Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ten things to take away from the Press Awards

Matt and Matt ... winners Cardy and Sandy 
I'm just back from a long but cracking night/early morning at the Press Awards. I was particularly pleased to see two former trainees collecting awards. Matt Cardy, from Getty Images, was a photographer with the Bath Chronicle who was sent to the Editorial Centre in Hastings in 1999 to learn journalism. He did well too, even passed his shorthand! How many photographers do you know with 100wpm? It clearly put him in good stead as he collected Photographer of the Year. Then there was the Mail on Sunday's Matt Sandy who was voted Young Journalist of the Year. Matt won his place on the Press Association course in Newcastle in 2006 after being named best student reporter in the National Student Journalism Awards. I also came across Matt when he was on the Daily Mail trainee scheme. A couple of our other ex-trainees, the Telegraph's Heidi Blake and Rowena Mason, were also shortlisted. Well done to all of them. It's always nice to catch up with (increasingly) old faces and at one point, with Mail online editor Ted Young and Times' head of news David Taylor, we had a mini Northern Echo reunion at the pre-awards reception. Anyway, here are my musings on the night. 

i) Bob Satchwell, the Society of Editors executive director, really ought to be executive director of the UN. With The Guardian and News of the World both nominated for newspaper and scoop of the year (the Guardian for its phone hacking revelations) on the day that two NOTW journalists were arrested, all of his diplomatic nous was required. To have both papers leaving more sweet than bitter was a triumph. It was down to the judging of course ... but either the sun shines on the righteous or the devil looks after his own. Take your pick.
Caitlin Moran ... adding colour to the proceedings
ii) The Times' Caitlin Moran, who was celebrating her 36th birthday as well as her awards for critic and interviewer, was the turn of the night. In a room full of black suits and dresses she brought some colour and a smile. She also made the best acceptance speech. "I am quite  aware that if you win an award for going to a sex club with Lady Gaga and ending up in the toilet with her and her doing a wee-wee in front of you, without even taking off her pants and doing it through her tights, that you may well have peaked in terms of your interview. Unless I  interview Madonna and she does a poo in a crisp bag round the back of HMV Megastore on Oxford Street I am not going to top it, so I'll happily take this now and retire." Watch it here.

iii) It's all about the story. The Daily Telegraph, which swept the board last year and deservedly won Newspaper of the Year for its expenses revelations, only took home a couple of Highly Commendeds this year. It's not been a bad year for the Telegraph at all - the David Laws and Vince Cable stories were very powerful - but they didn't have WikiLeaks or an international cricket scandal. The newspaper industry, probably rightly, clearly still focuses on big exclusive stories.

iv) I feel a bit sorry for The Sun. The biggest selling daily paper in Britain didn't collect a single award. How can that be? The difficulties of comparing red-top story-getters with the writers, analysts and database researchers of the heavies perhaps? Anyway, it might have thought it had a decent shout in Front Page of the Year for its World Cup front page, a lesson in how to make something out of nothing, but even that went to its red top rival the Mirror. The Sun hasn't won Newspaper of the Year in more than a decade.

v) Although all eyes were on the polarised positions of the News of the World and The Guardian, it was actually The Times who collected the most awards. The full league table was:

Times 5
The Guardian 4
News of the World   4
Evening Standard   2
Mail on Sunday 2
Daily Mirror 1
Financial Times 1
Getty Images 1
Mailonline 1
Sunday Times 1

It has been suggested that the method of voting for newspaper of the year - 120 judges in a secret ballot - might need a review. Journalists clearly tend to gravitate to the heavier papers - the last seven winners are The Guardian (2011), The Telegraph (2010), The Times (2009), The FT (2008), The Observer (2007) and The Guardian in 2006. When the Observer won in 2007 it didn't win any other award. Maybe the answer is that the paper which wins the most awards should collect the Newspaper of the Year crown. Just a thought. 

vi) That isn't to say The Guardian wasn't a worthy winner. It was WikiLeaks what won it ... but what was the most memorable headline from the story? A straw poll round the table suggested that the claim that the Saudis had asked America to bomb Iran edged it. Although the most commonly-held view was that WikiLeaks itself had become the story. The real global effect of WikiLeaks though, as Alan Rusbridger said in his speech, might not yet be felt. No argument with that, or the award.

vii) In case you hadn't guessed it Sky TV's Anna Botting, just back from reporting on the Japanese tsunami, has many formidable and professional qualities ... not least stamina. She was still there at the end of play when the Savoy shuttered up its bars. I can also reveal that she declined a fee for presenting the awards ... instead it will go to the Journalists' Charity. Anna, amazingly, is 43. I can only guess she has an ageing portrait of herself in the attic. 

viii) The days of drunken and raucous nights with the odd stand-up spat are long over. It's far more sober (which at Savoy prices, is perfectly understandable) with just a smatter of simmering resentment these days. All credit to News of the World managing editor Bill Akass though. He strode up to the bar afterwards and ordered several bottles of Champagne ... 'to start with'.

ix) The emailed invitation to the awards advised that 'the reception starts at 7pm with dinner at 8pm and carriages at 1am'. An executive of one the more serious-minded papers rang the organisers to ask if any of the "carriages" would be prepared to go as far as Surrey?  Not sure what he was expecting? Hansom cab to Dorking, perhaps?

x) While the night was about celebration, there are journalists worldwide who have weightier things to occupy themselves - such as oppression, imprisonment and death. The Foreign Press Association's president Hosny Emam and its charming vice president Nazenin Ansari were on my table and offered a fascinating insight into the FPA's work. A reminder that we should count our blessings that we were there at all ... let alone able to celebrate a vibrant, robust and free Press. 

And finally ... a collection around the tables raised £3,000 for the Journalists' Charity. Well done all round. It was the first time the Society of Editors had organised the awards, and it made a great fist of it. You can see it all in glorious video and photographs here. Now on to the regionals ...


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