Michener Award finalists: CBC, Radio-Canada, Spectator, Herald , Vancouver Sun and Kahnawake newspaper

A weekly newspaper serving the Mohawks of Kahnawake is keeping company with giants. Together, with some of Canada’s biggest news organizations the tiny paper is one of the few finalists for the 2010 Michener Award.

Most of the names of the finalists for the award recognizing meritorious public service journalism are familiar: the CBC, Radio-Canada, The Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun and The Hamilton Spectator. The sixth finalist, The Eastern Door, with a circulation of 2,000, is honoured for its “sustained reporting of the decision of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawke to send eviction letters to non-Natives living on the reserve” (across the St Lawrence from Montreal) — a decision that was reversed after the newspaper published its series.

Editor and Publisher, Steve Bonspiel, told J-Source.ca the series was produced in a newsroom that includes two reporters, plus what he writes in addition to running the newspaper with his wife, Tracey Deer, the co-publisher. “I feel so proud for our newspaper, and I’m absolutely amazed to be (a finalist) with the giants,” he said.

His description of wearing two hats — journalist as well as business owner — may be familiar to many community news organizations. While he wrote and published stories and editorials “calling out the council” about the evictions, he was also trying to sell ads in the community. “Some business people said, ‘Hey maybe you shouldn’t be so hard (on the council). I said, ‘We’re talking about peoples’ lives here. If it costs (the newspaper) a few dollars, then…’”

The other finalists include: The Calgary Herald series “Worked to Death” about on-site safety practices that led to a disturbing number of  annual workplace deaths; CBC-TV’s “The Fifth Estate” story about the final hours of a  troubled teen, Ashley Smith,  who died while in the Ontario corrections system; The Hamilton Spectator‘ series on poverty in the southern Ontario city; La Societe Radio-Canada examination of the pitfalls of shale gas  exploration and the effects on residents of Quebec’s St. Lawrence Valley; and The Vancouver Sun‘ series on safety standards following a series of fatal float-plane accidents.

The winner will be announced June 14 at a ceremony at Rideau Hall hosted by Gov. Gen. David Johnston.

As well,  the judges awarded the Michener-Deacon Fellowship to Jane Armstrong, a Toronto freelance writer who plans to scrutinize Canada’s aid programs in Afghanistan over the past decade.