Feels Like We Only Go Backwards

Awards are a racket. They’ve always been a racket: a small amount of people decide who gets a trophy of some sort from a slightly larger amount of people.

Sometimes. Sometimes it’s just their friends. Or friends of friends. Or people they’ve heard of. Or…or…there is no perfect awards system, and you can always find fault with the jury. Like a private members’ club, you can only get in with a referral.

Which means often people just set up their own awards ceremony with ‘better values’. Or different values. Or an attempt to include a section of the industry that is ‘overlooked’ or ‘under-represented’. Sometimes it’s not a section of the industry, but a section of society.

That’s why, in the industry I’m a part of, there are the Broadcast Awards, the Royal Television Society, the British Media Awards, the Press Awards…there’s loads. Absolutely loads. Then there’s all the ’30 under 30′ awards or the Top 100 lists…this is not a list of awards. But in my inbox there are daily digests of who has won which niche award – and pleas for nominations for others.

The Oscars, they’re crap, too. Brits? Crap. NME Awards? Honestly, there’s an award for everything. Companies even have internal monthly awards – which if you can’t win more than once – will mean everyone eventually wins one. Wait, why am I whingeing about awards all of a sudden? This is how it is. People like being celebrated. And not everyone is celebrated.

The newest member is Words By Women. I wasn’t very nice to one of the co-founders on Twitter, whom I know personally. It was because the UN Women Twitter account mentioned them by tweeting a link to this Telegraph article, and saying they are the first national journalism awards for women.

I snippily remarked that it isn’t the only one, and that the UN is a flawed institution devoid of enough scrutiny (because of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deciding that Julian Assange is being detained in the same way a man tortured in an Iraqi prison has been, too.).  Like all snippy Twitter comments, it escalated rapidly.

I did this because I don’t like awards. They highlight people who shout loudest, who often already have a cachet of recognition but don’t have the bankable trophy to negotiate a better salary or a better job. Awards are now enablers of an upward career trajectory – of justification of expense and of persistence to remain the status quo. But then again, I’ve never got a pay rise or a promotion or a job offer because I won an award. So, actually, is that the point? Just to celebrate people doing Good Work?

Okay, you know what, maybe I have misread this. If that’s the point of WBW – to celebrate women in journalism then great. I’ve conflated my complex dislike of the awards establishment with being mean on Twitter to people who didn’t like it that much either. But a platform so high-profile doesn’t treat the symptoms of why the Press Awards haven’t nominated enough women: newsrooms aren’t diverse enough.

When Sky News won 5 RTS awards last Wednesday (after overhauling the voting system), it was a celebration of our women. Kay Burley is a champion of women – and that’s why she’s agreed to be a judge.

Self-congratulatory celebrations – and a focus on them – do not make good journalists. Self-congratulatory celebrations do not allow more diverse newsrooms. If I wanted more diversity in the newsroom I work in, I wouldn’t hand out awards to people who are already journalists. That’s not really going to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into journalism.

Awards have been won by me – so it’s not a bitter rant by A Man Who’s Never Won An Award. I have won awards. I have missed out on awards. These facts is on my website and LinkedIn and when it happens I tweet about it. But in the same way I like being recognised for my work, I can separate my knowledge that the awards I won have been a racket.

In the same way I can highlight that The Independent is closing its print title because not enough people read it – so you can’t help but have contributed if you didn’t buy a paper – while feeling sorry for those who have lost their jobs.

In the same way I can highlight my misgivings about WBW while celebrating the people who win.

I’m not really allowed to say what I’d do, because of All My Privilege (white-ish, male, university-educated etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc), but I’m going to: force every winner to be a mentor for a year to someone who can’t get in to journalism. Start an apprentice scheme with all the places the formidable list of judges come from. A month with each. Six months with one, whatever.

I can’t do this because people like me trying to help people who aren’t like me has been going on for longer than I’ve been alive – something clearly isn’t working. I try, when I give a talk, or (very basic) career advice, or when I give tours of our building, but that’s not enough. The status quo won’t be changed without empowering those excluded from it to call the shots.

Awards winners rarely get something for nothing – but, rather than the barrier to nomination being a pricey ticket, it should be the time and effort required to make that award’s impact last for longer than one boozy evening.

Awards are a club. Journalism is a club. The Media is a club. Stop the club. Flood the club.

Someone asked me ‘Do you want this to be a more considered explanation of your position from under the Twitter pile-on, or do you want it to be a proposition for how we change journalism by changing the way we recognise journalistic endeavour?’

Obviously I’m picking both. I’m not doing one of these every time I get into a Twitter spat, though.