The banqueting suite of the Grosvenor House hotel in London’s Mayfair was the venue for the yearly gathering of Fleet Street to honour their own in the British Press Awards.
Leader of the Opposition David Cameron was on hand to present the premier awards of newspaper of the year, journalist of the year, international journalist of the year and the Press Gazette special award. Press Gazette’s team of reporters were at the event to speak to all the category winners, and in the next few weeks we will be profiling many of them. For now, here’s some of the winners’ reactions on the night. Reports by Colin Crummy, Patrick Smith, Rachael Gallager and Dominic Ponsford. Photographer is Phil Adams.
Newspaper of the year
It was a year when the FT took centre stage in the news agenda amid fears of a global financial meltdown. And a year in which, despite raising its cover price by 50p, the FT was one of the few newspapers to consistently increase sales – and deliver healthy profits for its owners.
Barber said: ‘People say newspapers are dead. Well, we put the price up and our circulation went up and that’s a great tribute to quality journalism. We have invested in quality, and quality will win out.
‘It’s a great tribute to those who believe that high-quality journalism matters. I’m over the moon. To win this and the What the Papers Say award has never been done in the Financial Times’ history.”
He added: ‘We obviously have benefited from the big story of the year being the credit crunch. We have had a fabulous team in New York and London. But we also broke big stories – like Brown has Stalinist tendencies and the Wolfowitz [World Bank president] and his girlfriend’s remuneration story.
‘We have benefited from that, but we have also hired some of the best people. I’ve hired a lot of people. Some of the best people from other newspapers have wanted to join the FT. We have picked up people in the US and London – it’s fantastic.”
The FT’s Gillian Tett also won business and financial journalist of the year and Philip Stephens won political journalist of the year.
Journalist of the year
British Press Awards journalist of the year Andrew Gilligan of the Evening Standard thanked ‘Alastair Campbell, Ken Livingstone and all the people who have got me here’after picking up one of the top awards of the night.
The former BBC journalist, who was the centre of a row between the corporation and the Government over a ‘sexed-up’dossier on weapons of mass destruction, said that his award would now make colleagues in the industry take him seriously.
‘Even though I was only out of work for two weeks after Hutton [Report], there have been a lot of people who have said, ‘there is something sinister about him’.
‘This puts that to rest – I have been voted the best journalist in the country by my peers.”
Gilligan was clearly moved by his win and thanked his editor Veronica Wadley for giving him a job and believing in him ‘before it was fashionable to do so”.
He said that his string of stories on corruption and cronyism in the office of London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the London Assembly, that have seen the departure of two senior aides, ‘does show the power of newspapers – whatever might be said of their decline”.
International journalist of the year
One of the most moving moments of the night came when a message was read from international journalist of the year – Emadeddin Baghi.
His award, accepted on his behalf by Amnesty UK, was given in recognition of ‘his determination to continue exposing injustice regardless of the consequences to himself”.
He is the founder of the Jomhooriyat newspaper in Iran and is currently serving a year in prison for ‘acting against national security”.
He said in his message: ‘Here, from a great distance, I am close to you in my heart, and let me congratulate all journalists defending freedom of expression across the globe.
‘I express my deepest gratitude to you and thank you for nominating me the international journalist of the year at the 2008 British Press Awards. This is a great honour for me.
‘The print media has, for me, consistently and continuously been a platform for raising awareness, moral standards, for spreading awareness of scientific developments in the world and promoting Montesque’s ‘forth pillar’ and the notion of ‘Separation of Powers’, pushing ahead our understanding.
‘But in our land, Iran, which has been striving for 150 years to obtain freedom and democracy, we have seen, in the past 10 years, the banning of some 150 newspapers, among them one of mine. Yet none of them had any hostility with the Islamic Republic. They were merely independent of mind and sought reform.
‘Here in Iran, Darwin’s theory of evolution was turned on its head as the strongest and fittest were forced into extinction, just when they were mightiest: a rise in number of readers and copies sold became merely a signpost of its demise.
‘Here in my country, those who are in power have, on one hand, enormous freedoms and a mighty upper hand by which to level insult, accusation and threats, and with which they incarcerate their critics.
‘On the other hand, my fellow citizens face harassment by an organised clique charged with – in effect – the policing of how we exercise our so-called right to freedom of expression, to ensure that we practise it within the laws of the land.
‘By way of example, I was imprisoned for the second time on account of a collection, in book form, of my articles which were previously published in legally recognised newspapers. For these articles I am due to return to prison next week after ending a period of temporary leave from prison, during which time I have received medical treatment.
‘In 1999, Iranian newspapers were cut to shreds in a war against the freedom of expression we enjoyed. And just as we honour our fallen comrades who fought for our freedom in days gone by, by constructing memorials by which we stand vigil, perhaps the small awards given out tonight may be seen as memorials for our fallen print media, and the names inscribed on them are the names of those willing to fight for the freedom of expression we cherish, those ready to push us forward, in the name of all the banned papers and journals.”
Press Gazette special award
Associated Newspapers editor-in-chief Paul Dacre commanded a respectful silence from the 900-strong Fleet Street audience as he picked up the final prize of the night – the Press Gazette special award.
The prize was given in recognition of his 17-year editorship of the Daily Mail, in which time he has, against a declining market, taken the paper from 1.7 million sales to 2.4 million.
He said: ‘I’d like to thank all the wonderful journalists I’ve worked with at the Mail and the Rothermeres, who give their editors the freedom to edit.”
Website of the year
Guardian.co.uk may still be the UK’s most popular UK newspaper website, but its editor-in-chief Emily Bell said she was surprised to win the British Press Award for website of the year.
‘I was absolutely convinced we weren’t going to win this year because actually the competition has been very, very good.
‘But we have continued to spend money on journalism and journalists. We see online as an opportunity to invest in new journalism. It’s not about the figures or where you are in the market, but what you’re doing.”
Interviewer of the year
Interviewer of the year Chrissy Iley, freelances for both The Observer and The Sunday Times. She said: ‘I’ve never even won a raffle ticket.’
Her advice for would be interviewers? ‘Listen to them and don’t talk.”
Photographer of the year
The Evening Standard’s Jeremy Selwyn won photographer of the year for the third time.
He said his job has become much more challenging as more people have access to digital cameras and camera phones.
‘You’re up against so many more people. It’s luck. You’ve got to be lucky to be there at the right time.
‘Maybe you can foresee the moment by just doing the job every day, but you can’t compete with the general public with a phone. It’s a lot harder these days.”
Showbiz reporter of the year
Showbiz reporter of the year Sean Hamilton, from the Sunday Mirror, was rewarded for exclusives which included an interview with Britney Spear’s first husband and for breaking the news that Led Zeppelin were to reform for a concert.
He said of the latter: ‘Over the years it has to be one of the most written showbiz stories, but most of the time it’s been pure speculation. But this time it was true. Securing a scoop is increasingly difficult. It’s more difficult on a Sunday because it’s got to hold, and be more exclusive and safer.
‘We face a lot of competition from weekly magazines – an endless treadmill of showbiz stories – and it’s satisfying to occasionally get something that cuts through.”
Supplement of the year
The Mail on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday had an unusual double victory in the supplement category as You and Live were jointly named supplements of the year.
You editor Sue Peart said: ‘The quality of the Sunday supplements across the board has become incredibly high. In the female market there is intense competition, but we are doing something slightly different. Each magazine has its own identity. We managed to retain our identity in quite a crowded market.”
Foreign journalist of the year
Iraqi-born journalist and Guardian staffer Ghaith Abdul-Ahad picked up the foreign journalist of the year prize. He has been nominated in this category previously.
He was embraced by awards presenter Jon Snow, who knows Abdul-Ahad from his work on Channel 4 News.
Abdul-Ahad said:’The whole conflict in Iraq has changed the standard [of foreign reporting]. It’s not like you can go with any insurgent group in Central America or Africa and you work with them and report and everything.
‘[In Iraq] the insurgents and security forces don’t need you anymore. They can do their own work. They can film their own stuff and put it on the internet. And everyone accuses you of being biased to the other side.
‘The easiest way is to detain or arrest you. So it’s not a good time for journalism.”
Abdul-Ahad highlighted the plight of journalists in Iraq in his acceptance speech, and he told Press Gazette: ‘One of the casualties of the conflict is independent journalism, not embedded, not working with the military.”
He said journalists faced daily risks from militia, insurgents, security forces, and militias dressed as security forces personnel. ‘Even the Americans can be a threat if they see you covering something they don’t like you to. You’re under threat from every single one.”
He had thanks for his editor, The Guardian’s executive editor Ian Katz. ‘We talk about the story and then in the field we talk on the phone every half hour. It’s a work of two; I can’t imagine myself without him.
‘You also need a great team. You need an editor that will let you go to the field, to do what I do. I spend a month without filing stories and then I come back and I write, and that takes a lot of understanding.”
Reporter of the year
Scoop of the year
Tom Newton Dunn
The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn ended the night clutching four awards: the individual prizes of reporter of the year and scoop of the year, as well as a share in the team awards for campaign of the year for his series of stories on treatment of British ex-servicemen, and the Cuddlip Award for campaigning popular journalism.
Dunn was lauded by judges for his front-page exclusive about the killing of British soldier Matty Hull by the US Air Force. Dunn got hold of a US armed forces cockpit video showing an American plane firing at Hull’s truck on an Iraqi road.
Speaking of his award for reporter of the year, he said: ‘Looking at the extraordinary list of names of geniuses in our profession who have won this award in past years, it’s a real tribute just to be shortlisted. It just goes to show what you can achieve if you try.
‘Both the scoop and reporter awards were team efforts, it’s a shame that just one name can go on the trophy.”
He said that the lead-up to The Sun publishing the Matty Hull story ‘wasn’t easy’as it was threatened with an injunction from the MoD after receiving the tape from a trusted source. But he praised his paper for giving the tale what it was worth.
‘The great thing about The Sun is that when they project a story they really know how to project it. That’s the single thing you look for in working for an organisation. It makes taking Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty off the front page worthwhile.
‘It’s impossibly embarrassing to be honoured in this way and I hope that everybody doesn’t think I’m a complete ass.”
Young journalist of the year
Kate Mansey joined the Sunday Mirror just over a year ago from the Liverpool Echo, where she had been a trainee for two and a half years.
After pitching her editors a story idea about the women’s football team in Afganistan she said she had been surprised to find the paper agree and pack her off to the war-torn country for a month.
She said: ‘I wasn’t expecting it at all; I was expecting to be helping out better journalists, but when they sent me out there, it’s a really steep learning curve, it’s fantastic. I wasn’t with the army, I went independently, so it was tough in that respect. The hotel I was staying in got bombed by the Taliban a few months ago.”
‘I was out there during Ramadan. There were five suicide bombs while I was in Kabul, which was quite unheard of as Kabul was seen to be quite safe. That was pretty shocking. As soon as we heard it we raced to the scene. Racing to the scene after a suicide bomb? You don’t expect to be there after death knocks in the Wirral. Foreign reporting is what I love – I’m learning Arabic.’