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Dec 1, 2008

Walkley Awards and the writing on the wall

This year’s Walkley Awards were the first when you could really feel the chill of the winds sweeping through journalism, writes Margaret Simons.

There is something profoundly sad and disturbing about an industry forced to give its highest awards to things that no longer exist, or are in decline. That’s what happened last Thursday night at the annual Walkley Awards – the first held in Melbourne since News Ltd’s Glenn Milne famously biffed Crikey founder Stephen Mayne.

At least that was a display of vigour, of a kind.

There always is an incongruity to the glitz and glam of the Walkleys. Clips of the best journalism, often including pictures and words about famine and profound human suffering, are played on giant screens as journos in dinner suits and cocktail dresses feed their faces on the usual sort of messed about hotel food that passes for a posh dinner.

But amongst all the alcohol fueled bonhomie, back slapping and back stabbing, this year’s Walkley Awards were the first when you could really feel the chill of the winds sweeping through journalism.

The highest award for the evening, the Gold Walkley, went to Channel Nine’s Sunday program, for a piece by Ross Coulthart and Nick Farrow about the “Butcher of Bega” — a doctor accused of abusing and mutilating the women in his care. The same piece won both the award for Television Current Affairs Reporting, and the award for Investigative Reporting. Yet the program — a frequent winner of Walkley Awards — no longer exists.

Other winners included the ABC’s Radio Eye program (Best Broadcast feature) which will finish this year, and illustrator Simon Bosch (Best Artwork) formerly of the Sydney Morning Herald, who was “let go” in the Fairfax bloodletting a few weeks ago.

Among those shortlisted for awards were a Julie-Anne Davies story in The Bulletin, a publication which no longer exists, and an article in Time magazine, a publication that has just announced the sacking of all its Australian journalists and the probable closure of its Australian bureau.

Meanwhile every joke and jibe from those at the platform was aimed at Fairfax — once the occupier of the high moral ground in Australian newspaper publishing, but now reviled as the company managed by people who don’t understand journalism, who have appointed editors who don’t have the confidence of their staff, and who have made some of the best journalists on their staff redundant.

I am told that Fairfax management booked two tables at the Walkleys. It must have been a very uncomfortable night for those who occupied them. Every time Fairfax management was mentioned — which was a lot, and always disparagingly — there were boos and hisses.

In a few short years Fairfax has gone from being the media company where serious journalists most aspired to work, to the butt of bitter jokes from all sides.

Nobody last Thursday night was arguing against the proposition that journalism is a profession facing a crisis — a profound paradigm shift, and enormous threats.

But it is worth remembering that the crisis is in the business models, not in the audience appetite for journalists’ work. There is in fact no evidence of reduced public appetite for true stories, professionally told.

It is time journalists and their audiences began to think about how to ensure the good things about journalism survive into the new media age.

Meanwhile, I am forced to wonder what dead and dying journalism outlets will get the awards next year.

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6 thoughts on “Walkley Awards and the writing on the wall

  1. pete from Sydney

    Ponder this Margaret, it certainly won’t be a Walkley for a story from Crikey…Walkeys still go to proper journos

  2. Dennis

    I was not impling he be censored, I was critical of his personal vendetta against Hicks and the use of Insiders to air that particular hate campaign. It will benefit the fat fool not.

  3. Tom McLoughlin

    I remember that Coulthart story very well. I wonder how many saw it on Sunday 9 that first time. I remember my blog that day – ‘this will run’. Well done Coulthard and colleagues. Well done brave victims overcoming their suffering to speak out. Talk about courage. That lady in the interview was awesome. Paradoxically the sensitive tone was like a lightning bolt demanding official action.

    As for Akerman on Insiders. I’m not convinced he should be censored. Just because he’s opportunistic and calculating and cunning and very right wing he’s got an argument. It’s up to the progressives to meet his argument. Otherwise you are just wallowing in lazy morality and thinking. What indeed does David Hicks think of what’s happened in Mumbai? Not shouting or accusations but simply providing his insights.

    On the weekend I blogged in this way – Prof Singer notes 27,000 children die from poverty every day, while 194 (estimated) mostly rich westerners including some Australians were murdered by fanatics. Somewhere between these two facts is probably the nuanced truth.

    And nor was Akerman the worst. His colleague Tim Blair used Mumbai to attack Antony Lowenstein in the Sydney Saturday Telegraph (News Corp) as if being a left wing Jew was akin to Carlos the Jackal. Talk about TB over compensating for his gun friendly Obama columns of the previous 2 weeks.
    The irony is that in Israel Lowenstein’s views are pretty mainstream debate but everyone has to be Yahweh’s settler her in Australia? I don’t think so TB. There really should be an injection for him.

  4. Cathy

    Chronicling history, events and offering entertainment is professionally beyond media boardrooms these days and the Walkleys are like the fifties….the past. Radio, television and print can’t achieve market leadership and profitability within the same de-regulated fiscal model that knobbled global markets. As skeletons of their former role they’ve discouraged millions of people from listening, reading and watching which makes Rupert Murdoch’s moans about us being a nation bereft of communication expertise hard to fathom . He set up and encouraged the dumbing down of not just this nation but half the UK and US.

  5. mike smith

    You just think it’s bad this year, but at least there were good journos and good stories. What about next year?

  6. Dennis

    For a person who advertises on his blog ” a million hits a month “, where was the name Bolt in the finalists. One never expected the blob Akerman to rate a mention, I suspect incompetent fools are not eligible. Incidently perhaps one of the reasons Akerman will never reach such journalistic heights is shown by his disgraceful attempt on yesterdays ‘Insiders’ to attempt to link David Hicks with the murdering terrorists in India. To use the slaughter of innocents to push his own hate campaign against Hicks was a disgrace and an indication of the mentality of the Tele’s chief Rudd hater. To his credit Cassidy declined to comment and moved on quickly. Insiders standing suffers badly when Akerman uses the programme to advance his hate campaigns.