Another year has come and gone for the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association’s (AWNA) Better Newspaper Competition and once again The Taber Times has had some impressive finishes for 2015.
The Taber Times finished in second for its overall score in its circulation category between 2,000-3,499 and first for best editorial page. Rocky Mountain House Mountaineer finished first overall in the Times’ circulation category.
“The way the competition works is the AWNA chooses two weeks at random for the calendar year and then gets out-of-province judges to judge the quality of those issues. For people who submit, they do not get to pick their overall best issue of that year, but rather those two specific weeks. That can make for the great equalizer because maybe that week is a slow news week, or there are less dynamic photographs shot that week or a paper is short staffed due to holidays, or the page count is up or down. Or inversely, maybe it’s a gang-buster week with the news cycle for that particular week,” said Greg Price, editor of The Taber Times.
“Nevertheless, you look at the last dozen or so years and The Times is constantly in the top three for the quality of its newspaper, be it individual categories like front page, editorial, sports or the combined overall score for quality. Year in and year out, The Times has received high scores from its peers provincially and nationally at times in a category that sees the most entries of any circulation class in the province. It’s a top-down, complete team effort by all the staff at The Times to deliver a quality product to readers that features various hard news, features, columns and sports stories to go along with eye-catching photography, classifieds and advertising.”
The Times also received kudos for the Gordon Scott Memorial Award for Best Feature Column by a local writer. Gordon Scott was the former editor of The Times back in the mid to late 1980s, before purchasing the Claresholm Local Press. Scott passed away in 2000 at the age of 45.
Editor Greg Price received a third-place finish for his column ‘Defending the Times — Pulp Fiction Style’. Other top finishes were the Airdrie City View’s ‘Remembering What’s Real After a Loss’ (Dustin Ruth) and the Deh Cho Drum’s ‘Domestic Violence Absent from Election Talks) (April Hudson). The Times column got a 28/30 for quality/clarity of writing, 17/20 for impact on readers and 10/10 for interest to community, among the 26 columns that were submitted for entry, regardless of circulation category.
Defending the Times was penned back in March 2015 in response to the accusations by some in the community the local newspaper had sensationalized the controversial Community Standards Bylaw, and being the causation where the bylaw would eventually get provincial, national and even international attention, with some jokingly calling it the ‘Footloose Bylaw’ in reference to the 1984 film featuring a small town where rock music and dancing had been banned.
“It was one of those surreal moments where we were even getting calls from Australia asking about the bylaw, along with it being featured on The National, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and CNN. At times our phone was ringing off the hook from inquiries all across North America,” said Price. “Taber was getting unwanted attention and the anger had to be directed somewhere, and that somewhere was The Times, which as I wrote in the column, was completely unfair and misdirected. Going back in the archives, you could see how the passing of the bylaw was treated just like any other bylaw by The Times in town council coverage from first to third reading of the bylaw, and when it was passed officially, The Times offered its opinion in an editorial. While the overall arc of the bylaw had its heart in the right place in trying to make for an overall better community, there are still portions of it The Times will stand by its view to this day, saying they go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and could be thrown out of court if challenged.”
The coverage by The Times of the Community Standards Bylaw was picked up off the newswire by other southern Alberta newspapers, which in turn spread to other media outlets throughout North America and internationally.
“How other news outlets handle a story is completely out of our control. But yes, we were ground zero, from the basis of where coverage of the bylaw started from, but our coverage was hardly sensationalized,” said Price. “We offered coverage of the bylaw as it passed through council chambers for discussion, wrote stories both pro and con for the community standards bylaw, offered up legal expertise, a police information session discussing the bylaw and pages and pages of readers’ Letters to the Editor to voice their opinion on the topic as readers rights to freedom of speech allows.”
Since the days of Garrett Simmons as editor in the early 2000s, The Times has not made it a habit of submitting individual submissions for articles for the AWNA awards. But in doing so the last two years, the Times has netted top-three finishes including J.W. Schnarr’s second-place finishes in education and column writing in 2014.
“We’ve always seen the paper as a team effort with everyone in the Times office making positive contributions, but among the team are individuals who help make The Times get those top AWNA finishes for the overall product,” said Price. “It is a nice feeling to be recognized among all the writers in the province, across all circulation categories of the 116 newspapers that are members of the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association. But in the community itself, that feeling is 10-fold when a reader phones up saying they enjoyed a column you have wrote. Because in the end, that is who you are writing the columns for.”