Off the Page, with journalist Simon Diotte


Of the Page is an interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. This week we’re chatting with Montreal writer and editor Simon Diotte. He gained recognition for his 2016 National Magazine Award-winning travel story “Sur les traces d’un écrivain voyageur” (“In the Footsteps of a Travel Writer”) published in Oxygène, where he is editor-in-chief. The story recounts a multi-day hiking trip in France in the company of a donkey named Muscade, following the trail of the great Scottish adventurer Robert Louis Stevenson who hiked the same path in 1878.
NMAF: For the uninitiated, tell us about Oxygène magazine and your readers?
Simon: A newcomer to the world of outdoor magazines, Oxygène launched in 2013 and is published twice annually. We have a circulation of 25,000 copies distributed for free in Quebec, mainly at shops and businesses that specialize in the outdoors. Distinguishing itself from other publications that focus on all outdoor sports (trekking, climbing, alpine skiing, surfing, etc), Oxygène focuses on the classics—camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
NMAF: So which came to you first: A taste for adventure or a love of writing?
Simon: Writing. I grew up reading L’actualité. I loved their “territoire” features which explored a particular region under a specific theme. I admired the journalist Luc Chartrand in particular, winner of numerous National Magazine Awards. I recall one of his reports that explored the wild regions of Haute-Mauricie. As I read it, I dreamed of walking in remote areas, a notebook in hand. It was stories like this that prompted me to choose to become a freelance journalist, and I started writing articles about the outdoors, which then gave me opportunities to go on adventures.
Paradoxically, in real life I am not necessarily a great adventurer. But I like to have the opportunity to travel in a professional context, where I can have access, as a journalist, to places and people (such as business leaders, politicians, etc) who are not easily accessible to everyday folks.
NMAF: So in addition to your role as editor-in-chief of Oxygène you’ve also been a freelance journalist for over fifteen years. Over the years, you’ve been published in magazines including que L’actualité, Les affaires, Coup de pouce, Châtelaine and Nature Sauvage. And you cover a wide range of topics, including personal finance, the environment, and tourism, to name a few. Tell us about the process of selection stories to pursue. And what topics are currently arousing your curiosity as a journalist?
Simon: Even though I love to work on adventure-oriented stories, I see myself as a jack-of-all-journalism-trades, which corresponds well to my personality. I enjoy stories on the performance of the stock market or the latest film of a famous filmmaker. And so I transpose my diverse tastes into my work as a journalist.
To succeed as a freelancer, you have to be an idea-generating machine. As soon as an idea starts to form in my mind, I immediately make notes on it. I do a quick search to see if it’s a subject that’s already been covered. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to grow into a magazine story—often because of the lack of time or opportunity to pursue it. I have tons of ideas in the bank, but unfortunately I lack the time and budget to pursue them all. Right now I’m working on several stories about hunting. Stay tuned.

NMAF: Your story called “Sur les traces d’un écrivain voyageur” won a Silver Medal at the 2016 National Magazine Awards. You weren’t able to attend the gala, but you responded almost instantly to the announcement on Twitter. What was the first thing that came to your mind when you heard the news?
Simon: I was really proud that a story by a freelancer writer in a small Quebec publication had managed to stand out among the panoply of high-quality magazines across Canada. As a freelancer I often have the feeling of being David against Goliath in various journalistic contexts. Winning the National Magazine Award is proof that with audacity and determination, you can do great stories.
NMAF: You also received an Honourable Mention last year for your story “Le ski change d’air” published in L’actualité. And in 2014 you also won an Honourable Mention for “Rares et précieux champignons” in Nature Sauvage. What impact has this recognition had on you at this stage of your career as a journalist?
Simon: In my many years as a freelancer, I’ve experienced periods where I’ve questioned myself. Should I continue or should I do something else? The recognition of the National Magazine Awards has affirmed my decision to keep living by the writer’s pen. And working independently gives me the freedom to work on the stories I really want to. Awards provide confidence to freelancers and raise our profile among clients. They help us stand out.
NMAF: The Canadian magazine industry has undergone some profound transformations over the past few years. One need only think of all the print publications that have migrated to digital platforms, or of the recent announcement of the sale of a number of Quebec magazines by Rogers Media, including L’actualité, the most decorated French-language magazine in the history of the National Magazine Awards.* In such an uncertain environment, what is the key to success for a freelancer?
Simon: As a freelancer, diversification is a major asset. The publications I write for trust me to handle a wide range of topics, as they know I’m versatile enough to do them. It’s also a great idea to get creative and pitch stories that seem a little off the beaten track. The work I do is about 50% ideas that I pitch, and 50% ideas that are commissioned.
That said, the future doesn’t look so bright for journalism, even for the best freelancers. With falling revenues, magazines have less and less money, and of course that has an impact on content. Like most freelancers, I often wonder whether I’ll still be able to do this exciting work in a few years.


Simon Diotte is the editor-in-chief of the magazine Oxygène and a National Magazine Award-winning freelancer writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter @sdiotte.
This interview was originally published in French on the blog Prix Magazine. Interview by Émilie Pontbriand. Translated from the French by Richard A. Johnson.
* Editor’s note: Since publication of this interview in French, L’actualité has been purchased by MishMash Media.

enRoute, United Church Observer, Fairmont among magazine winners at NATJA Awards

"Canada's Best New Restaurants 2013" won 2 National Magazine Awards last year before winning a NATJA earlier this month.
“Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013” won 2 National Magazine Awards last year before winning a NATJA earlier this month.

enRoute, the Air Canada magazine published by Spafax of Montreal, won the gold medal for best in-flight magazine at the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) awards announced earlier this month. The mag bested competitors like Delta Sky, U.S. Airways Magazine and Celebrated Living for the honour.
enRoute‘s popular “Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013” guide, by National Magazine Award-winning writer Andrew Braithwaite, won a silver medal in the category culinary travel.
The magazine also took home a bronze medal for best travel series (“The Frequent Flyer” by Sarah Staples), and was a finalist in 3 other categories as well.
Two other Spafax titles won NATJAs. Fairmont Magazine won the gold medal for cover photo (“Big Bold Baku” by Gunnar Knechtel) and a silver medal, tied with enRoute, for culinary travel (“Perfecting Pinoy” by Remy Scalza). Experience Magazine won gold in the luxury & leisure travel category (“Fantasy Island,” by Neal McLennan).
In the category destination travel, the United Church Observer, the oldest continuously published magazine in North America, based in Toronto, won a silver medal for “Camels and Karma” by Peter Johansen.
In the byline travel column category, Vancouver’s Georgia Strait magazine won the gold medal for “Gondola lifts lazybones high above Squamish” by Carolyn Ali.
Check out all the NATJA winners here, which include triumphs by Canadian newspapers including the Winnipeg Free Press, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, Canadian Jewish News, and Metro News Toronto.
H/T Masthead.

Off the Page, with Arno Kopecky

Arno Kopckey (Photo by Jay Devery)
Arno Kopecky (Photo by Jay Devery)

Off the Page is back. In the latest installment of our popular interview series, we chat with National Magazine Award finalist and freelance writer Arno Kopecky, author of The Oilman and the Sea, shortlisted for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards.
NMAF: You’re an intrepid magazine journalist. We’ve read your reporting from Iceland and Columbia and others in The Walrus, from Beaver Lake in Alberta Views, and recently from the British Columbia coast in the Reader’s Digest story “The $273 Billion Question,” for which you were a finalist for a National Magazine Award this past spring. How did you get started on this journey to a freelance magazine writing career, and what do you find personally or professionally rewarding about it?
Arno: Intrepid? Thanks, but groping in the dark is usually how it feels. I studied creative writing at the University of Victoria, and when I graduated in 2002 I realized I had no idea how the world worked, let alone how to write about it; so, on Bertrand Russell’s advice, I travelled. Moved to Spain and got a job teaching English, and after two years I’d learned (barely) enough Spanish to land a reporting internship in Oaxaca, Mexico. A string of magazine and newspaper internships followed: New York, Toronto, Nairobi. I was basically a professional intern for a few years. Somewhere along the way I started selling the odd story to various publications, and before long I was too old to be an intern, but the writing and travelling continued.
The thing I love about my “job” is what I think many journalists love, whether they travel or not: Writing gives us an excuse to meet interesting people doing interesting things. We get to join the conversation.

NMAF: The RD feature story appears to have led to an even larger project, your latest book The Oilman and the Sea (Douglas & McIntyre), which won the 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and is shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. Was there momentum from your fascinating voyage up the BC coastline to the magazine article to the book, and how did your writing journey proceed?
Arno: Actually it was the other way round: the book contract came first. I pitched the idea to my then-editor at Douglas & McIntyre about two days after my friend Ilja Herb (whose photographs are in the magazine story and book) bought a 41-foot sailboat. We wanted to see the oil tanker routes proposed by Northern Gateway for ourselves, and it was clear from the beginning that the trip would generate tens of thousands of words, if only we could find a home for them. Douglas & McIntyre signed on early and gave us the reason we needed to pursue the expedition.
But Reader’s Digest signed on very quickly as well, and was hugely supportive from the outset. My editor there fought to get me real estate for one of the longest stories that magazine has published in recent history.
Two weeks after I got home from the sailing trip, D&M went bankrupt. Suddenly that Reader’s Digest feature was the only thing I had going for me. Thankfully, Harbour Publishing swept in to the rescue and resuscitated D&M, so that by the time my RD feature was on the stands I had a book contract once again. All I had to do was… write a book.
oilman-sea
NMAF: Your approach as a writer to the complex debate about the Northern Gateway pipeline could be characterized by journalistic curiosity, a sense of adventure (to say the least) and perhaps a sense of responsibility, at least with respect to seeking out grassroots perspectives in places such as Bella Bella, Kitimat and others. Was there a particular place or event in the evolving process that made you think, This is the heart of the story, this will grab the reader’s (and editor’s) attention?
Arno: The Great Bear Rainforest–as the north and central coast of British Columbia is known– was itself the thing that captivated me from the outset. In some ways it’s the story’s central character. Here’s this Switzerland-sized labyrinth of whale-jammed fjords and evergreen islands on BC’s north and central coast, the biggest chunk of temperate coastal rainforest left on earth, that also happens to be one of the oldest continually inhabited regions on the planet–Heiltsuk, Haisla, Haida, Gitga’at and many other coastal First Nations have called this place home since the last ice age. I’m not sure how many Canadians are aware of its existence. The fact that oil tankers are now poised to navigate through those waters for the first time was, in some ways, just an excuse to talk about this teeming, volatile, amphibious zone, the likes of which happen not to exist anywhere else on the planet.
NMAF: What is the significance to you of being nominated for or winning awards for your work, whether National Magazine Awards or others? Is there (or do you foresee) a measurable impact on your career?
Arno: I heard a debate on CBC a while back as to whether there weren’t too many awards in Canada’s literary scene these days; that may well be true, but it doesn’t feel so when you get a nomination yourself. It’s become a cliché, how hard it is to make a living at writing, and anyone who wants to give writers a few bucks and some attention-grabbing praise has my everlasting gratitude.
That said, it’s hard to measure what the impact is on your career. Doors crack open, but you still have to push through; money comes, and then it goes. I guess for me personally, insecure hack that I am, the psychological boost that comes with an award is its most lasting aspect. Recognition helps put the self-doubting demons to rest, and it can be called on to subdue them when they inevitably reappear.
Arno Kopecky is the author of The Oilman and the Sea, which is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award (to be announced next Tuesday, November 18) and won the 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. He is also the author of The Devil’s Curve: A Journey into Power and Profit at the Amazon’s EdgeFollow him on Twitter @arno_kopecky.
See also:
NMA winners headline shortlists for GGs, Writer’s Trust, Giller Prize
New book by Arno Kopecky investigates anti-mining activism
More Off the Page interviews with NMA winners
From the National Magazine Awards archive:
The $273 Billion Question, by Arno Kopecky
Reader’s Digest, Honourable Mention, Science, Technology & Environment, 2013
The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay, by Arno Kopecky
The Walrus, Honourable Mention, Investigative Reporting, 2011

In Memory of Mark Anderson


The sad news reached us recently of the passing of Mark Anderson. Mark was an accomplished and enthusiastic magazine journalist who won three National Magazine Awards for his work in Explore and Outdoor Canada.
We read his work in a number of other Canadian magazines, including Financial Post Magazine, Listed, Report on Business, MoneySense, Canadian Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Cottage Life, Ontario Nature and Canadian Business.
His editor at Outdoor Canada, Patrick Walsh, former president of the National Magazine Awards Foundation, talked to us about Mark’s enduring legacy.

For us at Outdoor Canada, Mark was the complete package—an incredibly gifted storyteller with the added bonus of being a highly accomplished angler. Not only did he win major awards for his feature writing, he also earned laurels for his fly-fishing expertise, competing in both national and international competitions. Mark leaves a major vacancy in our stable of writers, and all I can say is we are so thankful we had him on our team when we did.

Mark was indeed one of Canada’s best fly fisherman. The Canadian Fly Fishing Championships awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year.

In one of his best-known stories for Outdoor Canada, “Requiem for a River,” Mark travelled to Quebec’s Rupert River, famous among anglers for its exquisite natural beauty and genetically unique brook trout, the summer before it was dammed as part of a massive hydroelectric project in the province. The story showcased Mark’s rare gifts as an inquisitive and thoughtful writer and conservationist.

I start working my way down the shoreline, all heavy brush and treacherous deadfalls, and when I break out into the open a half-kilometre later, I’m in for a shocking sight: clear-cut as far as the eye can see. It’s the slash Freddy Jolly warned us about, Hydro-Québec’s relentless drive to denude the banks of the Rupert in preparation for the coming flood. After three days surrounded by raw wilderness, it’s a dismal, depressing scene.

The story won a National Magazine Award for Travel writing in 2008 and was also nominated in Sports & Recreation. You can read the entire story here from the National Magazine Awards archive.
A Celebration of Mark’s Life was held at Algonquin College’s Observatory lounge on Sunday, October 26. Donations are being accepted in Mark’s name to Algonquin College Foundation’s Mark Anderson Memorial Bursary, via CanadaHelps.org. Mark’s obituary appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on October 22.
Photographs by Theodore Smith for Outdoor Canada. Special thanks to James Little and Patrick Walsh.

Announcing the Winners of the 37th annual National Magazine Awards!


The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) is pleased to announce the winners of the 37th annual National Magazine Awards.
At this year’s gala on June 6, presented by CDS Global and hosted by humourist (and award-winner) Scott Feschuk, the NMAF presented Gold and Silver awards in 47 categories representing the best in Canadian magazines from the year 2013.
Complete list (PDF) of all winners
Full-text of all nominated and winning articles
Twitter highlights
La version française

SPECIAL AWARD WINNERS

Magazine of the Year
Sponsored by RBC Royal Bank
Cottage Life

Magazine Website of the Year
Macleans.ca
14720

Tablet Magazine of the Year
Sportsnet

Best New Magazine Writer
Sponsored by Reader’s Digest Foundation
Catherine McIntyre

Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement
Kim Jernigan

Top Winning Magazines at the 37th National Magazine Awards:

Magazine Gold Silver HM
The Walrus 7 6 22
Maclean’s 4 1 13
Maisonneuve 4 1 9
L’actualité 3 2 18
Report on Business 3 2 16
Cottage Life 3 1 9
Eighteen Bridges 3 1 7
Legion Magazine 2 0 1
Western Living 1 3 4
Sportsnet 1 2 7
The Grid 1 1 12
Hazlitt 1 1 8
Flare 1 1 2
United Church Observer 1 1 2
enRoute 1 1 1
Malahat Review 1 1 1
Torontoist 1 1 1
Toronto Life 0 2 16
Jobboom 0 2 0

See the complete list of winners at magazine-awards.com.

INTEGRATED AWARDS – GOLD WINNERS  

Best Single Issue
Tenth Anniversary Issue
The Walrus


Magazine Covers
Larry Fink
Report on Business

Infographics
How Much Does a Street Cost?
The Grid

Editorial Package (Web)
Canada’s Best New Restaurants
enRoute
13628

Online Video
Boy Genius
Maclean’s

Single Service Article Package
Calendrier de l’avent
Ricardo

Words & Pictures
Sponsored by CDS Global
Water
The Walrus

WRITING AWARDS – GOLD WINNERS

Arts & Entertainment
Curtis Gillespie
Rebel Without Applause
Eighteen Bridges

Best Short Feature
Paul Wells
Boy Genius
Maclean’s 

Blogs
Jamie Bradburn, Kevin Plummer, David Wencer
Historicist
Torontoist

Business
Sponsored by Accenture
Charles Wilkins
This Little Piggy Went to Market…and the Farmer Lost Money
Report on Business

Columns
Sponsored by Impresa Communications Ltd.
Chantal Hébert
Politique
L’actualité

Editorial Package (Print)
Sponsored by Canadian Society of Magazine Editors
Marine Corniou, Dominique Forget, Joel Leblanc, Raymond Lemieux, Chantal Srivastava
Août 2013
Québec Science

Essays
Curtis Gillespie
In The Chair
Eighteen Bridges

Fiction
Jess Taylor
Paul
Little Brother Magazine

Health & Medicine
Ann Silversides
First Do No Harm
Maisonneuve

How-To
Jane Rodmell, David Zimmer
Best Flavour Ever
Cottage Life

Humour
Scott Feschuk
Assemble ingredients. Pause dramatically.
Maclean’s

Investigative Reporting
Adam Day
One Martyr Down
Legion Magazine

One of a Kind
Craig Davidson
The Marineland Dreamland
The Walrus

Personal Journalism
Liz Windhorst Harmer
Blip
Malahat Review

Poetry
Karen Solie
Conversion
Hazlitt

Politics & Public Interest
Lisa Fitterman
The Avenger
The Walrus

Profiles
Omar Mouallem
The Kingdom of Haymour
Eighteen Bridges

Science, Technology & Environment
Sponsored by GE Canada
Alanna Mitchell
Losing the Hooded Grebe
United Church Observer 

Service: Health & Family
Sharon Adams
Lest We Forget: The Shocking Crisis Facing Our Wounded Veterans
Legion Magazine

Service: Lifestyle
Valérie Borde
Vive le poisson éco!
L’actualité

Service: Personal Finance & Business
Sponsored by Manulife Financial
Denny Manchee
The Hand-Me-Down Blues
Cottage Life

Society
Dan Werb
The Fix
The Walrus

Sports & Recreation
Jonathan Trudel
La machine à broyer les rêves
L’actualité

Travel
Taras Grescoe
Big Mac
The Walrus

 

VISUAL AWARDS – GOLD WINNERS

Art Direction of an Entire Issue
Sponsored by The Lowe-Martin Group
Paul Sych
Issue 1
fshnunlimited (f.u.)

Art Direction of a Single Article
Underline Studio
Not in the Age of the Pharaohs
Prefix Photo

Beauty
John Van Der Schilden, Photographer
Brittany Eccles, Art Director
Juliana Schiavinatto, Stylist
Vanessa Craft, Beauty Director
Masterpiece Theatre
ELLE Canada

Creative Photography
Paul Weeks
Wall Candy
Azure

Fashion
Petra Collins, Photographer
Jed Tallo, Art Director
Corey Ng, Stylist
Pastels Take Shape
Flare

Homes & Gardens
Martin Tessler, Photographer
Paul Roelofs, Art Director
Nicole Sjöstedt, Stylist
Bright Idea
Western Living

Illustration
Selena Wong
Old Wounds
Maisonneuve

Magazine Website Design
TheWalrus.ca
The Walrus

Photojournalism & Photo Essay
Sponsored by CNW Group
Brett Gundlock
El Pueblo
Maisonneuve

Portrait Photography
Anya Chibis
Larry Fink
Report on Business

Spot Illustration
Gracia Lam
The Elite Yellow Peril
Maisonneuve

Still-Life Photography
Liam Mogan
Set Pieces
Sharp

ABOUT THE 37th ANNUAL NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARDS
More than 500 members of the Canadian magazine industry—publishers, editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, circulators and more—joined esteemed sponsors and other guests at the 37th annual National Magazine Awards gala on June 6, 2014, at The Carlu in Toronto, presented by CDS Global.
This year, from nearly 2000 individual entries received nationwide, the NMAF’s 238 volunteer judges nominated a total of 376 submissions from 92 different Canadian magazines for awards in 47 written, visual, integrated and special categories.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The National Magazine Awards Foundation acknowledges the financial support of the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, as well as the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
The NMAF thanks its corporate sponsors Accenture, GE Canada, Manulife Financial, RBC Royal Bank, The Lowe-Martin Group, Canadian Society of Magazine Editors, Penguin Random House and Reader’s Digest Foundation for their generous financial support of the National Magazine Awards.
The NMAF thanks its media partners Cottage Life Media, Impresa Communications Ltd., Masthead, Rogers Media, TC Media and Toronto Life for their generous support of the National Magazine Awards.
The NMAF thanks its event partners CNW Group and Media Vantage, The CarluDaniel et Daniel, Relay Experience, KlixPix and Michèle Champagne for their generous support of the National Magazine Awards.
The NMAF gratefully acknowledges all its suppliers and its contributors who donated gifts in kind to support the awards program. We thank them for their generosity, interest and expertise. Thanks also to our hard-working event volunteers.
And thanks again to our wonderful Master of Ceremonies, Scott Feschuk.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARDS FOUNDATION
The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to recognize and promote excellence in the content and creation of Canadian print and digital publications through an annual program of awards and national publicity efforts.
For more information, visit magazine-awards.com and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards).