Mark Hughes, 21, from Glasgow and a former journalism student at the University of Central Lancashire, took home three Student Journalism Awards, including Student Journalist of the Year, the day’s overall prize.
He was praised by judges in the overall category for what they called an “ability to tell powerful, compelling and complete stories”. One judge added: “He could walk into any newsroom and do a great job.”
Hughes, who wrote his winning stories for the Carlisle News and Star where he now works full time, was praised by the judges for the story which won him Scoop of the Year.
It was an exclusive interview with married father-of-two Paul Campbell, 47, from Cumbria, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting unlawfully taking a then 15-year-old girl from her Barnsley home to the Lake District.
Following his release, the two moved in together in Keswick and revealed that they plan to marry. His other two submissions, both exclusives, were an interview with the youngest-ever soldier to be given the Military Cross, now forced to sell the medal to support his family, and the story of a fight between two councillors in a car park after a heated meeting.
Hughes said: “I entered [the awards] in hope rather than in expectation, so to win all three is unbelievable.
“A lot of it is luck, but there’s perseverance as well. With the Campbell story I was working on it for months and there was a point when I kind of sacked it.
“I thought it wasn’t worth the hassle – there were endless phone calls and I couldn’t get hold of the guy and all his family and friends had had disowned him.
“With the soldier one, he was just a typical lad like myself and to be able speak to someone on their level was the key with that one.”
The judges of the News Writer of the Year award said his work showed “an understanding of the readership” and described him as a “fully-formed reporter who knows his audience”.
Hughes has worked as a part-time reporter on the News and Star since the age of 18 and said the staff there had shown him the ropes from day one.
Now a full-time reporter, Hughes has his feet firmly on the ground and sees his immediate future as continuing to dig out stories on his patch.
“I’ve just started full time at the News and Star and my plan is just to get some similar stories to the ones I have been getting.
“These awards show I have been producing the goods and I want to carry on doing that.
“I don’t like to look too far into the future, but national newspapers have always been my dream – but that’s something to look towards.”
And Hughes has no time for those who have predicted the end for regional newspapers.
“With the Campbell story, if you stuck that on TV you’d get a five-minute clip, on radio you’d get the same.
“I spoke to this guy for an hour and a half, I got every cough and splutter out of him and then I was allowed to spend an afternoon deciding what the public would want [to read]. There’s a definite place for newspapers.”