Up Here is magazine of the year.
The Yellowknife-based publication won the prestigious prize at the National Magazine Awards on Saturday.
“Solid and accomplished, Up Here has real personality and shows a strong editorial hand,” the judges wrote. “The degree of difficulty in finding the human and other resources to publish, print and distribute from the North only adds to the measure of the accomplishment here.
“It is distinctive, fresh and unpredictable with engaging and accessible content that crosses both disciplinary and geographical boundaries. Its commitment and passion are very evident – and contagious.”
Other finalists were Maisonneuve and Report on Business.
Up Here also received honourable mentions in five categories, including a best photography nomination for Yukon Quest coverage by the Yukon News’ Ian Stewart.
“The whole thing was completely gobsmacking,” said editor Aaron Spitzer. He and his staff received no tip-offs in advance they had won top prize.
And the final outcome was all the more surprising because, for every other nomination, “we got skunked,” said Spitzer. “Not even second place.”
So, as the two-hour ceremony inside the Carlu Hotel wore on, the odds of winning magazine of the year, which is announced last, appeared increasingly unlikely.
“It was totally storybook, Cinderella type stuff,” said Spitzer.
Prior to this spring, the publication had only received three national magazine nominations in its 26 year life, and it had never taken home a prize.
“We received twice as many nominations in one year as we had during our whole history, including top prize,” said Spitzer.
As the judges acknowledged, publishing in the North involves its share of challenges. Flights to remote communities can cost thousands of dollars, and a trip that’s been planned for months can easily be derailed by a sudden blizzard.
Thankfully, Canada’s three territories have no shortage of colourful stories waiting to be told, and “that totally plays to our favour,” said Spitzer.
It also helps that the North has become increasingly important in the minds of many North Americans, thanks to the prominence of climate change and Arctic sovereignty in the news over the past several years.
This in turn has helped Up Here rope-in nationally recognized writers to contribute to the magazine, including Noah Richler, David Suzuki, Bob Macdonald and Ed Struzik.
But these are tough times for magazines, even at Up Here. Just one day before Spitzer received news of this year’s nominations, he learned that Canadian North would be dropping Up Here as its in-flight magazine in favour of an in-house publication, ending a 14-year arrangement.
That’s a big knock. Approximately one-sixth of Up Here’s 30,000 readers are Canadian North passengers who peruse the publication in flight. “It was probably our single best way to leverage advertisers into the magazine,” said Spitzer.
So what’s the plan? “It’s to totally exploit our newfound fame,” said Spitzer. With a bit of luck, he hopes to parlay professional kudos into more advertisers and more readers.
“I don’t think you can conceive a better way of doing that than a banner that says, ‘Best magazine in Canada,’” he said.
Spitzer, 37, was raised in Indianapolis and from an early age developed a lasting fascination with the North. By Grade 8, he persuaded his mother to take him on vacation to the Northwest Territories, and it was at that time that he first became a subscriber to the magazine he now edits.
After completing university he moved North of 60 in 1996, starting as a guide at Denali National Park in Alaska. He later moved to the icy shores of Baffin Island to work for Nunatsiaq News, followed by forays into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. He was hired full-time by Up Here in 2006 and became editor the following year.
The magazine may be based in Yellowknife, but it has “more than a few Yukon connections,” with three-quarters of its editorial staff having lived in the territory, said Spitzer.
“We’re always trying to dispel the notion we’re a Northwest Territories magazine.”
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