It seems fairly straightforward. Come up with some categories, send them out into the world and see how readers vote. Not a very complicated concept, but choosing the categories for Best of Calgary is only the first challenge in our annual survey. Questions like: are there any arthouse theatres left? (Nope.) Do people know enough local comedians? (The answer, apparently, is no.) Is it worth asking people for best new trend every year?
Once the list is cobbled together and released to our readers, things start to get interesting. After the voting closes, our overworked publisher has to sift through tens of thousands of responses and make decisions such as: when one person says best new trend is craft beer, is that the same thing as microbrews? Should those count as a vote for the same thing and what should we call it? Is Marda Loop, which is a BRZ and not a community, actually South Calgary-Altadore?
Then there’s the murky question of chain stores (which aren’t eligible to win). What makes a chain? Does it matter if it’s a local chain? What if it only has two stores? Should a co-op be given special treatment?
We had to eliminate the best outdoor sport/gear shop this year because there weren’t any winners that weren’t chains. In the past we have given first place to Mountain Equipment Co-op, but we decided this year that they’re hardly a local mom-and-pop operation and, therefore, ineligible. All of the winners in our new category for best mechanic worked for chains as well.
There were also challenges with the lack of knowledge in some categories. Best local comedian was scrapped after the results came in because almost no one voted, and those who did split their votes between five people who were all tied.
Mayor Nenshi, who did pretty well for himself — including another nod for sexiest man (intelligence is sexy) — was also voted best professor. We decided he wasn’t a professor anymore.
Every year we hear from people with strong opinions on the way we run our Best of Calgary survey. It’s a great opportunity to have a dialogue about what works and what doesn’t (we’ll never please everybody). In the past, people were upset that we came up with a shortlist of people/places for each category, which was an attempt to get some consistency in the voting and streamline the process for readers. The list included editor’s picks and the previous winners. There was a justifiable outcry of favouritism, so we abandoned that this year.
That said, we had a hidden list of sorts on the website, with autofill responses popping up names. Again, this was in hopes of removing several different responses for one place (Ship, Ship and Anchor, The Ship & Anchor, S & P....). It greatly improves our publisher’s quality of life. We’ll see how much flak we get for that.
There is, however, one criticism that pops up every year that has never carried any value — the effect of advertising revenue on who wins. Fast Forward Weekly prides itself on a strict separation of advertising and editorial — something that is, sadly, becoming increasingly rare in the world of journalism. Although Best of Calgary is a chance to celebrate individuals and business and it brings in more ad revenue than other issues throughout the year, the winners have nothing to do with ad sales. It’s the same in every single issue of Fast Forward Weekly.
Of course there is always heated debate surrounding some of the winners. Maybe you hate the Lilac Fest and can’t figure out why it was voted the best free event in town. Perhaps you’re outraged that Josiah Hughes was only voted the third-best journalist in the city (and you’d be right).
And so, here you go. Our 15th annual Best of Calgary issue — a peek into the minds and habits of our incredibly talented, intelligent and good-looking readers. We look forward to the inevitable conversation about what makes Calgary great, and what still needs some work.