Musings about the Jack Webster Awards ceremony

Post by Mike Klassen in


Broadcaster Jack Webster (left) circa 1971. Photo: Hougen Group

The image above is a throwback to a different time in the media. Everything in the room is analog. The broadcaster drags a cigarette the studio. A bottle of scotch rests beside him. There is a conversation taking place between two people without phone lines flashing, emails filling an inbox and a producer tweeting about it.

Clearly, a simpler time. The work was different, but a high calibre of reporting still happens today in BC.

Last night I attended the Jack Webster Awards ceremony, my first time at this event. As a lifelong media junkie my head spun at the glimpses of people I've read, watched, praised or cursed at from afar. Politicians of several stripes mixed with public relations types, reporters, editors & camera operators. Like so many of these affairs it was a night to indulge, and award recipients didn't usually edit their speeches for length.

For me the highlight was to see someone speak who I've admired for her work as long as I can remember. Adrienne Arsenault left the Vancouver beat in 1997, and has gone on to become a part of media Canada's A-list. I recognized her talent even as she worked out of 700 Hamilton back in the '90s. I had a funny encounter with her back in 1992 which I took a moment to mention to her, and she was as gracious last night as she was nearly 20 years ago.

Arsenault, who stands just a notch over five feet, told a story of her experiences around bloody conflict in the Middle East that had the whole room rapt. Her strength, good sense and compassion must have saved her bacon on more occasions than you could count.

I was pleased to see that Lori Culbert & Chad Skelton, with the support of their editors Harold Munro and Kirk LaPointe got the online category award for their local election contributions database. Culbert quipped on stage that she and Chad realized at line 10,000 that they were still only on Vision Vancouver and began to wonder what they had got themselves into. Their work I expect will help to improve accountability in future civic campaigns, which can only be good.

The Bruce Hutchison lifetime achievement award went to the very deserving Jim Taylor, who recounted the early days of his media career, and being literally kicked out of the house by his mom to take his first job as a sports reporter. I told Dean Broughton, formerly of 24 Hours and now the Vancouver Sun digital division, that when researching a story I interviewed Hutchison over the phone back around 1990. Only recently did I learn that Bruce wrote one of the great books on Vancouver politics of the 1920s & 30s, a biography of Mayor Gerry McGeer.

The City Mike award for Commentator of the Year went to past Webster award-winner Gary Mason. No one looked more in his element last night than Gary.

The opening remarks by Mike Smyth, in character as Don Cherry and playing against Vaughn Palmer's straight man, were absolutely hilarious. Smyth dished it out to all sorts of politicians, current and former. He sent up Gordon Campbell and Bill Vander Zalm, but his most ascerbic remarks were reserved for Mayor "Moonbeam" Gregor Robertson. Smyth/Cherry's best line – "There are more Commies in City Hall today than there were here back in '72 during the Canada Cup!" I noticed some awkward silence from a couple of Vision supporters in the room, while everyone else was buckled over.

The last conversation of the night I had with a Webster Foundation board member, and it concerned the future of online recognition at the Websters. The "online" category was only created two years ago, and the Foundation is still getting its head around what it means to do journalism on the internet. There's no denying the influence and originality of blogs such as Public Eye Online and others. It's a dialogue that we hope to continue with Websters' organizers in the months ahead.

For a complete list of last night's award recipients, visit

- post by Mike


Not sure you caught the whole show. My take was the Smyth/Palmer routine's most "ascerbic remarks" were for Campbell. Drunk driving, bad polls, HST, you name it.

There were no real NPA jokes though. I guess that means there is a relevancy problem. The NPA isn't even worth roasting or remotely topical with a room full of the most influential media and pundits.

And the Webster award for best spin and deflection of the main issue is...Envelope please. VicRK, for his sage and poignant commentary on various issues of the day. Congrats!

I think not being mentioned is a few rungs higher than being laughed at by every journalist in town for promoting backyard chickens and vegetable gardens. Let's wind back the tape and hear it all over again.

Emcee: And how about Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson?

Audience: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Backyard chickens. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Commies. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Vegetable gardens. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

And that folks brings us to the conclusoin of our webster dinner. Its been a slice.

C'mon, Vic, the Vision/Gregor stuff was pretty funny.

I thought the comments aimed at Gordon Campbell were more on the mark than funny, though, so perhaps you're right about the acerbic-ness factor. The Gregor comments weren't "harsh or severe", while the Campbell ones certainly were, especially considering the audience (business, Sun/Province/Global types).

Am I the only one who thinks the Websters do a lame job of doling out hardware to good journalism in BC?

Let me see here - we have publications like City Caucus, The Tyee, Public Eye who do important civic and political journalism - and they don't get nary a nomination or mention.

The Globe and Mail was completely ignored - other than the Mason award - even though their Olympics coverage was outstanding -and their business coverage is comprehensive.

And then there's 24 and Metro and Georgia Strait, which perform an important journalistic service - relaying news to many who might not otherwise pick up a newspaper or watch a tv broadcast. These guys perform a huge public service, by essentially democratizing news by giving it away for free.

Politics aside, Bill Tielman surely deserves a nomination or some kind of recognition for his BC Rail coverage. What about Bob Mackin and his tireless Olympics work?

In the business category, we were oddly missing BC Business, Business in Vancouver, and the Globe and Mail's Report on Business.

That brings me to sports. Shouldn't there be hardware for outstanding sports journalism? Between the Olympics, Team Canada, the luger tragedy, and the Canucks there have been some truly exceptional articles and features - none of which are seemingly respected.

The Websters are a good idea, but they are hardly reflective of the dynamic journalism that exists in this province. There is much room for improvement.

Not to nit-pick, but...
The biography of Gerry McGeer you're probably referring to is by David Ricardo Williams, not Bruce Hutchison. Bruce did write a number of books however, including a bio of Mackenzie King that won a GG award.

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