Friday, 13 May 2011

Ten thoughts about the Regional Press Awards

I have returned, slightly bleary-eyed, from the Regional Press Awards. It was, as always, a very enjoyable event, the one chance a year where most of my colleagues are in the same room. Well done to Bob Satchwell and his team at the Society of Editors for resurrecting the awards and making sure they were run for the industry by the industry. I saw first-hand the work he put in and it really was phenomenal. As I said yesterday, if we don't celebrate the excellence that runs through our newspapers, applaud the journalists who go that extra yard, recognise the editors who invest in off-diary work and innovation … then who will? Anyway, well done to all the winners and indeed to anyone who was shortlisted The full results and pictures can be found on the Regional Newspaper Awards website and there are reports on HoldTheFrontPage, and the Press Gazette.

In the meantime, here are my ten thoughts on yesterday's awards: 
Ready to celebrate ... The Irish News arrive mob handed to collect their award from Nick Ferrari
i) There is certainly life in Irish regional newspapers - they won six of the 23 awards and collected some highly commendeds too. It was nice to see The Irish News picking up the Newspaper of the Year award. As an independent newspaper, owned by the Fitzpatrick family, it has long been a purveyor of quality and often courageous journalism. The judges were also impressed by its sales performance which is better now than it was 20 years ago. It is also a paper which has steadfastly refused to give away its content online. There are no doubt lessons to be learned from our friends across the water.

ii) Well done to Nick Ferrari, hosting the awards for the third time. The LBC radio breakfast presenter strikes a neat balance between the seriousness of the event and the fact that 350 hacks need to be kept in check and entertained. He gave his services for free, supporting the industry where it all started. He has edited the Sun's Bizarre, the News of the World's Sunday magazine and Sky News. He was also the man who gave the world topless darts, the news bunny and the weather read by a dwarf on a trampoline. But his roots are very similar to ours ... covering cake sales and funerals for the Kentish Independent. Best line - "We have to rattle through these awards as the room is booked by the hour. Which is how Bob Satchwell usually does it."  
A congratulatory hug for Alan Geere from Nick Ferrari
iii) The liveliest recipient was the Essex Chronicle's formidable editor-in-chief Alan Geere, who sprinted on to the stage impersonating a jet plane and threw his arms around Ferrari. His animated Magnus Pyke impressions continued afterwards in the splendid Rose pub, resulting in a pint of beer being poured over my suit. The cleaning bill is on its way.

iv) The collection boxes on the tables raised a healthy £1,400 for the Journalists' Charity. 

v) It was nice to catch up with the Evening Chronicle's John Gibson, the man who inspired me to be a journalist. When I was a paperboy in Whitley Bay I used to stop on my round every day to read his reports on Newcastle United. It was then that I decided if I was never going to wear the No 9 shirt, the next best thing was to write about it. Years later, while editor of The Northern Echo, I gave a speech at the retirement of the paper's esteemed Middlesbrough FC reporter, saying "When I was a boy I always wanted to be a football reporter like (pause for effect) ... John Gibson." As I was at Ayresome Park surrounded by 'Smoggies' it went down like a lead balloon. I'll have that on my epitaph, Gibson said yesterday.

vi) The debate about whether there should be multi-media journalist and website categories rumbled on at my table. The argument against is that we are fully integrated. Journalist of the year covers all their work, print and digital. Most websites are also templated. But as someone said yesterday if you have a supplement of the year, shouldn't you also have a website of the year? Good point. The other main discussion is whether there should be a free newspaper category. This was dropped when newspapers began dabbling with the free model. The Manchester Evening News was part-free as were other newspapers. In the national Press Awards there isn't a separate category for free newspapers ... if there were the Evening Standard and Metro would have a field day. The argument is that it's about the standard of journalism, not the business model ... but we are open to all suggestions and thoughts. You can send any feedback on any aspect of the awards to me at

vii) Many of those who collected awards had been there before. Jon Colman, described as the best sports journalist Fleet Street never had, is a regular recipient of sports awards. Hull Daily Mail Designer of the Year Ian Bond collected the same award two years ago and the Sheffield Star's Colin Drury, although only 28, has twice been named Columnist of the Year. As there were many new judges this year, I guess it can only mean that these winners really are exceptionally good.

viii) Nice to see the independents so well represented but inevitably the most awards still went to the big groups. Top were Northcliffe who picked up six awards and second were Trinity Mirror who collected four, along with four others who were highly commended.

ix) I have never heard a crowd of sceptical journalists cheer a sponsor before but that's exactly what happened when the man from Asda took the mic. Mind you, he did say they were about to spent £2.5m on local newspaper advertising .. and that he would be picking up the tab for all the wine on the tables. Now that's the sort of sponsorship journalists can relate to.

x) The prize for the person on stage who looked least like their brochure or screen picture initially went to the Sunday Mercury's Jeanette Oldham. However the bearded recipient, who turned out to be editor David Brookes, was quick to point out that he was 'not Jeanette'. 'That's the sort of perceptive qualities that make the regional Press, so special,' observed Ferrari. The person who collected the daily and Sunday sports journalist award, however, really was the News and Star's Jon Colman and not his hippy brother.
The brochure Jon Colman
The on stage Jon Colman

Thanks again to everyone who supported the awards: The sponsors, Camelot, Asda, HoldTheFrontPage, UK Power Networks and the Press Association. Nick Ferrari and photographer Glyn Genin both gave their services for free as, of course, did all the judges. Lyn and Paul at Magstar did the AV presentations and the brochures and Kate McMillan organised everyone with superb efficiency. It wouldn't have been possible without the Newspaper Society (particular thanks to Lynn Anderson and president Georgina Harvey) and the Society of Editors team, Bob Satchwell, Sue Ryan, Angela Varley, Sharon Nall, Samina Khan and Elena Tulenkova. And of course without all those who took the time to enter, there would be no awards. A great job ... I'm already looking forward to next year.   


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