2017 EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM

Judge: Kym Tilbrook

Kym Tilbrook is the author of Through Our Eyes, the history of the Country Press Association of South Australia and the history of SA country newspapers. He is a former senior journalist and manager with The Advertiser for 37 years. He is also the author of three best-selling books on bushwalking in South Australia. His fifth book, titled Pastoralism to Tourism, will be launched in April.

This is his 19th straight year judging the Country Press Awards.

There were only nine entries by member papers in the Excellence in Journalism category – a significant drop over recent years. There were also two entries from non-member papers.

As I mentioned last year, I would love to see all papers enter this category. The awards are a great way for the papers and journalists to showcase their skills.

Criteria for the award states: “A local news or human-interest story – must be breaking news, delving into an issue in the entrant newspaper’s community.”

Quality journalism is a must if papers are to thrive in the digital era. The papers, through excellence in journalism, can provide a great service to the community. Who else is going to hold governments, politicians, councils and rogue businesses to account? Who else is going to report in detail the issue behind the headlines? Who else can dig deep into social issues faced by local communities?

Investigative journalism is a role that the community should expect of their newspapers. The old line of “keeping the bastards honest” is just as relevant today as when it was coined several years ago. And it can only be done through hard work and quality journalism.

While the number of entries this year was disappointing, the standard of entries was not. There was some excellent work, with the majority of entries of a high standard.

This made judging quite difficult. There could have been four winners but only one could win out in the end.

Because of the strength of the entries I gave three honourable mentions:

They were to:

*Raquel Mustillo, The South Eastern Times, for her scoop on Nick Xenophon’s Deed for Candidates. Raquel was a step ahead of the metropolitan media thanks to some good old-fashion journalistic “digging”. She provided strong coverage of the issue which has since received plenty of media attention. Her story probably deserved to carry an Exclusive tag and to be further forward in the paper. There was no tag and it only made Page 5.

*Todd Lewis, The Border Watch, for his Exclusive naming local MP Troy Bell as the “public officer” charged after an Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing. As well as naming the MP, Todd also approached him to give him the opportunity to comment on the situation. It all made for a top story.

*Laura Collins, The Bunyip, for her continuing coverage of the dangerous Dalkeith/Main North Rd intersection just south of Gawler. Laura covered the issue from all angles, keeping strong pressure on the government to act. Eventually the government came to the party and announced an upgrade.

I gave third place to Rhiannon Koch, of the Yorke Peninsula Country Times, for her persistence over five months to report on Country Health SA cutting general, gynaecological and urological surgeries at Yorketown Hospital. Her articles led to a backflip by Country Health SA which announced it was halting the removal of services until after a public consultation period. The initial choice had been made with no community consultation. The services were eventually removed, but Rhiannon’s coverage resulted in the Liberal Party committing to return the services to Yorketown if it wins government next month. Her reporting of the matter was a truly professional job.

Second place went to Les Pearson, of the Plains Producer, for his excellent article on Goyder MP Steven Griffiths who is retiring at next month’s election. Instead of an ordinary run of the mill interview about achievements over Mr Griffiths’ career, Les took a different tack, probing him about his private life.  It is something we hear very little of from MPs who are always keen to talk policy and criticise other parties. As Les records, Mr Griffiths opened up on some very personal issues which resulted in the story heading: “I became a nasty person”. Mr Griffiths revealed how his anger was out of control and how it nearly cost him his marriage. It was an interview that revealed a terrible inner turmoil for Mr Griffiths. In a note accompanying his entry, Les said the interview was compelling. The result of his interview was a well-crafted story that was utterly compelling. When he started the interview the last thing Les would have expected was for Mr Griffiths to be so open and honest about the person he had become. It is a tribute to Les’ interviewing ability that he was able to draw out such personal detail from Mr Griffiths.

First place is awarded to Stephanie Thompson, of The Loxton News, for her four-part series on the ice scourge faced by the local community. Her interview with an addict was confronting and took readers into the horrible world of ice addiction. The interview was wide-ranging, starting with how the woman fell into the ice trap. From there, Stephanie was able to draw out the details of a life that was spiralling out of control and included suicidal thoughts. “I had told my mum that I wanted to die. I just wanted to die,” the addict told Stephanie. The interview also details the addict’s fight to beat the habit and rebuild her life. Stephanie followed up the story with an interview with the addict’s mother who revealed that she struggled to deal with the impact the addiction had on her daughter. The series also featured interviews with police and the local MP who called for a rehabilitation centre for the Riverland to combat the ice problem.

It was an excellent series and certainly met the criteria for the award.

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