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Oh, COME ON, Courier!

Posted on October 14, 2011 at 3:55 PM

NEW! UPDATED OCTOBER 18:


Had a lovely chat with Barry Link over at the Courier yesterday, and here's what he told me. Because the Courier is now owned by Toronto-based newspaper giant Postmedia, they were required to add a bunch of legal whatnots to a contest that had quite happily run for years with a set of rules about "five sentences long."


We can probably chalk this up to a series of unfortunate events: some dork in Postmedia's legal department adapted a boilerplate from a sweepstakes and sent it along, then it got overlooked at the Courier office (which Barry admits was a pretty big oversight) and was uploaded to their website, and then Jenn Farrell, cub reporter, totally freaked out. 


The good news? Barry assures me that the old rules still apply, that there are "no prohibitions" on the content of stories, and that there is, in fact, a panel of judges selecting the top three entries. Whew! I think the only main difference from previous years is that there is NOT a cap on the number of entries received, as in years past. Barry said this was because they've had to turn away writers at the Courier office and they don't want to do that.


The Courier will be updating the rules online very shortly, if they haven't as of this reading, and will be posting a correction in this Wednesday's edition of the newspaper. So there you have it! Will you be entering this year? 


ORIGINAL POST:


I was really looking forward to entering the Vancouver Courier fiction contest this year for a number of reasons:

  1. 1. I've won it twice previously, so I like my odds.
  2. 2. You have to include a specific sentence (which they provide at the contest's outset) in the story you enter, and it's usually really wacky. I enjoy the challenge of trying to make something so weird fit naturally into a narrative.
  3. 3. There's a cap on the number of entries they accept (usually 125), and you have to drop it off in person. This results in some good early-morning weirdo cameraderie in the line-up outside the Courier office on entry day.
  4. 4. The prize money is pretty damn good, and it comes right before Christmas!
  5. 5. You get a full page of your writing in a local weekly newspaper, and people might actually read it, enjoy it, and find out who you are.
So yeah, lots of good incentives, right? I was all geared up for another crack at the contest this year. Then my new pal Carol gave me a ride home from Langara College last night and told me that the rules have changed. I checked it out, and I'm feeling pretty darn pissy about the whole thing.

Here's what's up:
  • • There's no longer a cap on the number of entries. (Okay, I can live with that--they've gotta make their money somehow.)
  • • That sentence is WAY too easy this year. (Seriously, now that I look at it, how could I have not known something was amiss?)
  • • There's this clause in the legal bafflegab that is meant to stop people from writing filth or hate speech, but also instructs entrants that their work must not “contain, depict, include, discuss or involve, without limitation, any of the following:…nudity, alcohol/drug consumption or smoking…sexual innuendo, crude, vulgar or offensive language and/or symbols…content that endorses, condones and/or discusses any illegal, inappropriate or risky behaviour or conduct…” (Are you kidding me? Oooh, risky behaviour! Smoking! I'm clutching at my pearls, I tells ya.)
  • • The winners (first, second, and third place) are SELECTED RANDOMLY. Yeah, you heard that right. You write a story, and enter it in a fiction-writing contest, and they pull three stories out of a FUCKING HAT and print them.
Here are the first two clauses of the "Winner Selection" section:
 
On or about November 14, 2011 in Vancouver, BC, three (3) entrants will be selected by a random draw from all eligible entries received during the Contest Period. Each entrant shall be eligible to win only one (1) Prize. The odds of being selected as a potential winner are dependent upon the number of eligible entries received by the Sponsors. Before being declared a Winner, the selected entrant shall be required to correctly answer, without assistance of any kind, whether mechanical or otherwise, a time-limited mathematical skill-testing question to be administered during a pre- arranged telephone call or by e-mail, to comply with the Contest Rules and sign and return the Release (described below).

(b) The judges, in their absolute discretion, shall select the Winners based upon the above criteria. The decisions of the judges shall be final and binding and may not be challenged in any way.

 


Why even bother having the contest anymore? (Yeah, I know the answer is "money".) So I guess the real question is, why bother entering? I'm sure many people who have entered before will enter again this year, with the (perfectly reasonable) expectation that their work will be evaluated on its merits by a group of qualified judges. And they are being misled. I was almost one of them. Sure, it's all there in the legal document, but if all you have is the registration form, you'll find no mention of how the winners are selected. Presumably, at least some of this year's "competitors" are going to print and sign their happy little form and drop off their entry without ever knowing they've been had.


Look, I've seen lots of contests where you have to write up a 250-word piece about how much Kleenex means to you, or whatever, and they do a random prize drawing for a trip to Disneyland. It's all made very clear and that's fine. But to have the nerve to charge a $15 entry fee under the guise of running a writing contest? That's what I like to call a real dick move.

On a purely selfish note, for those of us who've won previously, compromising the contest in this fashion really takes some of the shine off being a "winner". Until they realize their error, I'll be removing all mention of it from my professional bio. Otherwise, I might as well brag that I once won a hundred bucks playing roulette. At least with gambling, I know exactly what I've gotten myself into.

 

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