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Michael Pascoe: Celebrating Walkleys, The New Daily and all who make news great

It is important to celebrate everyone who makes great journalism possible, writes Michael Pascoe.

It is important to celebrate everyone who makes great journalism possible, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND/Getty

I didn’t win a Walkley Award this week – again. That’s a shame as I had a really good acceptance speech ready.

Mind you, I didn’t make the list of finalists either, which is something of a prerequisite for winning. Mere technicality.

It’s the speech I had in my mind in case I was fortunate enough to receive a Kennedy Award last year, which I did – but to shorten the program and get to the partying quicker, the organisers scrapped nearly all the speeches.

Foiled.

What I would have said and think is still worth saying is that such awards are like the highlights reel from a rugby test match. They are great, sometimes fantastic, but they only tell a fraction of the story.

Because there’s an element of relevance in The New Daily celebrating 10 years of publication this month, indulge me in playing Fantasy Walkleys for a bit.

If I had won (including if I had been a finalist), I would have observed that every other year I had nominated and not won, I naturally assumed the judges always make mistakes.

To be consistent, I would have to assume they may have made a mistake this year as well and the award really should have gone to one of the other finalists – which is an assumption I wouldn’t want to make this time.

So instead of graciously acknowledging the other finalists, I would prefer to totally ignore them – what other finalists? – and dedicate the award to everyone who was not a finalist.

More than that, I would dedicate the award to everyone who did not even nominate, everyone who thought they did nothing prize-deserving in the past year of writing, shooting, recording, editing, producing, drawing and broadcasting good, independent journalism.

Good independent journalism

You see, I think doing that – writing, shooting, recording, editing, producing, drawing and broadcasting good independent journalism – is prize-deserving. It’s also absolutely vital at a time of increasing divisiveness and misinformation, of people “choosing their own facts”.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to salute the examples of outstanding journalism we’ve seen this year and congratulations to all the winners, but prizes are only the highlights of a longer and larger game.

To use the rugby analogy, it’s absolutely brilliant to watch (and re-watch) the brilliant David Campese bamboozle a bunch of All Blacks and then toss an over-the-shoulder pass to where he thinks Tim Horan will be looming and Horan is there for that blind pass and scores because he, too, is brilliant.

But that’s maybe 15 seconds out of 80 minutes – 79 minutes and 45 seconds of which made those 15 magical seconds possible. Every tackle, every draining, straining scrum, every hard-fought line out, every brutal ruck and maul, every test of mettle and skill built the platform for that magic moment that will be played and replayed as long as 30 persons somewhere in the world think of taking to a paddock to commit respectful mayhem.

(I have to use a rugby analogy because, well, have you seen AFL highlights on the news? Almost exclusively just somebody punting a football through the posts – big whoop. And they get a point for missing. Seriously?)

Neil Chenoweth, winner along with Edmond Tadros of this year’s Gold Walkley for their PwC sleuthing and disclosure, Tweeted:

“A very long line of people contributed to this saga. The outstanding AFR newsroom; and also many people in parliament, at the TPB, the ATO and PwC who made it possible for this story to come out. We’re in their debt.”

The labour readers never see

Big stories be like that, a lot of people go into telling them, as the very fine Mr Chenoweth said. I’d go a step further in my speech and, being naturally self-effacing, use another excellent winner as my example.

Rick Morton won a Walkley for his extensive, sensitive, detailed, exhaustive and exhausting coverage of Robodebt for The Saturday Paper. The judges certainly got that right.

Rick’s award was only possible though through the platform provided by The Saturday Paper – the effort each work by everyone putting that paper out, filling its pages with stories and insights and opinions to build an audience who want to read reporting like Rick’s.

Building that platform requires a vast amount of non-prize-winning but nonetheless important journalism and production. It requires building trust and partnership with readers to make Mr Morton’s immersion in the Royal Commission possible.

Building and maintaining that platform thus, in this example, ends up being prize-winning.

Many more do not, especially in under-resourced newsrooms around the country trying to do more with less, which is pretty much all of them.

The small regional and local newspapers and blogs struggling to survive may not pick up a gong, but covering the council meeting, disclosing the rezoning, keeping the bastards honest and reporting on the community maintains the community it serves.

Honest, independent journalism defends our communities and Commonwealth. Led by the frightening example of Donald Trump’s America, we’ve seen faith in independent journalism white anted, a distressingly large percentage of the population seduced by misinformation, disinformation and straight lies.

So all those who keep the faith of trying to get it right, trying to read between the lines and provide perspective, getting up from the bottom of one ruck to run to the next, packing down to push in every scrum, are award winners in my book.

No individual from The New Daily won a Walkley this year, but for a decade now all the individuals who make up the team have been providing this platform for independent journalism, building that vital trust with readers who value honest news and opinions.

Happy 10th birthday, The New Daily. It’s been my pleasure to be part of the team for a bit over half of that time. This undelivered Walkleys speech, if it had been delivered, would have been yours.

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