In a January "diary" penned for Entertainment Weekly, talk-show host Conan O'Brien lamented the prospect that the Writers Guild of America strike might doom the Academy Awards with a perfectly self-deflating line: "I want no part of a world that refuses to congratulate itself." By that standard, he'd love the newspaper business, which executes the back-patting reach-around at least as often as does the entertainment industry. Witness two ceremonies that took place in recent days: The February 29 Colorado Associated Press awards, and the March 1 Colorado Press Association honors, both of which gave the Denver dailies the excuse to do respective Sally Field impressions. The Rocky Mountain News boasted about "dominating" the AP bash in a March 1 announcement and crowed about earning the CPA's general excellence prize in a March 3 piece. In comparison, the Denver Post displayed stunning restraint, delivering word about its own triumphs in a single article instead of spreading the good news over separate broadsides.
In some ways, these achievements are overstated. Consider that only three entrants vie against each other in the Colorado Press Association's large-newspaper division: the Rocky, the Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. Up until about a decade ago, Westword was also allowed to enter this category, but complaints from one or more of the other publications put an end to that. Either the occasional loss to (egad) a free newsweekly proved hugely embarrassing or winnowing the slate as much as possible guaranteed that the big three would come away with more victories -- not to mention additional promotional opportunities.
On the other hand, award giveaways do serve a beneficial purpose in this day and age. As newspaper revenues shrink, executives are searching for ways to trim costs, and reporting teams working on long-term projects tend to be expensive to fund. But because such journalistic units typically attract the most trophies, bean counters must think long and hard before cutting back in this area.
Sure, such events can seem silly, particularly given their number and frequency. If they help maintain newspaper investigations, however, keep the self-congratulation coming. -- Michael Roberts