National Newspaper Awards announces new category winner after error discovered in results transmitted from judges to administrators

  • National Newspaper Awards announces new category winner after error discovered in results transmitted from judges to administrators
  • Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail is the winner of the Short Feature category
  • New verification procedures will be implemented for the contest, starting this year


TORONTO, May 6, 2020 – The National Newspaper Awards has announced a change to one of the 2019 prizes it awarded recently.

The winner of the Short Feature category is Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail. Caroline Alphonso of the Globe and Mail had been erroneously announced as the category’s winner during a webcast on May 1, 2020.

In accordance with its power to administer the contest, and taking into account the need to preserve the integrity of the awards program, the NNA Board of Governors has made the difficult decision to revoke the award given to Alphonso and declare Gee the winner, as the judges intended. There is no change to the other finalists announced in the category: Louise Dickson of the Victoria Times Colonist and Josh Rubin of the Toronto Star both received citations of merit for their work, as announced on May 1.

“We deeply regret this unfortunate human error, and apologize to both Caroline Alphonso and Marcus Gee,” said Paul Samyn, vice-chair of the NNA Board of Governors and chair of an executive committee of the Board that was struck to review this matter. “Their submissions, along with those of the other seven individuals who were short-listed in the category, were examples of compelling feature writing.”

In accordance with its commitment to espousing the highest standards of journalistic ethics and transparency, the awards program is providing a detailed explanation of the circumstances that led to this unfortunate incident.

The error in identifying the category winner came to light after winners of the contest’s 21 categories were announced. The chief judge for the three-judge panel that reviewed entries in the Short Feature category contacted award administrators to report that the announced winner was not whom the panel had chosen.

The NNAs use an online entry and judging system that assigns each entry a unique identification number. A review by NNA administrators determined the error was caused by the chief judge entering the wrong identification number when submitting the panel’s choices electronically to the organization.

The possibility of such a keystroke error occurring in this particular case may have been compounded by the number of entries that received consideration on the final short list for the Short Feature category. Under the NNA’s judging process, three-judge panels make selections individually at first, reducing the number of entries under consideration until a final short list is established. There can be as few as three entries on the short list, or as many as nine. In this case, nine stories were given short-list consideration.

At the final stage of the selection process, the three panel members hold a collaborative discussion by teleconference to come to consensus on the winner and two other finalists. That was done in this case, with the panel selecting Gee’s entry as the winner. However, Alphonso’s entry number was inadvertently submitted by the chief judge when final results were entered into the online system. Although the Alphonso entry was on the short list, it had not been picked as one of the finalists.

In addition to selecting a winner and two finalists, judges are asked to submit comments about the three top entries. Those comments are usually incorporated into descriptions of the entries published in a booklet that’s handed out each year at the annual NNA gala. However, the gala was cancelled this year because of COVID-19, and accordingly judges’ comments were not fully reviewed by NNA administrators. This was another factor in why the error was not identified prior to the winners being announced on May 1.

After the problem with the Short Feature category came to light, NNA administrators reviewed judging submissions for the other 20 categories and confirmed that all had accurately reported results.

In the 71 years of the National Newspaper Awards, and the decade in which entries and judging have been done online, this is the first time such an error has occurred. To ensure there will be no repeat in the future, administrators are implementing new reporting procedures for the contest. Starting with the current (2020) contest year, a three-step verification process will be established to ensure that entries identified as finalists, including the winning entry, are accurate when results are entered into the judging system.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Woods
Executive Director
National Newspaper Awards