Student journalists from Concordia’s The Link took home the most awards of any university newspaper in the country at this year’s edition of the John H. McDonald Journalism Awards, affectionately known as The Johnnies.
The Link staff, nominated in eight of 11 English-language categories, took home four of the annual awards, given out during the Canadian University Press’ 75th annual national conference.
“We don’t do this for the awards, obviously, but it’s nice to have” says Colin Harris, coordinating editor at The Link, whose own work was nominated in both the news and arts writing categories. “People respect the quality of work we’re doing, and we’re proud that other people are seeing it as well. It definitely helps our visibility, especially this year, when we were the most nominated and the most winning paper. That says a lot.”
Harris won the arts writing award for his story, “The Psychobilly and the Sitar” based on an interview with singer Arish “King” Khan about his collaboration with local rockabilly musician Bloodshot Bill. Harris says it took him a couple of weeks to nail down an interview with Khan, who is originally from Montreal and now lives in Berlin, but it was worth the wait.
“It was my favourite interview that I’ve done so far,” he says. “There were so many anecdotes in there, so it was really easy to make it a good piece.”
A news story by Harris about the student protest movement in Jonquière, which he wrote while participating in a French-language immersion program, was also nominated in the news writing category.
Riley Sparks, another writer from The Link, won the features category for his story about homestays arranged for Chinese students in Montreal, which received a lot of attention from media outlets across the country. Sparks was also nominated in the labour writing category for an article about Concordia’s ongoing labour negotiations.
As Julia Wolfe, editor-in-chief at The Link, points out, the fact Sparks and Harris were both nominated in two different categories points to how the paper encourages its student journalists to experiment.
“You’re not just an art writer, a photographer, an editor at The Link. You’re a member of the team, and everyone gets to do everything, which has really benefitted us,” she says. “I know that was the case for me. You see people doing such incredible, interesting work and you think maybe I can do that.”
Oliver Leon won in the opinion writing category for an entry of their (Leon prefers to be referred to by a gender-neutral pronoun) column That Transsexual Guy, in which Leon discusses their personal journey through transition, how spaces are gendered, and the difficulties people who are transitioning, or who are transgendered, face in their everyday lives.
Leon was also nominated for another award in the diversity writing category for a column about the absence of gender-neutral bathrooms at Concordia.
“(That Transsexual Guy) is one of our most read columns, and it takes a lot of bravery to write something like that,” Harris says. “I’m really glad that Oliver got the recognition, and we’re really glad to have someone like that.”
The Link’s final award was earned by student Sam Slotnick in the photography category for his striking image of an outburst of violence during Montreal’s annual anti-police-brutality demonstration. The picture, which shows a group of masked assailants throwing a civilian to the ground, accompanied an opinion piece by The Link’s editor-in-chief at the time, Laura Beeston, lamenting the protest’s predictably violent outcome.
The John H. McDonald Journalism Awards were launched in 2003 to celebrate excellence in student journalism. Harris says The Link’s exceptional haul of awards is a testament to the paper’s strong institutional memory, and the level of commitment shown by its volunteer staff.
“I think we just have a lot of people who are really invested in the paper and care about it a lot. I guess it’s that perpetual motion idea,” he says. “It feels good to be here, and feel that we have an audience … That’s what drives us … And the fact that we can effect change within our community.”
• The Link
• “A Look Back at the Best: The Link Nabs Eight Johnnie Nominations” — The Link, January 9, 2013