Press Gazette's 2015 heroes: A retired sub, FoI campaigners and whistleblowers

Jonathan Calvert

Jonathan Calvert (pictured), the editor of The Sunday Times's Insight team, was this year named Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards.

Insight, led by Calvert, also won the breaking news prize and three awards last year.

The judges said: 

Jonathan Calvert is the longest serving editor of The Sunday Times Insight team in its 50-year history and over his 21 years in national newspaper journalism he has probably been behind as many famous scoops and investigative scandals as any other journalist still working today.

Over the last year he has been again involved in several of the biggest stories to have hit the headlines. After leading the way in exposing Fifa for five years, this year his Insight team revealed Fifa president Sepp Blatter had made a secret deal to ensure Qatar would not lose its hosting rights to the 2022 world cup. It was his investigation which largely provoked the current crisis in Fifa which is now finally showing signs of cleaning up its act.

The Sunday Times blood doping investigation this year revealed that 55 gold medals have been won in Olympics and world championship endurance events by athletes who have recorded suspicious blood tests.

He is a journalist who has produced a quite astonishing track record of investigations and scoops across a huge range of subject areas.

Alan Rusbridger

The other big winner at the British Journalism Awards, Alan Rusbridger (left) was recognised for his 20 years editing The Guardian.

The judges said:

The word visionary is bandied around a lot, but it is particularly impressive that Alan Rusbridger wrote The Online Future – a blueprint for The Guardian’s digital development back in 1994. The Guardian now attracts some 140m browsers a month around the world.

In the early years of his editorship he won some of the most significant libel cases of the modern era including: Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken and Stoke Newington police station (ending the Police Federation’s 80-case undefeated run).

In recent years he has overseen some of the biggest journalism investigations of our time: phone-hacking, Wikileaks, Snowden and finally HSBC..

In 2014 The Guardian became the first non-American news organisation to win the Pulitzer Prize in recognition of its Snowden coverage.

In an industry where editors often like to the keep their heads down, he has always stuck his above the parapet and been a vocal supporter of press freedom and of journalism in general.

He has been a great ambassador for our craft and is a hugely deserving winner of the 2015 Marie Colvin award.

John Witherow

Succeeding Rusbridger as the second longest serving Fleet Street editor is John Witherow, who took charge of The Sunday Times in 1994 and now edits The Times.

The Times was the best performing national newspaper in terms of year-on-year circulation change for 17 consecutive months to October this year. In November, despite a 4.7 per cent year on year rise (helped by bulk copies), the title lost out only to the Star newspapers – which recently halved their prices.

Asked in a Press Gazette interview for the secret of his success, Witherow provided a positive message to those who care about the future of journalism:

“We have not cut back on journalists, if anything we have invested in them. And that’s our firm commitment… people will only pay for subscriptions if you have quality. You shoot yourself in the foot by cutting back on journalism, because they won’t subscribe and then our whole model falls apart.”

Ian Hislop

Ian Hislop makes it onto this list for the same reason as Witherow: Private Eye, like The Times, is succeeding both in terms of journalism and circulation.

In the first half of 2015, the title recorded its highest circulation (228,264) since the year Hislop took charge – 1986. 

Asked about this success in a Press Gazette interview, Hislop provided a similar answer to Witherow:

“Essentially, we’ve invested in content. There’re a lot more cartoons, and the journalism is bigger and more readable. That’s what we’ve done… If you’re looking for reasons why I think the Eye’s still selling really well, it’s because we invest in more journalism… And what we’ve continued not to do is to put anything online.”

Hislop also revealed he had refused to sign the so-called BBC luvvies' letter. Why? “Had I seen my own name on the list, I would have thought: ‘You overpaid wanker – why should I care what you say?'”

Margaret Ashworth

Margaret Ashworth is a sub-editor who worked for the Daily Mail for 39 years and composed the newspaper group's style guide.

She features in this list for several reasons. As well as sharing the contents of her style guide with Press Gazette and allowing us to publish extracts, she provided an insight into the life of sub at the Mail.

Ashworth said the Mail subs have been “relentlessly downgraded”. She said former editor David English was “proud to have ‘the finest table in Fleet Street’. Good headlines were occasionally rewarded with a case of champagne”.

But, according to Ashworth, his successor Paul Dacre (pictured, Reuters) “has never really grasped what subs do, apart from, as he sees it, holding up production”.

She said: “I think he fears subs rather as people in the Middle Ages feared monks, because they were the only ones who could do the magic reading and writing."

Read more here.

Peter Oborne

How many journalists have left a job creating this much of a racket? 

Peter Oborne resigned from The Daily Telegraph last December and, while on six months' gardening leave, had chosen to keep his reasons for doing so quiet.

That was until he saw his former employer's coverage of the HSBC scandal.

He accused the paper of a "form of fraud" by allowing commercial considerations to censor its coverage of the bank.

His whistleblowing claims, which were backed by numerous Telegraph colleagues, made it onto the front pages of other newspapers and led the Telegraph to write up new commercial/editorial guidelines.

Meirion Jones

Another journalist-turned-whistleblower unafraid to upset his former employer, Meirion Jones suggested in a Press Gazette interview that he and others who tried to expose Jimmy Savile were "forced out" out of the BBC.

In a wide-ranging interview, the BBC staffer of 26 years also condemned a lack of story-breaking at the corporation. Asked why this was, he said: “It’s a deep-rooted culture of caution and also fear of putting your head above the parapet. If you do break stories you will get sued, you will get attacked in Parliament by people whose interests you have offended.

“There’s also a committee-itis at the BBC. There are committees and committees and committees. New Broadcasting House is full of those offices that are made fun of in W1A. They really exist. There are dozens of offices booked solid for meetings all day long every day.

“Everything is bogged down in meetings. People are promoted on the basis of how well they perform at meetings rather than on the product they produce.”

Lucy Panton appeal funders

In October 2014, it took just a few days for a Fleet Street appeal publicised by Press Gazette to raise the £11,000 needed by former News of the World reporter Lucy Panton for her Operation Elveden appeal.

And when she was cleared in April this year, Panton thanked Press Gazette readers and colleagues who in her "darkest hour" set up the fighting fund.

She said: "It felt like a bit of a turning point and it provided me with a huge boost to know that colleagues in the industry were were there to provide that support. Thank you."

Gary Walker

Gary Walker was an NHS executive who blew the whistle to the BBC over concerns about patient safety at Lincolnshire NHS Trust in 2013.

He broke a gagging clause to speak out and, speaking at the British Journalism Awards, revealed he remains blacklisted by the NHS.

He revealed that he agreed to break a gagging order imposed as part of his exit agreement when he was sacked from his NHS job in 2010 after "unrelenting persistent persuasion" by Andrew Hosken of the BBC.

He said: “It was February and I'd just watched the prime minster in the House of Commons announce the results of Sir Robert Francis' review into what went wrong at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

“That review, which took two years and cost more than £19m of taxpayers' money, didn't find a single person accountable for the premature deaths of hundreds perhaps thousands of people.

“From my time in the NHS, I knew it was custom and practice for those in senior roles to hide their wrongdoing or incompetence by gagging those who attempted to speak out.

“I myself was an example of someone gagged for putting patient safety ahead of targets. Indeed the gag was so draconian I wasn't even allowed to mention it existed.”

He added: “My personal story continues today as I remain blacklisted from the NHS and find getting work very difficult. That is, I'm sad to say, the plight of most whistleblowers whether they win or lose their cases in court. They are seen as the troublemakers.”

FoI defenders

At the launch of the Government's Independent Commission on Freedom of Information this autumn, it seemed inevitable to many that the act would be weakened: fees introduced, cost exemptions strengthened, ministerial veto hardened up.

But in recent weeks, well-placed sources within the Government and Civil Service have indicated that the desire to weaken FoI is fading.

Judging by what senior ministers told The Sun earlier this month (“Nobody in the Government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato”), this is largely down to those campaigning for the act not to be weakened.

Undoubtedly, the battle is far from won – the commission is due to report back in the New Year – but it seems highly likely that the following people and groups have made a difference:

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