With more than 750 high-quality entries to sift through, the academy of judges for this year’s Regional Press Awards faced a tough task.
But under the chairmanship of journalism trainer and former regional editor Peter Sands, the panel of more than 50 senior industry figures eventually managed to pick a winner for each of the 23 categories.
Said Peter: “What really impressed the judges was that against the backdrop of smaller staffs and so-called churnalism there has been a real investment in quality journalism.”
Here’s what the judges said about each of yesterday’s winners.
The first category attracted the most entries. The Young Journalist of the Year award went to Dan Warbuton of NCJ Media, Newcastle, for a powerful portfolio which the judges said would make any national reporter proud. His face-to-face interviews with some of Tyneside’s notorious gangsters demonstrated bravery, cunning, legal knowledge, tenacity and great writing skill. Ryan Crighton of The Press and Journal was highly commended.
Jon Griffin of the Birmingham Mail was awarded Business and Finance Journalist of the Year. Described as brilliantly informed and highly readable, the judges said that Jon was a journalist at the top of his game with stories that go to the heart of the lives of vast numbers of people. Simon Bain of The Herald, Glasgow was highly commended.
The award for Specialist Writer of the Year went to Ciaran Barnes, Crime Reporter of the Sunday Life. Ciaran particularly impressed the judges for his determination and journalistic skills in securing for his local readers an exclusive that everyone wanted to read and the nationals had been desperate to have: the interview with the toyboy lover at the heart of a political scandal in Northern Ireland.
Adam Wakelin of the Leicester Mercury was named Feature Writer of the Year. His piece on the death of his father in particular was deeply moving while skillfully avoiding the trap of sentimentality. Gail Walker of the Belfast Telegraph was highly commended.
Some judges thought he was “a cocky young pain in the arse” but they kept being drawn back to him. That was how they described Colin Drury of The Star, Sheffield, who won Columnist of the Year. The judges said he was very funny writer who made the judges laugh out loud but also demonstrated an ability to bring a tear to the eye. John Connery, of the News Letter, Ulster, was highly commended.
After a 17-year career at The Times David Powell went on to write for the North Devon Journal. His writing earned him the award for Weekly Sports Journalist of the Year. David was praised by the judges both for his writing style and the imaginative content of his Match of the Week column, which enables him to cover a range of sports such as boxing, point-to-point and wrestling. Jon Colman of the Cumberland News was highly commended.
Jon Colman soon consoled himself however when he picked up the award for Daily/Sunday Sports Journalist of the Year for his work at the News & Star, Carlisle. He was described as the best sports writer Fleet Street never had, a complete all-rounder, a busy and enterprising reporter, a sharp analyst and a beautiful writer. John Gibson of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle was highly commended.
The award for Weekly Photographer of the Year went to Chris Gleave, of the Manchester Evening News Weekly Group. Chris submitted a portfolio of photographs that demonstrated a tremendous ability to create varied images from highly different assignments. They were described by the judges as striking, powerful and clever.
Mark McCormick of Sunday Life was awarded Daily/Sunday Photographer of the Year. The judges said Mark only submitted two images, but what images. Anyone who remembers Alex Higgins in his prime could not help but be moved by the haunting portraits of a top sportsman literally starving to death. Matthew Horwood of Media Wales was highly commended.
The judges said the typography, colour and structure of his pages were first class, the eye for detail meticulous and he had set a tone and mood for three very different publications. They were talking about Ian Bond of the Hull Daily Mail who won Designer of the Year. Alan Formby-Jackson of the Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough was highly commended.
The award for Digital Innovation of the Year went to the Manchester Evening News for Police 24. The judges said MEN’s coverage of Greater Manchester Police’s tweets genuinely broke new ground in live data journalism. The live analysis combined journalistic endeavour with digital prowess and succeeded in showing not only a live snapshot of crime but also an amazing piece of social research. NCJ Media were highly commended for The Hunt for Raoul Moat.
Capturing an emotional moment for the Portsmouth area, Farwell to the Ark from The News, Portsmouth won the award for Special Supplement of the Year. The News provided a commemorative supplement that many naval families will treasure. The judges said it was a genuine souvenir that will no doubt stay in families for generations.
Supplement of the Year was awarded to Banter, by the Bristol Evening Post. This was described as a brilliant and original concept which effectively involved children in local newspapers. The judges said that work experience could have a limited value but producing a magazine for students by students was a superb idea.
Paul Francis of the Kent Messenger was named Weekly Reporter of the Year. For so long the scourge of Kent County Council, Paul brought a maturity, wit and expertise to his coverage of the County Hall shenanigans. His stories were a marvellous example of dogged dedication in revealing that what goes on in Westminster was also reflected in the Garden of England. Lui Straccia of the Luton and Dunstable Express was highly commended.
Daily/Sunday Reporter of the Year was picked up by Allison Morris of The Irish News. The judges said Allison was an outstanding winner in an outstanding category. Her portfolio showed her determination and courage to uncover the truth behind some of the most gruesome terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland. It included an interview with secretive dissident Republicans behind a wave of terrorist attacks, a culmination of several months’ painstaking work. Ben Kendall of the Eastern Daily Press was highly commended.
Bristol Evening Post won the award for Front Page of the Year for Help Us Grow. The page was described as a confident, haunting and dramatic way to launch a powerful campaign. The layout was simple and uncluttered and allowed the stunning picture and understated headline to tell the story.
Scoop of the Year was awarded to Jeanette Oldham of the Sunday Mercury for an exemplary piece of investigative reporting about matters of major public interest – a scandalous waste of public money, corruption and government incompetence where tens of millions of pounds were lost to firms supposedly offering housing to asylum seekers. Jeanette showed how real commitment to investigative work – three months in this case – can produce spectacular results. Lui Straccia of the Luton and Dunstable Express was highly commended.
A campaign of such impact ‘that swiftly achieved its objective forcing a u-turn from a formerly complacent NHS management’ was how the judges described End the Indignity by Norwich Evening News. The winner of Campaign of the Year seized the opportunity of a great news story, got readers support and speedy results. You Saved Tea Bar by the Greenock Telegraph and Jet Set NHS by The Irish News were highly commended.
The first of the newspaper awards went to Derry News for Weekly Newspaper (below 20,000). The Derry News is only ten years old but the judges said it was a superb and ebullient weekly newspaper. It is happy to lead the way, as its first class coverage of the Bloody Sunday report demonstrated. The judges were particularly impressed by its confidence and willingness to cause a stir and an editor who welcomed solicitors’ letters because it showed the paper had “rattled a few cages”. The Ham & High was highly commended.
Weekly Newspaper of the Year (above 20,000) went to the Essex Chronicle, a substantial, weighty and balanced newspaper that is not afraid to dig and probe to ensure its readers are truly informed. The newspaper has been re-packaged and reinvigorated, carrying 40 per cent more stories, at a time when other newspapers have drawn in their horns. The judges said this is a newspaper determined to hold the local authorities to account – especially when it revealed that Essex county councillors wolfed down £7,000 worth of biscuits and £15,000 of coffee at taxpayers’ expense.
The News & Star, Carlisle was awarded Daily/Sunday Newspaper of the Year (below 25,000). It was described as a gritty and community newspaper founded on old-fashioned principles. It covers courts and councils, visits police stations every day and gives its reporters the leg room to go off diary and uncover strong exclusives. What swung the judges though was how it went into top gear to produce unrivalled coverage of a giant story on its doorstep, the Derek Bird shootings. The judges said its comprehensive, multi-media coverage, sensitive approach, exclusives and display was as good as anything they had seen at any level.
Before being named Regional Newspaper of the Year, The Irish News also won Daily/Sunday Newspaper (above 25,000). The judges said it was a muscular, independent and serious newspaper with strong campaigning and investigative arms. It deals with the big issues, such as the Saville report and the church in crisis, with authority and detail. Its coverage of the increase in dissident Republican violence – including an interview with the group responsible and its We Say Stop campaign – is committed journalism at its finest. The judges said The Irish News delivers penetrative comment and commentary that must be listened to. And who can fail to be impressed by a daily newspaper selling more now than it did 20 years ago? The Yorkshire Post was highly commended.