Ottawa, November 3, 1979 – The Kitchener-Waterloo Record was the winner of the 1978 Michener Award for meritorious pubic service journalism for its leadership in reporting about the less-than wholesome conditions in area meat-packing plants, particularly one in Kitchener employing 300 to 400 people. The series of stories prompted the entire re-organization of the Canadian meat inspection system.
Publisher Sandy Baird accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper from Governor General Edward Schreyer who presented the award at a Government House dinner attended by six finalists in the competition and invited guests. His Excellency praised the finalists and said that a free press was the greatest asset of a democracy (full text). There were 19 entries competing for the 1978 Michener Award.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Record and its farm reporter Jim Romahn began investigating area meat processing plants in 1975. Working on an anonymous tip, the newspaper obtained inspection reports from Washington about Canadian meat plants (under the U.S. Freedom of Information Law) – reports that were not available in Canada. Based on the information gathered from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the newspaper published stories detailing shoddy conditions at the Burns Meats Ltd. plant in Kitchener.
Further digging uncovered information that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had in fact condemned 25 Canadian plants in 1975 – all of them for failure to meet Canadian standards for sanitation and maintenance of buildings and equipment. There was an agreement in place that each country would accept its own national standards for the basis of trade. American inspection teams were sent north to determine if Canadian meat processing plants were complying with Canadian standards.
Despite concerns by Kitchener city council and other groups about the number of local jobs at stake at the Burns plant, threatening phone calls and the scrutiny of a private detective, the newspaper continued publishing reports on plant conditions.
Following up on the Record’s stories on Kitchener meat packing plants, the CBC Marketplace program surveyed four types of cold cuts produced by local companies and reported that the best and the worst bacteria counts were found in meat from Kitchener. This provided evidence that problems with consumer – ready products were probably tied to poor operating conditions in the plants.
As a result of the Record’s series of stories, it was announced from Ottawa that the entire Canadian meat inspection system would be overhauled.
Note: A new format was introduced for this year’s presentation of the Michener Award – the first change since the award was introduced in 1970. Tonight’s event at Rideau Hall featured a formal dinner to henceforth be included as part of the annual Michener Award ceremony. William MacPherson, chairman of the Press Club Canada Michener Award Committee paid tribute to former Governor General Roland Michener, who lent his name to the award and to John Matthews who designed the bronze Michener trophy. (full text)
BCTV‘s Webster program, for focusing attention on, and playing a prominent role in bringing an end to, a strike by non-teaching employees which disrupted the education of 14,000 students in the West Kootenay area. The strike received little attention until program host Jack Webster interviewed Education Minister Pat McGeer on his weekly morning show and persuaded the Minister to promise he would canvass the cabinet on strike-ending legislation. The pressure continued until Premier Bennett announced back-to-work legislation.
The Edmonton Journal, for stories that succeeded in rolling back a 60% wage increase voted by Edmonton city council for itself. The Journal took the council to court in 1978 over the proposed salary increase, approved at a secret council meeting, and won. A district court judge ordered that the increase be rescinded and the issue put to a plebiscite.
CFRN-TV, Edmonton, for its documentary “The Moonstalkers” which examined the religious movement led by Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church whose followers are known as ‘Moonies’. The program attracted so much attention after airing on May 23rd that it was re-broadcast two weeks later.
The Hamilton Spectator, for a series drawing attention to the plight of unemployed youth. The newspaper’s reporting team described the problems young people faced in finding jobs. The series won praise at a provincially-sponsored seminar on jobs for youth and, months after it appeared, Premier Davis of Ontario warned that the education system is doing what The Spectator concluded – turning out people ill-equipped to find jobs in today’s society.
The Kingston Whig-Standard, for a series probing the incidence and implications of highway accidents. The investigation into auto accidents and their causes brought results. A Queen’s University survey found that the 8-part series had a significant impact on the community, almost doubling the number of people who believe that media coverage of traffic accidents helps to save lives.
Note: Initially, administration of the Michener Award was undertaken by the Federation of Press Clubs of Canada (changed later to Press Club Canada) but this year, administration was assumed by the National Press Club of Canada.
Judges for the 1978 Michener Award:
Fraser MacDougall, executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council and chair of the judging panel; Bill Boss, director of public relations at the University of Ottawa; Emery LeBlanc, former editor of L’Evangeline & public relations director for Via Rail; and Charles Edwards, retired general manager of Broadcast News.
In the nine years since its inception, the Michener Award has been won by both print and broadcast news organizations, large and small. This reflects the scope of the award to cover all forms of Canadian journalism. The judges of the competition take into account the resources available to the entrant. Just as a large news agency or broadcasting network, for example, is eligible to enter for some national achievement, so is a small newspaper or broadcasting station that stretches its resources to achieve perhaps a modest but important community improvement.