Off the Page is an exclusive series produced by the NMAF that reaches out to former National Magazine Award winners to find out what their awards have meant to them and what they’re up to now. Off the Page appears regularly on the Magazine Awards blog. Today we catch up with seven-time National Magazine Award-winning journalist Catherine Dubé, reporter for the French-language current affairs magazine L’actualité.
NMAF: Last year, you won the a Gold National Magazine Award for your article “Demain, des centres à 7 $ par jour pour les vieux?” [Tomorrow, $7-a-day Care Centres for the Elderly?] – your seventh National Magazine Award in the past five years! What prompted you to write this story?
Catherine Dubé: The idea was generated in an editorial meeting at L’actualité. We asked ourselves what we can expect over the next 10 to 20 years. We are all going to need care, after all! And the healthcare system is not prepared to take care of the horde of aging Baby Boomers.
The main challenge of the report was to engage our readers about an issue that may not be very sexy. I did what I always do: illustrate the information with lots of concrete examples. I tried to find innovative solutions, such as the one that inspired the title of the piece.
NMAF: When you write for L’actualité, how do you develop the idea for a new story? Do you draw inspiration from consulting health professionals or other media?
Catherine Dubé: I examine the current social issues, large and small, exploring for a new angle. Any source might be a good one, whether it is from the media here or abroad, public events such as conferences, or specialized publications. The people I interview often put me onto a new track for a story.
I also try to find information that may have escaped the attention of the daily news media, which is overwhelmed by the constant stream of news.
Last year, when I was working on a profile of the hypnotist Messmer, a popular Quebec artist, I discovered that his approach was quite controversial, and my article became instead an investigation of hypnosis, seeking out what is true and what is false, and highlighting the dangers of this method when it is misused.
The process of researching and writing articles for L’actualité, where I started working two years ago, is quite similar to the process at Québec Science where I worked for ten years. But the angle of attack is different: more scientific for Québec Science, more general for L’actualité.
NMAF: What is the significance to you of winning a National Magazine Award? And what’s next for you; what topics and issues are currently attracting your interest?
Catherine Dubé: An award is the culmination of our efforts and the recognition that we achieved our goal. Nobody picks up a magazine just to find out the news. Newspapers, television and the web provide tough competition for that. But it is up to us, the artisans of magazines, to offer the untold stories, and the new and surprising angles to those stories, which are what make magazines indispensable.
Writing is also a key element: it must be clear and polished. If the reader enjoys the story as much as if reading a novel, then the job is done. It’s a challenge every time. My ultimate goal is to articulate complex and often abstract issues. I must find the human stories through which these issues are embodied, and then tell them skillfully. Even after all these years, it doesn’t get easier. But the difference is that I’ve been able to do it better!
This month I have a long feature about the world of justice, which will be published as a mini-book insert in the magazine. This is a new format that we started offering our readers last year and it’s been a great success.
Catherine Dubé is a journalist with the magazine L’actualité. This year she is nominated for 3 National Magazine Awards. Special thanks to Avary Lovell for the interview with Catherine.
From the NMA Archives, by Catherine Dubé:
Demain, des centres à 7$ par jour pour les vieux? (Prix d’or, Santé et famille, 2011)
Marmot 2.0 (Prix d’or, Société, 2010)
1,2,3…bébés? (Prix d’argent, 2010, Santé et médécine)
Vive le mangeur libre (Prix d’or, Mode de vie, 2009)
Grippe A(H1N1) – Tout savoir (Prix d’argent, 2009, Santé et famille)
Des synapses et des lettres (Prix d’argent, Société, 2008)
Péril à la ferme (Prix d’argent, Article hors categorie, 2007)
More Off the Page, with: