Mag award winner decries state of freelance pay

Veteran magazine writer Charles Oberdorf was greeted with applause Friday evening at the National Magazine Awards when he decried the stagnancy of freelance rates for writers in Canada

“The editors already know this, but to their employers I would just like to point out that most Canadian consumer magazines still pay freelance writers about what they were paying 35 years ago when I was a young freelancer,” he told the 600-plus crowd at Toronto’s Carlu. “The few exceptions only pay about 25 to 50 per cent more than they did then, while the cost of housing in Toronto, for example, has multiplied four hundred percent.”

Oberdorf made the comments during his acceptance speech for the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, which recognizes exceptional contributions made to the magazine community.

The issue of freelance rates has been one of contention for many years in the magazine community and it was seen as a positive push for writers that a prominent member advocated for change at such a large gathering of magazine editors, publishers and writers.

As for the magazine awards, Toronto Life took home the top prize, magazine of the year. Former editor John Macfarlane, who stepped down last year after fifteen years at the helm, accepted the award with a much more lighthearted mention of pay.

“There have been evenings when I’ve arrived at this event, hoping, no that’s not true, convinced, that that we should win this award. And the thought crosses my mind, I’ll admit, that had we won in any of those years, even last year, it might have had an impact on my compensation,” joked Macfarlane as he accepted the award.

In addition to the big prize, Toronto Life won 4 gold and 2 silver awards. But it was The Walrus that took home the most prizes overall, with 6 gold and 4 silver awards from 37 nominations. Meanwhile, Report on Business and L’actualité picked up 3 gold and 1 silver each and Explore won 2 gold and 5 silver. Maclean’s, Maisonneuve, More and Vancouver were also multiple winners.
Maisonneuve won best magazine cover while the relatively new-on-the-scene unlimited won the award for best art direction for an entire issue.

The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) added two new categories to its slate of awards this year. The NMAF does annual reviews of the categories and talks to the community about any concerns, but this year there was a more specific look at service-based magazines that included discussions with editors such as Joe Chidley of Canadian Business and Patrick Walsh of Outdoor Canada. These efforts resulted in a new award for editorial packaging for a single service article, which was won by the team at Outdoor Canada for “Fish in the City.”

The second new award is for best short feature (under 2000 words).  Kim Pittaway, president of the NMAF, said the recommendation for the category came from Lise Ravary, vice-president and editorial director of women’s titles at Rogers Publishing, and that further canvassing of the community found strong support for its addition. “Although in our instructions to judges for years we have always said length shouldn’t matter, the reality is that when you have more words to devote to a subject that does allow you to tackle it in a kind of depth and breadth that perhaps you don’t get a shorter article,” said Pittaway. “There was a clear feeling that those longer pieces were trumping the shorter pieces so we wanted to have a category that recognized that in a lot of, particularly service-based, books, those short features are a mainstay of their pages.”

The first award for best short feature went to Gerald Hannon, for “The Alchemy of Pork Fat” in Toronto Life.