The skinny on the Micheners

The winner of the 2010 Michener Award will be announced tonight. But what is the history behind Canada’s most prestigious journalism award for public service journalism? What news organization has won it the most times? And what kinds of stories get honoured? J-Source dishes out trivia tidbits on all things Michener — in chronological format, of course.

1969: The Hamilton Spectator publishes an article announcing the creation of “The Roland Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism”, to be administered by the Federation of Press Clubs of Canada. “The federation is honoured that the Governor General has consented to the use of his name and is fully supporting this project,” said at-the-time Federation president Angus MacDonald (of Moncton, NB).

1971: First ever Michener award for the 1970 calendar year goes to CBC-TV and the Financial Post, for their collaborative study of the air charter business — and some dangerous developments in the industry. The Financial Post would never win, or even be nominated, again. (The National Post has been nominated twice.)

1973: The Globe and Mail ties for first place with the Halifax Scotian Journalist for the 1972 Michener Award. At nine awards since this very first, the Globe has won the most Micheners of any news organization. Topics include: conflicts of interest between provincial and municipal politicians (1972); child protection laws (1977); “unseen immigrants” (1985); an amendment to the criminal code threatening press freedom (1986); a series of un-related investigative series (1988); the tainted blood scandal (1993); the sponsorship scandal (2004); breast cancer (2005); and the treatment of Afghan detainees (2007).

1982: Roland Michener Foundation is officially established. The next year it is renamed the Michener Awards Foundation.

1983: The first community weekly, the Manitoulin Expositor, wins the 1982 Michener Award for its coverage of suicide on Manitoulin Island, located on the north shore of Lake Huron. Chair of the award jury, Fraser MacDougall, said the paper “prov[ed] that bigger isn’t necessarily better.”

1986: The Toronto Star wins for the first time, tying with the Globe. Along with the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Star has racked up the second-most first place awards at the Micheners. Both have won four.

1987: Michener-Deacon Fellowship is created to encourage investigative journalism that serves the public interest. A $30,000 study-leave fellowship for four months is provided, when warranted.

1990: First French-language paper wins. Le Devoir is honoured for its coverage of the challenges facing Inuit in northern Quebec in advance of a referendum on a proposal for self-government.

1991: The Elmira Independent, circulation 7,400, proves small weeklies can still pack a punch when it becomes the second-ever community paper to win the Michener Award. It was honoured for its coverage of the prolonged legal battle over the contamination of the municipality’s water supply. At the time, the paper’s annual revenues topped out at $550,000.

2000: The Michener Awards Foundation badge is created. The badge borrows blue and gold from the Michener coat of arms and displays the motto “Truth in the Service of Freedom” in Latin. A pair of crossed quills represent print journalism, and a lightning bolt represents broadcast and other forms of electronic journalism.

2007: The Prince George Citizen wins the 2006 Michener Award. The small daily used the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to get reports of inquiries by coroners and investigations by the Workers’ Compensation Board. The resulting 35 stories pushed the province to hire a forestry coroner and announce more than $20 million in upgrades to forest roads.

Today: Winners of the 2010 Micheners will be announced. Finalists include: the Calgary Herald; the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; The Eastern Door; The Hamilton Spectator; la Société Radio-Canada; and The Vancouver Sun.