'Unarguable' BAFTA-style voting proposed for British Press Awards

A
substantial shake-up of the British Press Awards, in which the final
winners would be decided by a BAFTAstyle academy of senior journalists,
has been proposed by Press Gazette’s new management.

Major
shareholder Matthew Freud, whose company Freud Communications has
helped run the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for
the past eight years, wrote to national editors and senior executives
this week outlining his proposals for next year’s British Press Awards
and inviting their comments.

Freud proposes that the awards event
will feature a reduced number of categories, for which a jury made up
of executives from each of the national newspaper groups, chaired by
former Times editor Charles Wilson, would agree a shortlist of about
five entrants.

Once the shortlists have been published, members
of the academy would use the online system devised for the BAFTAs to
vote for a winner. Freud says the system is simple, proven and
impossible to corrupt.

The academy itself would be made up of a
large selection of people whose primary source of income is newspaper
journalism or publishing. “There needs to be a great deal of discussion
about the construction and membership criteria of the academy; making
sure that the number and calibre of voters guarantee an unarguable
result,” the letter says.

In addition to the major category
awards, the jury will give up to five special awards for journalistic
excellence, “akin to The Pulitzers”.Other fundamental changes include
the ceremony taking place at lunchtime, and the elimination of
sponsorship of individual categories.

“I realise that this is a
substantial departure from the old format, but clearly it’s time for
change,” Freud wrote. “I would greatly welcome your reaction to these
proposals and any alternative views that you may have.”

Wilson
said: “The plan is to consult editors and other senior journalists and
to achieve a consensus in the redesign of the system. In this way we
will tackle head-on the criticisms concerning integrity, fairness, the
‘Buggins’ turn’ syndrome and the allegations of broadsheet or tabloid bias.”

Freud’s
letter also outlined plans for an extra annual event to celebrate
national newspaper journalism. This is planned to kick off in November,
to coincide with Press Gazette’s 40th birthday celebrations, when a
roll of honour of the 40 people who have contributed most to the
newspaper industry will be unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery.

The 40 will be selected by a panel of six current and past editors, chaired by Wilson.

Each subsequent year will see a new member added to the roll of honour, with a party to aid the charity of their choice.

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