kind of competition. It keeps us fit, and keeps us honest. But we need to back our reporters up with good salaries, and benefits, and legal protection…and not look so closely at their expense accounts.”
Metroland Durham Region won the Excellence in Journalism Award in the small, medium or local market category. The newspaper’s submission both wowed and educated the jury since several of its members were unfamiliar with the publication. Joanne Burghardt, editor-in-chief of Metroland Durham Region publications, accepted the award on behalf of her staff. “Anyone who runs a newsroom should enter in the morning and just listen. If you hear your staff laughing, chatting or discussing their kid’s soccer game, you have the ingredients for great journalism,” she said. “If there’s silence, you know there’s a problem: there’s no community, an important part of a solid newsroom. It’s important to remember that great journalism happens in even the smallest newsrooms.”
The Greg Clark Award, sponsored by CTV and the Toronto Star, went to Arielle Godbout, a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press. Godbout broke a story about a football scholarship student in North Dakota caught smuggling 22 guns into his hometown of Winnipeg. When local authorities rebuffed her efforts to track the guns, the story stalled. This award will enable Godbout to pick up where she left off -- she will travel to Ottawa to conduct off-the-record interviews with national weapons enforcement specialists to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding gun smuggling.
The Canadian Journalism Fellowships for a year of post-secondary study are awarded annually by Massey College in the University of Toronto. Elizabeth Church, who covers post-secondary education for the Globe and Mail, was awarded the inaugural Kierans Janigan Fellowship, funded through the generosity of former CJF chair Tom Kierans and his wife Mary Janigan in honour of one of Canada's greatest arts journalists, the late Val Ross of the Globe and Mail. Susan Mahoney, a Toronto-based producer with CBC Radio for 26 years, received the CBC/Radio-Canada Fellowship. Hugo Rodrigues, a reporter at the Sentinel-Review in Woodstock, Ontario, is the Gordon N. Fisher fellow, named after the late Gordon N. Fisher who, along with the late St. Clair Balfour of Southam Newspapers, created these fellowships in 1962. The Webster/McConnell Fellowship, named after two Montreal foundations, was awarded to Jeff Warren, a Toronto-based freelance broadcaster, writer and public speaker.
The Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, worth up to $100,000, is sponsored by the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, the Toronto Star and the Honderich family. The grant provides for a Canadian journalist to undertake a year-long research project on a topical public policy issue. The recipient of the fellowship this year is Ann Dowsett Johnston, a freelancer and five-time National Magazine Award winner. For her fellowship, she will take a hard look at a growing phenomenon: While women now outstrip their male peers in post-secondary achievement and match male participation in the workplace, they are also closing the gap in alcohol consumption.
As previously announced, one of the evening’s highlights was the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Lise Bissonnette. Bissonnette began her journalistic career in 1974 at Montreal’s daily newspaper Le Devoir, where she held various positions before ultimately becoming editor-in-chief from 1990 to 1998. In 1998, she was appointed president and general director of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, a position she held until her retirement in June 2009. “I’m not nostalgic -- the past is not something a woman can long for,” Bissonette said. “But I feel sorry for young journalists who never saw the era I enjoyed as a journalist. But there is hope. The present economic crisis is a stark result of greed, which gives young journalists an opening to reclaim moral ground for reporting and investigating more important stories, like education, health care, and yes, even constitutional issues.”
Research In Motion co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis were acknowledged during a special Canadian Journalism Foundation tribute at this year’s gala for their contribution in revolutionizing the technology of modern journalism. Lazaridis accepted the award for both of them. He noted that as a young entrepreneur, he was told often that he wouldn’t succeed, but did anyway. “As journalists, you play an incredible role by bringing the triumphs and challenges of entrepreneurs to light, which helps them but also encourages others to follow in their footsteps. This will keep going and going as long as we encourage them, champion them and celebrate them.”

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