Jubilant Tony Watson with Jennie Bond
Shortlisted in nine categories, winner of two, the Yorkshire Post capped its triumphs at this year’s Regional Press Awards by becoming Regional Newspaper of the Year.
Editor Tony Watson had been to the podium at the Hilton Hotel lunch last Friday to pick up the trophy for Daily/Sunday Newspaper of the Year and had watched his journalists receive the Team of the Year award. Then, amid a storm of applause, he was summoned to receive the top award from BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond.
It was a moment for the morning paper’s new boss, Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, to savour. "We only buy the best," he beamed.
Bowdler, at the ceremony for the Newspaper Society to present Front Page of the Year, had seen the Post just pipped in that section by the Eastern Daily Press.
But in the final secret vote, after getting the highest number of points in its section ahead of the Weekly, Free and Evening Newspapers of the Year, the Post triumphed.
The judges said it was "a big, meaty package with a fine tradition for tackling major stories", singling out its treatment of the Bradford riots, the Leeds footballers’ trial and the "exceptional" response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Watson was in no doubt that it was the latter which swung the vote.
"Everybody had access to the wonderful pictures that were coming through on the wires. But I think it was the way in which we packaged it together," he said. "We made the decision to add a second section – the pictures were so good that we didn’t feel we could do justice to them in the main book – and we made the decision early on that we wanted to get our own people out there on the ground."
He flew staff out to Canada where he had a car standing by to take them to New York for the follow-up story on how people were coping after the fall of the twin towers.
"We had people out there for two weeks. We got some absolutely wonderful colour writing. The words were fantastic and the words were being added to the pictures as they came in."
At the end of the first month after the disaster, the Post compiled a supplement "30 Days that changed the World". Watson said it began from September 11 and went right through to the start of hostilities in Afghanistan. While newspapers often use hyperbole, the headline in this case, he felt strongly, was "not over the top".
Evening Newspaper of the Year was won by Archant’s Evening Star, Ipswich, which won the title three times in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Weekly Newspaper of the Year was Newsquest’s Gazette & Herald, Wiltshire, and the Free Newspaper of the Year award went to Trinity Mirror’s The Wharf, which has Canary Wharf as its beat.
Reporter of the Year was Sharon Edwards of the Lincolnshire Echo. The judges admired her "fearless, skillful work by a fast-maturing professional exposing sleazy council activities".
By Jean Morgan