The best and the brightest? Qantas journalism winners announced

I guess we’d have to assume that APN boss Rick Neville had a good weekend. His newspapers took a truckload of prizes home from the 2008 Qantas Media Awards on Friday night (9 May). Dominion Post reporter Phil Kitchin is no doubt smiling too. It was generally agreed among his peers at the awards ceremony that Phil totally deserved Reporter of the Year for his coverage of the Louise Nicholls Schollum-Shipton police rape story that he covered for many years before finally seeing his hard work and persistence rewarded in 2007. Phil’s prize is a trip to Wolfson College, Cambridge (UK) for some research and, I’m sure, some fun too.

Kitchin works mainly for the Fairfax papers, but it was certainly APN’s night. The New Zealand Herald won the daily newspaper prize, the paper’s website was judged the best and the Herald on Sunday won both best weekly newspaper and newspaper of the year. So, we can’t really begrudge them boasting rights.

However, there were some raised eyebrows in the Hyatt ballroom on Friday night when the best newspaper decision was announced. Indeed a few grumbles, and not just from people associated with Fairfax. Keen observers and experienced former editors were heard muttering into their salmon and lamb mains.

But Rick Neville was jubilant; as was the large APN contingent spread across a number of tables. The HoS is certainly winning in the circulation and headline wars that characterise the Sunday newspaper market, but as several dinner guests noted, it doesn’t always win in terms of quality stories.

Though, to be fair, the Herald on Sunday dominated a number of categories, including Paul Holmes as best columnist and a swag of picture and special section awards.

The under-the-breath complaining wasn’t limited to those who were peeved that the HoS had done so well. I heard a couple of people whinging that the judging was shot to Hell and that a round of ‘pre-judging’ meant that certain entries were culled before the real event got under way, and not always in transparent circumstances.

To be honest I can’t really comment on that, but a few people said similar things to me over the course of the evening. Also I need to disclose that I was a judge this year – the full list is here. I know that the judging in my category was fair. There were three of us and we read around 600 or more feature stories between us and the discussions we had were robust. The winners we settled on deserved the prizes that they got, I can only assume that it was the same for everyone.

Whenever awards like these are arranged the winners and losers take away different things. Winners of the Qantas Awards get a small cash prize, losers get drunk and sometimes bitter.

The other observation I’d make about that is the smallness of the media market in New Zealand. There’s almost no degrees of separation between individuals who’ve often worked together on different publications or broadcast outlets. Maybe they played well together and sometimes the sibling rivalry might end in tears.

It’s all a bit close and let’s face it there are really only a smallish pool of potential winners, particularly in the big categories:

  • only two or three national Sundays of note, and one or two smaller regionals;
  • five or six serious newspapers that can contend for the top prizes;
  • a handful of decent columnists, some of whom also have valuable cross-media exposure;
  • perhaps 10-20 great photographers and a similar number of good, experienced feature writers

I’m not having a go at New Zealand here (seriously, I’m not), just putting things in a bit of perspective. It is, however, a small market in Aotearoa, and perhaps we can all get a bit carried away with the excitement and the disappointment. Though to put heart and soul into your work, to be told it’s good enough to enter, then not winning a prize can make one a bit pi$$’d. So too can 14 lagers, a bottle of red and a couple of glasses of French bubbles. In the scheme of things it’s really small bikkies.

I think having these awards is actually valuable, but I might do it slightly differently. Being shouted at by Bill Ralston for nearly an hour was not amusing after the first five minutes.

In the 18 months I’ve been here I’ve managed to form a business relationship with some key media people and I’m always keen to make new acquaintances in journalism and the media, so for me the chance to go to the dinner and do the old ‘meet and greet’ was fun and useful.

Judging the news features was also an enjoyable experience (apart from how long it takes) and rewarding – I got to read a lot of stuff that I’d missed, just because of time constraints.

So congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the losers. I certainly hope to be invited back to judge again next year and I look forward to the next ‘do’ at the Hyatt too, so I can schmooze with more of New Zealand’s best and brightest hacks and flacks. I’ll be there for the magazine industry awards night in a couple of weeks, I’ve already heard that this event rivals the Qantas party for booze, bitchiness and bold fashions. I can’t wait.

17 Responses to The best and the brightest? Qantas journalism winners announced

  1. anonymous hack says:

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the judging if those who know can comment on this blog anonymously. I’d also heard that there were some grumblings — not just from editors but from judges concerned that other judges hadn’t read all the stories.

    Two things occur to me. Was the judging “better” when done overseas? That’s certainly my recollection. Secondly: does submitting stories electronically, as we now do, make them easier to read? I doubt it. To judge a newspaper or magazine story, it helps to see the thing in full, see the picture placement, get an instant feel for the length etc. I can see that sending them electronically makes it easier for the organisers, but I don’t think it has helped the process.

    The HoS win is laughable. It’s an energetic tabloid, but that’s all it is: violent crimes and car crashes, death knocks and Paul Holmes. With a side order of house price anxiety.

  2. The section I judged had electronic submission. Some were PDFs of pages, others were text documents lifted from the CMS system with no headline or graphics. Sometimes they were poorly subbed at that stage too, so contained mistakes. I think that requesting everyone send PDFs of pages would eliminate that glitch.
    The online system is really convenient in that you don’t have to lug cartons of clips around with you, but then there’s the issue of reading on screen. I kept my notes in an exel spreadsheet, with scores as per our informal rating system.
    If someone is going to commit to judging they have to take it seriously and we did. We had a two stage process: each of us read a selection of material divided alphabetically, then we each read the other judges’ recommendations. Then after several rounds of email and phone discussions we settled on the eventual category and overall winners.
    The other issue I’d comment on is that some of the submitted material was probably not in the right category. This might be fixed if the entry criteria were more sharply defined. But at the end of the day, is it subjective what we think is and is not a news feature?

  3. Lucky Strike says:

    Just ONE woman out of all those judges? What an old boys’ club. Haven’t the awards organisers noticed the prominence of women in the industry.

  4. audent says:

    I took a turn as a judge this year – my second go at it – and I was surprised by some of the entries that I looked at. Either they didn’t read the criteria or they just didn’t understand them (my categories were online, which is a new subset for the judging). But I didn’t let that hold me back from looking further afield and indeed Barry encouraged that.

    And as a former journalist-who-didn’t-win I certainly did my fair share of whining like a jet engine at the stupidity of the judges when they were international (how dare they give Paul Holmes – a TV presenter no less – the columnist of the year award!? Well, now the locals have done it too so I guess we’ll have to treat him seriously ;-)). When I won I was, of course, delighted with the level of professionalism the judges displayed.

  5. audent says:

    Oh, and I nearly forgot. Colin Peacock just named this blog and Lucky Strike’s comment in particular. He then went on to point out that almost all the judges are “middle aged men” with only two being anything else.

    Middle aged?? I’m 39! Tell me that’s not middle aged!

  6. Audent, thanks, you young punk! I guess I’m middle-aged, I’m 51. I’m also male. It seems that there is a bit of a gender imbalance here, but also to judge don’t you actually have to be competent and to have had some life experience. I’m also an academic-journalist, a “hackademic”, so perhaps I can cast a reasonably useful eye across the entries I’m asked to judge.

    As an experiment I’d be willing to let my students do some judging, most are women, most are under 25 and they’re all dead keen on being journalists, or at least getting on telly [not true, a poor joke], or perhaps even fighting their way through the glass ceiling.

    They might do a better job with the judging, though maybe not…

  7. audent says:

    I’m all in favour of balance, right across the board, but as you say you do need some experience before you can start judging others and expect to be taken seriously… If my younger self had judged the awards I’m not sure he’d have reached the same conclusions I have. Maybe, but probably not I’d think.

  8. undergroundnetwork says:

    Hi Martin,

    I’m not sure if I speak for all of your students, but were we to vote, I don’t think HoS would claim a prize, nor Paul Holmes for that matter. Then again, we may be inclined to vote for whoever is likely to give us employment at the end of the year. Perhaps I should retract the comment about the Herald on Sunday! Do newspaper editors read this blog?

    See you in the tower,

    Paul

  9. Yo, dude, way to out yourself! No worries, I always reckon we should own up to our opinions.
    But we’ve talked about this, a blog, a chance to hang out, a place to say what you think.
    You can assume that some people read this blog. The question is: Do they blacklist outspoken students?
    I don’t think so. Journalism is all about “I reckons”. If you don’t have any “I reckons” in you, then perhaps you should consider a job in retail. But even then “I reckon you look ‘noice’ in this/that/them,” could be helpful.
    So check out the winners and runners up in the Qantas Awards and take a straw vote (that would be valid in Mynamar AND Burma).
    If you wannna’be a judge: First test: [Where does the wandering apostrophe go?]
    runner’s up?
    runners’ up?
    runner ‘zup?

    I’ve no bleedin’ idea at this time on a SuDnay night. All I’m sure of “right about now” (Punk soul brother) is that Lillet makes a damn fine Martini.
    I’d be curious though: from your perspective, what is the newspaper of the year? Why?

    in the tower, bro
    M

  10. 20 minutes later…Now I’ve had a chance to think about this, it wouldn’t hurt would it, to let the young and restless judge the smug and comfortable?
    Engaging the next generation in a sensible appraisal of the now is perhaps a way of keeping the industry vibrant, rather than just hanging around feeling our age.

  11. Lucky Strike says:

    It was good to hear Mediawatch pick up on this blog, but Barry the awards organiser sounded beleaguered, defensive and avoided the questions.
    The losers always whine, he says (so their criticisms aren’t worth listening to).
    Not enough women judges – suggest some, he says (isn’t that what he’s paid for? I can think of several senior women journalists no longer working directly in media: for a start, why doesn’t he look through his winners and also-rans over the past 10 years?)
    Maybe it’s time the awards ‘freshened up’ and got a new organiser. But Barry is right, it’d be a thankless task.
    By the way, I’m a middle-aged male, no longer working in journalism, but keen to see good work rewarded.

  12. Middle-aged hack says:

    If I’m right about which newspaper he was talking about, that was back in the mid-1990s … so yes, that definitely sounded defensive. And, yes, he should look at having more women judging. Perhaps too they might bring some good manners back to the awful awards show, which fell to new lows this year. Ralston’s shouting and swearing were hardly good examples of communication professionalism.
    Regarding the rumour, at two newspapers I have worked for in recent years the editors were convinced that a team of AUT journalism tutors pre-vetted the entries for judges – and, so it was said, their prejudices showed. Not sure I’m convinced though.

  13. As a curriculum leader at AUT I am pretty confident in saying that teaching staff don’t have the time to vet every entry, but I wasn’t here in the late 1990s, so it could have happened then.
    But, I doubt it, no one’s ever mentioned it to me. A couple of staff here have been judges before. We see it as an important part of our contribution to the industry and so we don’t mind doing it.
    Also, I don’t think it’ s fair to say that journalism teachers would be prejudiced either. We have a responsibility to be a critical voice at times, but all of us at AUT are also passionate about journalism.

  14. anonymous hack says:

    I’d heard that vetting happened at the Cantebury Uni’s post-grad school, with the students doing the first round of vetting, so maybe it’s an urban myth.

    In terms of women judges, Judy McGregor, Sue Chetwin and Jenny Wheeler seem obvious: three ex-newspaper editors. I think Chetwin has edited all three Sundays. I’d be shocked if none of them have been approached. Or Nicola Legat, who’s now out of the journalism business but has had a ton of experience.

  15. [...] exclusive about Bailey Kurariki’s “lavish lifestyle” and my blog comments on the Qantas Media Awards. I was hoping to embed an audio player here, but I”m not yet tech-savvy enough to do this. So [...]

  16. undergroundnetwork says:

    Hi Martin,

    I’m full of “I reckons”, and plan not work another day in retail again in my life. I’ve done my fair share! I hope they don’t blacklist outspoken students, otherwise I’ll be in the shit. Particularly as I would like to work for the Herald in the future.

    As for the HoS getting the best paper award, I really am surprised. Although I tend to read APN’s papers, as they’re are more familiar to me, I just cannot get into the Herald on Sunday. They’ve said that despite being a tabloid sized paper, they don’t want typical tabloid content. But they do! So much gossip shit and sensationalist stories, and all too little hard news. Perhaps it is meant to be a light read, as opposed to the far superior Weekend Herald, which has greater substance (quality and quantity.) And I’m am so sick of property stories on the front page! Either the weekly Herald or the weekend Herald would be far more worthy than the Sunday version. I don’t often read the Dominion Post or SST (although I do read stuff.co.nz) , but I know these to be of greater quality than the HoS.

    To me this award is rewarding the HoS’s sales success and popularity, not its quality as a newspaper. For this reason, perhaps I am not surprised.

    My paper of the year…

    I might go with the weekday herald, as like I say it is the paper I most frequently read, but that whole “democracy under attack” put me off. Perhaps just as I am disillusioned with politics and each political party, I am disillusioned with the media. I would make a lousy judge!

    Alright, back to working on my presentation!

    Paul

  17. [...] And thanks to Colin Peacock at MediaWatch for noticing my post on the Qantas Awards. In case you missed that post, the link is here. [...]

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