Saturday, August 19, 2017

an administrator's tale

Nicholas Whyte has published the second part of his memoirs of being Hugo Administrator at this year's Worldcon. I do not wish to criticize a conscientious, successful, and innovative administrator whose tenure should become a landmark in future practice of how to do the job well, but a couple matters regarding how he handled the security of the results - keeping them confidential, and ensuring that the correct winners were announced - made me a little nervous reading his story even though I knew it would come out all right in the end. It's not how I and my colleague did it, twenty-odd years ago.

Of course, some things have changed since then. For instance, we did not, as described in his first part, have a research team of assistants to verify eligibility and get contact information. Our team of two did all the work. My partner was primarily responsible for certifying and counting ballots; I was primarily responsible for research and contact with nominees. But these days both parts of this work are more complex and it requires more hands to do it.

But to turn to the last stages of the process. The part in this year's story that made me nervous was having an outside source print winner cards for every nominee, prior to the administrating team stuffing the correct cards into the envelopes. This is exactly how the mistake was made in 1992, still remembered today, of having the wrong winner announced. True, this mistake can be avoided simply by taking greater care in the stuffing of the envelopes, and such care was indeed taken this year, but 1992 was the year before my own first run, and the memory was very fresh. It simply never occurred to me to take such a risk for the sake of an aesthetically beautiful card.

We, the administrators, prepared attractive but simple and straightforward winner-announcement cards ourselves. Decent layout software existed even then, as did laser printers. We had the template ready beforehand, but the winners' names were not entered and cards printed until the counting was finished and verified. No incorrect winner could have been announced because no incorrect cards ever existed. Our procedure had the further advantage of allowing us to prepare a single card when the winner was a tie.

Nor did we tape the envelopes to the ceremony script, as was done this year. Had anybody suggested such a procedure I would have declined, I hope politely but definitely firmly. The two administrators sat at a table backstage with the Hugos lined up on the table and the cards in our hands. (The winner plaques, which we'd supervised the making of, had been attached to the bases by the base designer the day before, under our supervision. Nobody else saw the winners before the ceremony. We didn't even let our own supervisor see the press release.) We'd confirmed with the ceremony head on the order of the awards. As the MC announced each category, we handed the correct envelope to the presenter and the Hugo to the stage runner. Everyone had been informed of their duties at a pre-show rehearsal. Unlike certain Oscar administrators we could name, we were not tweeting photos of Emma Stone and our attention was on our jobs. There was also no chance of a presenter accidentally taking the wrong envelope off the ceremony script, as actually happened at the Hugos this year. An alert presenter and a well and properly labeled envelope prevented any mishap, and kudos to both of them, but I and my colleague would not have taken any risk of letting the envelopes out of our hands before the moment of the presentation.

Everyone has to have their own way of doing things. This was ours. Both our method and the one used this year were endorsed by the success of the well-run results.

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