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Wreckhouse wins 3 Gold Awards at AJAs

Editor-in-chief René J. Roy (left) and his sister, Senior Staff Reporter Rosalyn Roy, at the AJA awards in Halifax on April 20, 2023. – © Darlene Kettle / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — The Atlantic Journalism Awards (AJA) took place in three locations simultaneously on Thursday, April 20. Representatives from Wreckhouse Press (the Wreckhouse Weekly) attended the Halifax event. Competing against industry giants like SaltWire, which publishes the Telegram, the small independent community newspaper took home all three of the awards they were nominated for.

  1. ‘Fiona’s Fury’, by Rosalyn Roy won Gold in the Breaking News Category.

  2. ‘The Blue House’ by René J. Roy, won Gold in the Photojournalism Portrait/Feature Category.

  3. “Hurricane Fiona” by René J. Roy won Gold in the Best Community Newspaper News Story Category.

“I found out that Rosalyn was nominated before me. She received an email, probably a day ahead of the emails I got indicating she had been nominated, and the next day I got an updated list and my name was on it twice, with hers, so it was quite a surprise,” shared René J. Roy, Editor-in-Chief of Wreckhouse Weekly. “It was a bit of a surprise, and it was nice to know that whatever we did was actually recognized.” Living in Port aux Basques and experiencing Fiona alongside friends and neighbours, as painful as it was, didn’t make the nominations hold any extra significance for Roy. “For me, it actually didn’t really have an extra bearing because it was just the fact that I was nominated for anything. It didn’t matter if it was about the road closures, the council minutes list, or anything. The fact that it was up there was, in itself, really cool,” said Roy. “The fact that it was the blue house photo, of course, that made me feel really proud of having captured that.” That now iconic photo was quickly circulated all around the world even before Fiona finished battering the region. “It went on CNN. It went to Kuala Lumpur. It went to Sierra Leone, BBC, Australia. It went to Germany, absolutely everywhere, and I’ve never had anything with such reach as this photo. When I realized that was one of the photos that was in there, I had fair confidence that it would probably take it (the category) just because of the significance behind the photo.” The three awards were the first time the news organization was nominated for an AJA. “For me, personally, it was the first time I was ever nominated for anything, let alone an AJA,” admitted Roy. “So the fact that I won the two that Wreckhouse was up for is pretty amazing.” Rosalyn Roy, the Senior Staff Reporter for the Wreckhouse Weekly, won the first award of the night. “We actually had just gotten our drinks, myself and my son settled down, Rosalyn and my cousin (Darlene Kettle) settled down, and they began. Rosalyn was up in the first category and before we even had a sip of our drinks, she was called up to the podium. It was almost instantaneous, almost startling.” The pride that Roy felt for his sister in that moment was immeasurable. “It was very sweet to see her face when she won and she went up there. She was shy and nervous, and it was just really great. I was really proud of her. It was a hell of a story.” There wasn’t a lot of time to take it all in before Roy was called up too. “There was a gap of two other categories, maybe, and then it was mine up back-to-back. I went up and I thanked everybody for what they did for us during Fiona, for all the work they did, and when I went back up for the second one I said, ‘I’ll keep this one short,’ and I said ‘Thank you,’ and I left because they just got rid of me and I didn’t want to drag it on.” The newspaper won so much in the first few minutes of the ceremony that the host even cracked a joke when announcing another winner. “I think it was about 10 minutes later, he said, ‘And the award goes to René J., no I’m just kidding,’ and of course everybody laughed because it was just bizarre. CBC was there, The Telegram, The Globe and Mail, Saltwire, APTN, and Ici Canada, they were all there, and here we are, a little paper in Port aux Basques, boom, boom, boom,” said Roy. “It was almost absurd in its surreality. It was so odd, and I think a lot of people recognize that what we did over that period was pretty substantial. It was pretty impressive, really, after you think about it.” Roy is extremely thankful for the team backing him up at Wreckhouse Press. “Everybody here at the Wreckhouse did spectacular. I might have won an award for my photo, but the other one is Community Newspaper News Story, and that was built by everybody involved, so I want to give a shout out to everybody that was involved in producing the paper during those times.” The work that was done by Wreckhouse Weekly didn’t just extend into the days following the storm. They are still getting answers seven months later. “There were a couple of journalists (other than Wreckhouse Press) who stayed for three or four days. I think that was the longest anybody stuck around after. I believe it was Ross Lord who was here the longest,” said Roy. “We kept asking questions, we kept taking the photos and doing the interviews. We got very into Twitter, detailing what people needed, where to donate, how to donate, all the organizations and what they were doing for us. We did our best to keep everybody in the limelight for at least the first two or three months.” In those weeks, the paper was focused on getting out as much information out as possible to keep residents and the world informed. “Like I said during my interview on CBC Radio, I really wasn’t thinking about getting the quality of information out, how well it was written or anything like that, I just wanted to get information out. That was my only criteria, to make sure people knew what they needed to know,” said Roy. “The fact that we did manage to capture both quality and quantity of information in relevance to what people needed, and still get rewarded and recognized for that, that’s where the real honour comes in, being recognized for all of that.” Since returning home, community support for the little upstart newsroom has been tremendous. “There’s not many days I don’t go out now. I’ve been back for five days and pretty much everywhere I go it’s a congratulations, or an atta’boy, a pat on the back or a shake of the hand. It’s all very humbling and very sweet,” said Roy. “We got recognized by the mayor during council last night, which was quite nice, so it’s all been spectacular.” The awards really made it clear to Roy just how important community news organizations are. “The big ones are still out there, and they do good work but, when you look at the Montreal Gazette, the Globe and Mail, The National Post, what have you, they are giving you stories about the province, the country, or the world. They have all these sections, province, country, world, business, sports, but when you look in the Montreal Gazette for a local segment, there isn’t one. So if I want to know what’s going on in my community, I’ve got no source if I live in Montreal,” said Roy. “So when you look at a region like the Southwest coast of Newfoundland, and you want to find out what’s going on in your community, or something has happened in your community and you want to know about it, you’re not going to find it on Google. You’re not going to find it on Yahoo, The Telegram, Saltwire, anything like that. Where you’re going to find it is in The Wreckhouse. That’s what the importance of community news is. It’s about your community, where you live and things that matter to you, written by people who see it every day, live here and experience it every day, are from the region, and you can’t beat that. It’s the most crucial source of news there is.”

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