Events of the past week suggest that awards for journalism have lost their shine.

On Monday, Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Phoenix, Arizona, won a Pulitzer prize for local reporting.

In a Hollywood-style tale Gabrielson and Giblin, with the help of their editor, exposed a sheriff who was fighting illegal immigration at the expense of other areas of law enforcement in a five part investigative series.

It would have been totally awesome, if the paper hadn’t fired them last October.

Now, if the Pulitzer Prize, the holy grail of journalism awards, can’t save you from unemployed destitution, then the business structure of the media has well and truly shifted.

But it’s not just journalists that the Pulitzer can’t save — it’s newspapers too.

The same day the prize was announced, the New York Times revealed a devastating quarterly report, with advertising losses of 27% and $US22 million drop in average earnings. This came despite raking in five Pulitzers.

In Australia, the ABC Four Corners team that forced a judicial review into the sentencing of our first political assassin, winning a Walkley award in the process, were told on Wednesday their documentary was “garbage” by NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos.

The judicial review found that inconsistencies in the police investigation of Phuong Ngo for the murder of NSW MP John Newman, that the program was lauded for revealing, were without foundation.

This brings into question the grounds on which the Walkley had been awarded. Their website says:

“The program challenged the reliability of the evidence against Ngo and brought to light new evidence in a case well outside the agenda of mainstream current affairs.”

The Australian reported Hatzistergos was unimpressed with the work of film makers Debbie Whitmont and Morag Ramsey. He said,

“You give people Walkley awards for this sort of garbage. What that program did … was seriously tarnish confidence in the judicial process, attack the credibility of some very fine prosecutors and police officers with what I believe were baseless means of pursuing such allegations.”

In a statement, the ABC said, “Four Corners stands by the journalism of this program and the issues it raised as worthy of further investigation, when it was broadcast on 7th April 2008.”

“The Inquiry found that the conviction of Phuong Canh Ngo should not be re-opened. Four Corners raised legitimate questions about Phuong Ngo’s conviction. It is the role of the judicial system to conduct inquiries and produce findings as has now been done.”

While the ABC are standing by Whitmont and Ramsey and the MEAA will not revoke their Walkley, the reputations of the film makers, Four Corners and the Walkley Awards themselves, has clearly been tarnished.

As traditional media collapses, will the cultural institutions that accompany them go the same way?

Peter Fray

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