Who dominated this year’s Walkley Awards and what did the assembled hacks make of the event? Several veterans deemed this year’s awards particularly “dull” and “flat”.
In these times of technological disruption and financial upheaval, it’s comforting to know some cherished media traditions refuse to die. Like bagging the Walkley Awards.
The nation’s cynical scribes love to moan about their — dare we say it? — “night of nights”, but the gripes seemed especially abundant this year. Hosting the event in Canberra and inviting the notoriously grumpy Peter Cave to give a speech will do that.
According to one veteran reporter at the Parliament House soiree, this year’s event was “dire” and “flat”. Another described it as “extraordinarily dull”, saying: “It’s the worst Walkleys I’ve been to in terms of entertainment.” Before you accuse them of being bitter, it’s worth noting both took out gongs.
The choice after-party venue — the Dèjà vu nightclub at Canberra casino — was about as popular as Channel Ten Breakfast. ”It was alright for guys in their 30s or 40s but journos in their 50s or 60s don’t want to go to some shitty nightclub playing dance music,” one winner told Crikey.
Nevertheless, the Walkley Foundation’s Andrew Gregory insisted to Crikey: “We’ve had excellent feedback from across the board.” And not just for the awards but the preceding conference and new iPhone/iPad app.
No moment, alas, rivalled the 2006 barney between Crikey founder Stephen Mayne and Glenn Milne. But Cave, who retired as ABC foreign editor in July, gave it a go by using his speech accepting the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism gong to blast the Walkleys themselves.
The former roving correspondent decried the commercialisation of the awards and argued the Walkley board should be divorced from the Media, Entertainment and the Arts Alliance. The judging process, he said, too often leads to worthy winners being overlooked and needs to be overhauled. Cave said he only truly deserved one of his five previous Walkleys: the trophy he won for his Tiananmen Square coverage.
“Seeing the whole audience’s faces drop was priceless,” said one still-amused attendee. The ABC’s news bosses, we hear, were especially aghast.
While many applauded Cave’s spray, one Sydney Morning Herald veteran believes the speech was “churlish and rude”: “He made the same point over and over again … It was a well-deserved award but he could have been more generous.”
Walkley advisory board chairman Laurie Oakes has already spoken out to defend the judges’ independence and say that a review of award categories and criteria is underway.
As for the awards themselves, The West Australian’s Steve Pennells was a deserving if, in some quarters, surprising winner for his coverage of the stoush between Gina Rinehart and her children over Lang Hancock’s estate. The sandgroper also won scoop of the year for his Rinehart yarns and the social equity journalism award for a forensic feature on asylum seeker drownings.
Crikey’s First Dog on the Moon — for anyone not following his Twitter feed — took out the best cartooning award for his equally moving take on the asylum seeker issue. It’s the first-ever Walkley for this humble e-zine and, yes, we’re all bloody proud of our scribbler. Dog hopes the gong means MEAA secretary Chris Warren will forgive him for spilling champagne over him.
Overall, Fairfax dominated with 11 awards compared to eight each for News Limited and the ABC. SBS, Channel Ten, AAP and Seven each picked up one award. A particularly popular winner was The Border Mail for its series on ending the silence surrounding suicides in regional areas. Leigh Sales, unsurprisingly, won the broadcast interview category for her punchy 7.30 pow wow with Tony Abbott.
One notable omission was The Australian’s Hedley Thomas, a previous Gold Walkley winner, who was nominated for his reporting on the Wivenhoe floods and the AWU slush fund saga. The rights and wrongs of the media’s AWU coverage was a hot topic on the night.
“There was a lot of disquiet about The Australian shoving it down everyone’s throats and running editorials accusing us of not following up their yarn,” said one Fairfax veteran. “None of us do that. The campaigning of it all was muttered about.”
At least there was one thing everyone could agree on: the NT News’ “Why I stuck a cracker up my clacker” headline was a thing of beauty and thoroughly deserved its award. The full list of winners are on the Walkley Awards website.