The 2010 Crikey Wankley Awards offer a roll-call of the worst of the worst in Australian media — the beat-ups and bust-ups; a who’s who of shameless spinners, choleric columnists and starry-eyed, scandal-seeking gutter rats that feed the insatiable tabloid machines.

In such prestigious company, can there ever be one winner?

The collective media, as we’ve come to expect, worked itself into a lather over the really big issues in 2010. The estrogen-charged glossies went ga-ga over our first female prime ministerThe Women’s Weekly included a Royal-like 32-page souvenir lift-out in July. The terrorising raid on the good people of Newcastle in September by “Chookzilla”, sparking a Crikey campaign to rescue the crazy cock from the chopping block. Who could forget Dog Man, the barking-mad A Current Affair star who became a hit around the world? There was the tragic death, last month, of Mel Rafter — a fictional character on a TV soapie, not that you’d know it by the coverage, which even included psychiatric advice on how to deal with the grief. Prince William. A litany of footy sex scandals. And none of our newspaper editors played hard to get when Oprah came to town.

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The federal election — and excruciating aftermath — consumed the media cycle and brought out the worst in the nation’s journalists. We documented the clunking questions from the campaign trail (radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands extracted some pillow talk from Julia Gillard while questioning whether it was “really that important for every kid to have a great education?”) while picking through the train wreck of Channel Nine “reporter” Mark Latham.

The Australian‘s war on everything was fought on multiple fronts. It played lieutenant to Sky News (and rarely mentioned News Limited’s part-ownership in the news channel) in its long-running battle with the ABC. Its editor launched legal action against an academic Twit. And its newly minted Canberra correspondent James Massola outed a popular political blogger — and fuelled the debate with weeks of continuous and sanctimonious coverage defending its position.

Who were the big media winners of 2010? Ben Fordham quit the miracle back pain beat to replace Laurie Oakes (briefly) at Parliament House in Canberra. Retail showman Gerry Harvey clowned around for numerous free ads on ACA and Today Tonight. Ian Thorpe added more zeros to his endorsement deals with a swimming comeback that lasted all of 12 hours. And Miranda Devine switched from Fairfax to the News Limited rags for more money and a louder megaphone to promote the views we all know and love.

And the losers? New Melbourne talkback station MTR stacked its roster with scandal-plagued right-wing blokes, but nobody seemed to find it on the dial. Who magazine pulped thousands of copies in April when it accidentally breached a suppression order in the trial of murdered gangster Carl Williams. Matthew Newton — enough said. Aussie journos treaded carelessly across the New Zealand mining tragedy, upsetting a country in mourning. And AFL playboy Brendan Fevola just couldn’t escape the spotlight — even when it was far from clear he did anything wrong (he did fess up earlier in the year to that nude Lara Bingle pic).

But what was really the worst of the worst in 2010? Perhaps it was the sheer desperation of the press in promoting its new iPad offerings — Caroline Overington wrote whimsically on The Australian‘s front page about former News henchman Ken Cowley getting his first taste of the iPad. The Cowley edict: “I embrace it.”

Or maybe it was Overington’s heartfelt love letter to Liberal Party pin-up Greg Hunt in February. After Imre Salusinszky declared his devotion for Climate Change Queen Penny Wong, the multiple Wankley Award winner insisted on balancing the ledger with a love poem to the Coalition’s warming warrior – with his “little hands” and “pretty voice” (not the “gay” one, that is):

You know Greg Hunt, he rides a bike
But will he let me feel his Newspoll spike?

Perhaps it was Tracy Grimshaw, who extracted a candid confession from Hey Dad! actress Sarah Monahan in March on alleged s-xual abuse by her TV dad. ACA‘s crusading coverage (they organised police interviews and tracked down the accused in Singapore) was spun into ratings gold night after night.

Or maybe the award should go to Bec and Lleyton Hewitt (he hasn’t won anything on the tennis court in quite some time, after all) who used premium text messaging service Text A Star to announce the birth of their third child — at $2 a pop. Even before her birth Ava Sydney Hewitt proved quite the money-spinner.

Take your pick, really.

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Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

We’ve pushed our journalism as far as we could go. And that’s only been possible with reader support. Thank you. And if you haven’t yet subscribed, this is your time to join tens of thousands of Crikey members to take the plunge.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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