War of words could make losers of us all

Last
week’s British Press Awards have prompted a storm of comment and
accusation. Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves explains how the awards
work and why our industry deserves to be celebrated

TRYING TO GET
a small group of journalists to agree on any issue is
unwise. Trying to get a large group of them to agree on something
important to them – such as which among them is the best at their job –
is just asking for trouble.

And trouble is what we have in spades following last week’s British Press Awards.

The
decision by a large group of national editors to issue a statement
saying that they no longer support the event in its current format has
been followed by a torrent of comment which has unfairly impugned Press
Gazette’s reputation in the process.

So here’s a rather cooler
look at the key principles that have underpinned the awards in the
nearly 20 years that this magazine has been administering them.

1. The judging

This
is the single most important aspect of any awards event. The
fundamental principle behind this one is that entrants are judged by a
jury of their peers. That means the panels for the majority of
categories are made up from senior newspaper executives nominated by
their editors.

The process is rigorous, fair and – above all –
impossible to fix. I have spent the weekend looking through the 250 or
so judges’ scoring sheets, which rank each entry and include comments
about them.

Their contents are secret to all other judges. Only
the chairman sees them to tot up the scores. In some categories the
decisions are closer than others, but in every case a clear unambiguous
winner emerges.

The only panels not to be drawn from national
newspaper journalists are the photography categories, supplement of the
year category, and, for obvious reasons, the national newspaper of the
year category.

Take a close look at the names on that panel:
Donald Trelford, John Sergeant, David Mannion, Adam Boulton, Jonathan
Grun, Jean Morgan, Paul Horrocks, Terry Manners, Rosie Boycott, Mark
Damazer, David Yelland, David Schlesinger and Mark Bryant. They are
independent, authoritative, knowledgeable, respected journalists from
outside the national newspaper sphere. Compare them to panels for the
other newspaper industry awards – and ask yourself which you’d most
trust for a fair assessment of your work.

Remember, too, that
they were unanimous in their verdict. I’m sure the controller of Radio
4, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, the editor of the Press Association
– to name just three – would have something to say about The Guardian’s
assertion that “their profession has been devalued by the naming of the
News of the World as newspaper of the year”.

Finally, nobody –
but nobody – has advance news of whether they have won or not. The only
category we have no control over in that regard is the Hugh Cudlipp
award, which is judged by separate means.

2. The event

This
astonishing sentence is from The Independent: “I once read an article
about Hollywood’s annual awards for hard-core sex films – a grotesque
and mind-boggling occasion to be sure, but one which by comparison with
the British Press Awards might be judged staid and restrained.”

How
do I square this with the following note that arrived on my desk this
morning from one of Press Gazette’s guests of the evening, who happens
to be a priest? It reads: “Thank you for your hospitality at the
British Press Awards – a great evening in the finest traditions of
Fleet Street.”

The opprobrium might be understandable if we hosted it at a lap dancing club and booked Jonathan Ross to be the presenter.

But
this is a black tie event at the Hilton Hotel, presided over in this
instance by the political editor of the BBC. And yet we are criticised
for having “striven to put on an occasion which will show hacks in the
worst possible light”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We aim,
every year, to host an entertaining and enjoyable evening that
celebrates great journalism in all its forms.

Press Gazette finds
itself in the extraordinary position of being pilloried for the conduct
of journalists employed by other national newspaper groups.

Some suggestions as to how conduct could improve have already been mooted.

Holding the event at lunchtime, for example, might help calm things down a little.

And we’ll certainly be investigating other ways of keeping the bile in check.

Even
more sensible, it seems to me, would be to ban any speeches from
winners – thus preventing the Bob Geldofs of this world from hijacking
the event or the Jeremy Clarksons from shouting obscenities.

3. The money

The
British Press Awards is not a charity event – although it does help
raise money for the NPF every year. Yet neither is it anywhere near the
cash cow that some commentators have suggested. It is not making
anybody rich.

Administering the logistics of an event which
attracts nearly 900 entries (each of which, for the reporter
categories, require 12 copies of three pieces of work), and putting on
a professional event at a top venue is not something that can be
undertaken easily or cheaply. The event is run alongside Press Gazette
as a commercial venture, and its proceeds help this magazine to do the
job it does – reporting independently, accurately and, I hope, fairly
on the industry. The Observer’s commentator may not feel that is
important, but there are plenty who do.

4. The future

I
have written to all the national newspaper editors this week asking
them to spare the time to discuss with me more fully their concerns
over the awards format. The categories, the judging criteria, the cost
and the style of the ceremony are all going to need careful analysis.

But
what’s certain is that the brilliant journalism – in all its diverse
forms – that is produced every day by the most vibrant newspaper
industry in the world deserves to be celebrated, as we do on the
following pages.

We now need to find a way of reaching agreement on how best that should happen.

It
is clear, given the strength of views that have already been expressed,
that this is not going to be an easy task. But it’s one we can achieve.

5. Your views

I’d
like to hear the views of all national newspaper journalists on the
British Press Awards. All correspondence will be confidential.

Please email me on ianr@pressgazette.co.uk

Robin Morgan, editor, The Sunday Times Magazine

THE BPA JUDGING PROCESS: A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE

So the British Press Awards are judged to be “corrupt” by “many journalists”. 

Judges
indulge in “horse trading” to secure awards; the system should be
“transparent” and the judges “non-partisan”. So whined Stephen Glover
in The Independent last Monday and in doing so exposed himself to
ridicule and contempt.

We can forgive him his pompous, elitist,
naivety but I can’t stomach his dilettante attitude to his craft. If
you seek to lecture others on honesty and professionalism and set
yourself up as a champion of integrity, then it seems advisable to
employ all three rigorously.

Instead he fails the acid test of
his trade; facts are sacred. Where was the evidence to support his
charge of corruption? Where were the voices of the “many journalists”,
where were the transcripts of taped horse-trading between
conspiratorial judges. What were his sources, which category did he
dissect in revelatory detail to prove his conspiracy theory? Oh yeah –
sorry – he’s a commentator, so it’s okay for him to say what he wants
us to believe rather than what he knows.

But in my book that makes him a selfaggrandising propagandist, not a journalist.

I’ve been attending the Press Awards for 25 years.

And
like everyone else, always thought an award heartily well-deserved when
it suited my own prejudices or preferences and a “fix”

when it
didn’t. This year I was a judge for the first time and sat on a panel
of six judges representing high, low and middle-brow newspapers.

We
assessed five categories. No-one slipped me a roll of notes, or a
lucrative job offer, the preliminary discussions centred on the quality
of the catering.

I don’t mind admitting, I was hugely impressed
by my colleagues’ fairness. I heard only one judge “talk up” a
contender from her own stable. I listened as a broadsheet editor
enthusiastically endorsed the work of a writer on a giveaway newspaper,
another expressed sadness that the writer in his own stable simply
couldn’t compete with the quality of two others from “the enemy”. I
listened as tabloid editors intelligently and fairly trumpeted the
cause of broadsheet writers, and broadsheet editors applauded the work
of tabloid journalists. The biggest surprise was how a majority view on
standout entries quickly materialised into a twohorse race, as the
merits or otherwise of nominees rolled off the tongues and around the
table.

We all filled in our secret ballots. Were they tampered
with in the count? On the night of the awards, it seemed not, the
winner in every category accurately reflected the debate and was one of
the two standouts that emerged from the process.

Six judges
walked away from the table as credible eyewitnesses to the absence of
bias, horse-trading and corruption. I challenge any smug commentator to
find corrupt practises in foreign reporter of the year going to the
courageous and dedicated work of Hala Jabar. There was no horse-trading
in Jeremy Clarkson’s selection as motoring writer of the year. Or in
that of the quality and range of the Telegraph’s property writers who
competed for the prize. Of course, The Sunday Times Magazine wasn’t
even shortlisted for supplement of the year, so that may have been the
exception.

It isn’t the Press Awards process that brings us into
disrepute, it’s the elitist claptrap of hasbeens like Glover who, like
those superannuated armchair generals occupying our screens during
times of war, pretend to know what they are talking about and are
invariably, out of date, out of the loop and out to grass.

Comments
No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fourteen + seven =

CLOSE
CLOSE