A blogger who only started his website this year and whose readership is usually measured in hundreds rather than thousands has been named as a finalist in Australian journalism’s most prestigious awards. He’s the first blogger to be named as a finalist in any Walkley Awards category since bloggers were first allowed to enter in 2013.
William Summers, whose day job is as a communications manager for a university, was the first to investigate and publish the evidence that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was likely a New Zealand citizen, and it was his emailed questions to Kiwi officials that sparked questions asked in their parliament.
Summers told Crikey the announcement on Twitter last night made him do a double-take — he’d checked and double-checked the award conditions to make sure he was eligible, but had not expected to get as far as being a finalist in the scoop-of-the-year category.
“I’m stoked,” he said. “I put in for it but I wasn’t expecting to be a finalist.”
The post about Joyce got more than 30,000 views over the three days after he first published at the end of July — a couple of weeks before the Deputy PM stood up in Parliament to announce he was a dual citizen of New Zealand. That readership is far more than most of his posts, which are more likely to get a view count in the hundreds. The research for the post took a few hours, and was prompted by Joyce’s comments to Weekend Today that he was definitely only an Australian citizen.
“A lot of my stories are driven by the things I care about. It’s things like with the Barnaby Joyce thing, I was a bit frustrated when it was put to him and he made a joke of it. Things like that get to me,” he said.
Summers said he’d also done a bit of research on a Victorian political expenses scandal, which has earned a team from The Age a place in the finalists. “That was one of the drivers for working on the blog,” he said.
Since the blog launched in February, Summers has published stories mostly about politics and public policy, and he said he’s not planning to populate his website just for the sake of it. He hasn’t monetised it yet, and isn’t sure there would be much money in it if he did: “That’s why I still have my day job.” He has previously worked in politics as an adviser, and in media manager roles where he’s done similar research and worked with government officials, politicians and journalists to publish stories.
“I only started in February and basically thought I’d set it up and see how it goes. My aim this year was to get some consistent stories.”
The full list of finalists is here. The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in Brisbane next month.