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Q & A with the 2008 Dalton Camp Award Winners

All you ever wanted to know about entering but were afraid to ask...

Having trouble deciding on a topic? Wondering how to ensure your entry complies with the rules?

FRIENDS asked the winners of the 2008 Dalton Camp Award - Matthieu Aikins and Fraser MacLean - a few questions about their experience entering the Dalton Camp Award, and what practical tips they have for future entrants. Read their responses below.

1. How did you first hear about the Award? Did you know who Dalton Camp was?

Matthieu: I was told about the award by a friend, who thought that it would be something that would interest me. I must confess to never having heard about Dalton Camp before, although I am print, not broadcast, junkie.

Fraser: My Media & Communications teacher at the University College of the Fraser Valley, Cheryl Dahl, informed the class one day before a lunch break. I hadn't heard of Dalton Camp before then.

2. Where did you get the idea for your topic?

Fraser: I knew that if I had a good topic to write on, the rest would be easy. I went on the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting website and read essays by previous winners, and liked how Gareth Lewis' essay on blogging was relevant to our immediate political situation. YouTube, like blogging, has only just recently started to become (somewhat) mainstream, so it seemed fitting to write about it while it was still fresh and in its infancy.

Matthieu: I agonized over the topic for quite some time. Initially, I thought of doing something on Conrad Black, but that seemed to me a little obvious. Then I considered writing about our newspapers' blanket coverage of the American elections, which, in my opinion, was crossing the line from news to entertainment in terms of its ubiquity. But that seemed a little too academic and also to require too much original research. It then struck me that my topic was right here in Halifax, where a local journalist had... well, you can read the essay. A lot of my material came from my own first-hand familiarity with the article and the journalist who wrote it, and some came from my previous research on the history of Canadian newspapers in general and the Kingston Whig-Standard in particular. The rest I assembled from the usual sources on the Internet and in library databases.

3. When did you start working on your essay? How long did it take?

Matthieu: The Award only came to my attention a month or so before the deadline, and something like this can tend to get put behind more immediate deadlines. I put in some work on the essay over the course of the last week before the deadline and then finished it in a frantic 24 hour period.

Fraser: I started writing on March 28th, as I had to squeeze it in between other assignments that were due around the same time. When I begin a task, be it writing or music, I hole myself up and work consistently until it's done. For the next three days I worked from morning till night gathering facts, writing, editing, and re-writing. I'm sure I could have done it in two, but seeing as how the topic was YouTube, I spent an inordinate amount of time watching videos of WWII footage, giant centipedes and Japanese game shows.

4. What was your first reaction upon reading the official rules?

Fraser: "What is the Chicago Manual of Style again?"

Matthieu: I read the official rules when I first heard about the Award, and then consulted them a few times during the process.

5. What was your strategy for keeping within the 2,000 word limit for the essay? The 50 word limit for the biographical statement?

Matthieu: I've been writing for a little while now, both academically and professionally, so I've developed a pretty good sense for how many words a given subject and style will take. As for the biographical sketch, I'm generally fairly taciturn regarding these - the DCA committee actually inserted a sentence to plump it up!

Fraser: For the essay, contractions. The apostrophe is your friend! For the biographical statement, it's hard to decide what to include. Many of the previous winners had university degrees, and had already won some awards for different things. I'm just a kid who likes music and going places, what else could I say?

6. How close to the deadline did you submit your entry?

Fraser: The night before.

Matthieu: I submitted it several minutes before the deadline.

7. Where were you when you learned your essay had been selected?

Matthieu: I was actually visiting my cousin in Chamonix, France at the time!

Fraser: I was at work with some friends when I got a call from my parents, saying someone from the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting had wanted to speak to me. Now, I have a music project going here in Vancouver that has me playing shows around town semi-regularly, and when my friends saw me writing down names and numbers while saying "What did he say? Are you sure?!", I guess they thought I was getting signed or my record was getting picked up. When I got off the phone, they were looking at me all wide eyed, asking what all the fuss was about. The look of disappointment on their faces when I started saying "Ok, so I entered this essay contest..." was priceless. I was keen on it, but I guess for them political essays don't compare to rock stardom. Go figure.

8. What suggestions do you have for future entrants?

Fraser: Find a topic that you sincerely believe in, then write. So many people talk about getting things done, but never follow through. When my teacher told our class about the Award, I went up to her at the break and said "I am going to win this." She said, a little hesitantly, "Well, put your entry in and see what happens". I responded, "Ok, but I am going to win. For sure." I think I told my parents that I would win before I even knew what I was going to write about. People call that arrogance, but I believe it's important to have confidence in your abilities to do a job, whatever that job happens to be.

Matthieu: The most important thing, of course, is to read the essays of past winners. This will give you a good idea of what the awards committee is looking for, and also of subjects that have been previously explored. Next, take a look at the judges and note their backgrounds and professions. I don't mean to say that you need to cater to their sympathies, but it might help you choose how to write your essay. In this case, after reading about the selection committee, I decided to eschew a hardcore academic style (even though some of the past winning essays were written in this style) and write something more similar to what you might find in the Op-Ed section of a newspaper. It's a more comfortable style for 2,000 words, for me at least, and I felt confident that the judges wouldn't punish me for it.