This was not the year to be a newspaper. Not that there was any telling that to David Kirk or Ron Walker at Fairfax. All year, until Kirk’s sudden demise, they peddled the same arrant silliness that somehow Fairfax has cracked the secret of new life for a newspaper-based media company in an online world.

Never mind that The New York Times shed staff and tottered, never mind that the Tribune Group diced with, then plunged into, bankruptcy. Somehow Fairfax, with its online brands that traduced a print reputation built over generations, had found the secret of eternal profit.

Which of course was ridiculous. All year the money walked out the door. And then 5% of the staff followed, yet another round of redundancy, with more tipped to come. The key mastheads lost their editors – Andrew Jaspan and Alan Oakley both gone into oblivion, but then there was a lot of that about.

Jaspan’s departure set in train a domino-run of sackings that saw every major paper in the country other than the strangely sanguine Australian looking for new leadership. At News Limited the departures of Bruce Guthrie from the Herald Sun and David Penberthy from the Daily Telegraph looked more like calculated devices to inspire creative tension than the sort of frenzied deck chair shuffling going on in the mahogany rows at Fairfax.

Subbing was outsourced, morale went underground and revenue dived. If Fairfax had the answer, then the question was unprintable.

As we talk, the Fairfax ASX price is hovering round $1.50, the company is worth less than its debt and each share a better bargain than the cover price of the main mastheads.

So by way of consolation for a year that took Australia’s once-premium newspapers a 100-metre sprint closer to the grave, we offer the Inaugural Crikey Golden Wankley to Fairfax Media. Well done…an award hard earned.

View the entire 2008 Wankley Award nominees on the Crikey website.