Cumberland News scoops Newspaper of Year award

 

It was a year in which major stories broke for The Cumberland News, in particular the foot and mouth crisis, when the paper’s area became the epicentre of the disease.

And it was a year that brought the regional newspaper crown to the weekly.

Unanimously voted Newspaper of the Year in the Press Gazette Regional Press Awards 2001, the Cumbrian Newspapers broadsheet win had editor Keith Sutton enthusing: "I am really elated, especially to win against such fantastic competition."

The Cumberland News rolled out story after story about foot and mouth.  "We spoke up on behalf of our readers in a way we had never been able to do before, to reveal the difficult circumstances of an area at the epicentre of foot and mouth," said Sutton.

"We have never had so many readers’ letters. We obviously just reflected what was going on in our community and helped to bring to the attention of politicians in London that the foot and mouth outbreak was far more serious than they at first thought."

Sutton could also claim exclusives on the ill-treatment of patients at local mental homes and a cracking scoop by crime correspondent Vicky Brennan.  During an interview with the local chief constable, she managed to get him to say that if someone was smoking cannabis at a party at his house, he wouldn’t arrest them. It was picked up by the nationals and television.

But this year’s awards ceremony, with ITN political editor John Sergeant handing out the coveted trophies, was dominated by one daily newspaper and its Sunday sister.

Four times the sponsors at the Hilton Hotel opened up the winning envelopes to reveal the prize had gone to Northcliffe Newspapers’ Stoke-based Sentinel or Sentinel on Sunday.  The Champagne had been cracked open on editor Sean Dooley’s table even before the last win was announced.

Dooley was "absolutely thrilled" for the people who had worked for the awards – the Sunday picked up three – and particularly for Reporter of the Year Dave Blackhurst, described by the judges as "the scourge of the NHS in his area".

"He’s been the health correspondent at The Sentinel for a long time, when it wasn’t fashionable to have health correspondents," said Dooley.

The Sunday newspaper only launched in March last year against new competition.

"It’s tremendous that we have achieved something so different so quickly," he added. "It is an entirely different animal. It’s a broadsheet, paid-for newspaper that has been launched against all the trends and it has got tremendous credibility.

"We could have taken the easy option and published a down-market free but we decided we wanted something that would endure. It was a great opportunity to try to serve a part of the market that the daily tabloid doesn’t serve."

Steve Lowe, in his first year as editor of Bedfordshire on Sunday, walked off with Scoop of the Year for his story on a hospital chapel floor being used as a temporary morgue.

Lowe said it exposed a scandal in hospitals and the picture, by Ian Miles, was crucial – "it shocked the nation".

The Press Gazette Gold Award went to Ian Dowell, former editor of the Birmingham Evening Mail, who is regarded highly throughout the industry for producing a hard-hitting, campaigning paper while the Mail changed hands five times.

By Jean Morgan

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