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.