2015 Award Winners

Best Regional News Story

Sponsored by Coles

Commended: Sleep Tight,Emma Field, The Weekly Times

Judge’s comments: An expose of a network of 10 alleged illegal rooming houses in East Gippsland that are providing temporary accommodation for overseas horticultural and farm workers. Emma has been doggedly pursuing the issue of overseas workers’ employment conditions for two years.

Highly Commended: $50 milion vanishing act, Louis Nelson, Latrobe Valley Express

Judge’s comments: Louis was the first to disclose how the Latrobe Valley electricity generator HRL was able to receive nearly $50 million from the former Labor Government’s Carbon Tax program as compensation for reducing its carbon admissions. Subsequent investigation disclosed that HRL was entitled to only fraction of this compensation. The inability of the current government to retrieve the over compensation was policy failure of extreme public interest.

Winner: Gun sale test, Chris McLennan, The Weekly Times

Judge’s comments: Chris was first with a story that literally had people up in arms. The story exposing a loophole in the government’s gun laws was well written, succinct, and with plenty of attribution. It had the government scrambling to close the loophole.

Best Rural News Story

Sponsored by the Victoria Farmers Federation

Commended: Dairy Battle, Laura Griffin, Stock and Land

Judges’ comments: This article showcases the clash between ‘industrial’ agricultural development and traditional grass-based production.

Highly commended: Over cooked, Alex Sampson, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: A decision by an inner-urban council to ban caged eggs from all products sold in the South Melbourne market – including cakes and pies – had an immediate impact on the stallholders and their suppliers. Alex canvassed opinions from a wide range of stakeholders.

Winner: Foot on the gas, Jeanette Severs, Stock and Land

Judges’ comments: The winning article captures the Lock the Gate movement’s determination to fight to keep gas miners off agricultural land in East Gippsland. Its energy and information are well supported by a great photograph, organised by the reporter.

Best Feature Series – Broadcast

Sponsored by Telstra

Highly Commended: Food Labels – What’s in a name?, Catherine McAloon, Sarina Locke, Lucy Barbour, Babs McHugh, Edwina Farley, ABC Rural

Judges’ comments: With food labelling such a hot topic, the ABC rural team took a look at what it actually means at the production level. The four-week feature series effectively used natural sound and on-the-ground interviews to take the listener through the farm gate.

Winner: Drought policy apartheid, Danielle Grindlay, The Country Hour

Judges’ comments: This rolling coverage of the drought affecting Victoria and south-east South Australia gave new voice to farmers experiencing hardship in the region. It also shed light on contentious loan assistance policies and forced a government re-think.

Best Feature Series – Non-daily newspapers

Sponsored by Telstra

Highly Commended: Time to take a stand, Lauren Henry, Weekly Advertiser

Judges’ comments: The entry highlighted one of the region’s most important but often ignored social problems; domestic violence. The front cover included an eye-catching graphic and a well-selected quote. The articles covered a variety of events and perspectives while presenting a topic deserving of community recognition. The series would have benefitted from a personal perspective, even if presented anonymously.

Winner: On the land, The Local, Donna Kelly

Judges’ comments: The importance of farmers and people who live off the land or continue long-held rural traditions is well captured in this series of five articles, each showcasing a different occupation in the rural area. The articles nicely capture the colour and character of the subjects and are accompanied by suitable photos. This style of writing – highlighting local characters – will be appreciated by The Local’s audience and is what such publications should be about.

Best Feature Series – Daily/state-based newspapers

Sponsored by Telstra

Commended: Fighting Spirit: Women’s health in focus, Meagan Rooth, Geelong today – Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A maturely written exploration of people in a local community who are confronted suddenly with terminal illness. It’s hard reading because of the inherent emotion, but these stories are written as an engaging and informative celebration of the lives of ordinary people made extra-ordinary when put on the receiving end of life’s roll of the dice.

Highly Commended:  Interfert-Megafert, Peter Hemphill, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: This series begins as a strong news report and through the journalist’s persistence and experience unfolds into an expose of significant relevance to the paper’s rural and agribusiness readership. The series investigating the failure of two related fertiliser companies, allegedly aided and abetted by questionable bank practices, is an exhaustive inquiry into tangled company structures and financial arrangements, subsequent court proceedings and the impacts on the lives and businesses of innocent people affected.

Winner: Breaking Ice,Mandy Squires, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A powerful series of skilfully written and edited features that takes readers into the horror and impacts of ice addiction, from a range of perspectives. Backed up by useable information and fact boxes, this is an excellent piece of high quality community journalism. It doesn’t succumb to sensationalism but relies on the frank honesty of the people who are telling their stories – families, police, healthcare workers, addicts – for its impact and compelling reader engagement, and the newspaper’s push for a properly resourced rehabilitation program for the community.

Best Feature Story – Broadcast

Sponsored by DEDJTR

Highly Commended: Shattering the Bulletproof Myth, Danielle Grandly, The Country Hour

Judges’ comments: This feature provided important, compelling and powerful listening. It explored suicide amongst rural men in a sensitive and responsible manner. The introduction to the interviews highlighted the journalist’s understanding of the issue but the judge was especially impressed that the journalist then made the interviews all about her subjects not herself, she sat back and let her subjects tell their stories and share their experiences, gently guiding the story with questions where appropriate. This was responsible and informed reporting on a topic that has too often been considered a no go area.

Winner: Why won’t Australian consumers buy more Australian grown food?, Nikolai Beilharz, The Country Hour

Judges’ comments: Nikolai Beilharz skilfully used the feature format to explore the impacts of not buying Australian grown food on local growers and rural communities. The program was broadcast nationally from a packing shed in Kialla, near Shepparton, and the judge’s decision took into account the challenges of mounting a complex one-hour program outside of a studio and doing this with seamless coverage. This balanced and informative program introduced a diversity of views from consumers motivated by price to the heartbreak of a farmer bulldozing the fruit trees that he had nurtured over many years.

Best Feature Story – Non daily newspapers

Sponsored by DEDJTR

Highly Commended: Harely turns his life around, Phil Holmes, Hamilton Spectator

Judges’ comments: A harrowing tale of a local man’s 10-year journey as a user and dealer of drugs, including ICE, which has quickly risen to be of major concern in both city and rural communities. The writer clearly gained the trust of the subject who spoke candidly and at length about a life that few could comprehend. This story provides the strongest possible message about the depravity that awaits those who flirt with drugs.

Winner: Rachel – A name to be proud of, Tessa Hayward, Hamilton Spectator

Judges’ comments: A well-constructed story to mark the Anzac centenary, profiling the service record of Sister Rachel Pratt, a nurse from the region who served in both the Gallipoli and European theatres of World War 1. The writer drew on details provided by a local resident, Sr Pratt’s niece, but more importantly included extensive quotes from Sr Pratt’s correspondence to family members, giving readers a rare, first-hand account of life for those in active service at that time.

Best Feature Story – Daily/state-based newspapers

Sponsored by DEDJTR

Commended: He had control all over again, Natalie Kotsios, Border Morning Mail

Judges’ comments: This feature highlights a terrible anomaly with the domestic violence laws. Eleanor’s story paints an insightful and graphic picture of her frustration and desperation. The use of two separate stories, the second giving readers the “background” to these laws, works well with this topic.

Highly Commended: Our giant’s thumping heart is slowly dying, Danny Lannen, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A great example of a “dry” subject brought to life through people and, in particular, words. The writer takes us inside the harsh environment of the Alcoa plant and cleverly brings the human face to the surface. A wonderful example of long-form journalism.

Winner: Finding a way to still waters, Nigel McNay, Border Morning Mail

Judges’ comments: A standout. I was captivated, living Nigel’s journey with him. Mental health is a difficult subject about which the writer has produced a hauntingly beautiful piece, drawing on every emotion. Writer cleverly weaves his own story through various stages of his life with thoughtful story construction, language and style.

Best Campaign (including social media)

Sponsored by TAC

Commended: Foreign worker exploitation, Emma Field, Alex Sampson, Rob Harris, Kath Sullivan, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: Over the year, the Weekly Times team has published an investigative campaign on the hidden issue of exploitation of foreign farm workers. Many are hired through contract labour hire firms, some of which underpay workers and charge for sub-standard housing, transport and training. In some cases, the workers may not hold valid visas. The journalists’ efforts are remarkable in an environment where it is difficult to gain information, given language barriers and a strong fear of reprisals. Their campaign has already led to significant changes including a Senate inquiry, raids, unregistered rooming house closures and changes to working holiday visas. The paper uses its digital platforms well and has vowed to continue the fight to expose unfair treatment of workers.

Highly Commended: Toxic Legacy, Jordan Oliver and David Jeans, Ballarat Courier

Judges’ comments: Well-written exposé about the health fears of former Lands Department (later DEPI) workers who were responsible for using chemicals for pest and weed control over several decades. Some have died, and others have illnesses doctors attribute to exposure to toxic chemicals. The young journalists worked on this project for several months, often after rostered hours, gathering interviews and facts from a pre-digital age. The campaign has resulted in an independent statewide inquiry, the first in Victoria under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which publishes its findings later this year.

Winner: Bully City, Mandy Squires, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: In exposing an alleged bullying workplace culture at Geelong Council, Mandy Squires balanced careful handling of interview subjects, with the pursuit of calling the council to account. This was a sensitive issue, both from a legal and psychological perspective, and was handled in a meticulous and balanced way. Her investigations revealed compelling stories of harassment over a long period. Squires was careful not to stigmatise mental health issues and always promoted helplines. The campaign’s use of digital media extended beyond simply linking to the published series. Geelong Advertiser created an online Bully Wall to engage the community, provide visibility and encourage others to speak out. The outcome was a warning to council from the Local Government Minister, a $200,000 independent investigation into workplace culture, and an inquiry into councillor conduct. Squires and the Advertiser show a well-honed grasp of how to gather and represent the voice of the community, especially those who are at their most vulnerable.

Best Multimedia

Sponsored by Devondale Murray Goulburn

Highly Commended: Dry Argument – Australia’s Drought Policy, Anna Vidot, Lucy Barbour, Edwina Farley, Renee du Preez, ABC Rural

Judges’ comments: A comprehensive history of drought policy in Australia at a time when the issue is again of high importance to primary producers. The online package combined an extensive and thoroughly researched written history, with photos and audio interviews. This was value-added by an excellent interactive timeline that succinctly highlighted the changes of significance to drought policy over the past century. It would have been good to see a link from the interactive timeline back to the main story to assist reader engagement. The strengths of the package were also its weaknesses – reading extensive texts online is often not a comfortable experience and the package required readers to break their entrenched online behaviours – that of digesting short and snappy morsels.

Winner: Peter Bakker: Remembering Forgotten Aboriginal Soldiers, Emily Bissland, ABC Open South West Victoria

Judges’ comments: An excellent combination of text, photos and video to tell a newsworthy story of both historical and cultural significance. The multimedia piece celebrates the years of unpaid research that Peter Bakker has devoted to uncovering the names and service stories of Aboriginal soldiers in the Boer, First and Second World Wars. The well-written text story could stand in its own right as a good read. But when published as part of a broader package it complemented and expanded on the content of Bissland’s video. The video was beautifully shot and skilfully edited. Both elements were just the right length for online consumption.

Best Agriculture Story

Sponsored by Legendairy

Commended: As Australia’s apple orchards drop away, two farms transforms to survive, Danielle Grandly, ABC Country Hour

Judges’ comments: Danielle Grindlay explores the challenges facing the apple industry with rising labour costs an competition from imported products by interviewing two neighbouring producers who have taken different approaches to increase their profitability and stay in the industry.

Highly Commended: The White Way, James Wagstaff, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: James Wagstaff’s article covers the dramatic changes taking place in the Riverinia as cotton production moves into an area more traditionally known for its role in the Australian wool industry. The article clearly sets out the economics and agronomics behind the move to cotton, a crop which has traditionally been grown in the north. The facts are well presented by including interviews with a number of key players who outline why cotton is staking up as a viable alternative enterprise in southern NSW.

Winner: Faulty Meat Probe, Shannon Twomey, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: Shannon Towmey’s article highlighted the vulnerability of meat producers who sell cattle over the hooks and the lack of redress when mistakes in carcass assessment cost farmers significant price penalties. The article highlighted how a faulty meat probe had been incorrectly measuring fat depths for more than a month at a Murray Bridge abattoir that kills 6000 cattle a week. Hundreds of producers had potentially incurred price penalties for having cattle assessed incorrectly as being too fat. The story included interviews from a range of industry sources and demonstrated that farmers who have disputes have nowhere to take their complaints.

Best Business Story

Sponsored by Rural Finance, Rural Bank

Commended: Our Dead Heart, Courtney Crane, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: The basis of Courtney Crane’s story was derived from good old-fashioned leg work – literally. She mapped every vacant store in Geelong’s CBD to show a business district rapidly deteriorating. Having detailed the problem, Courtney then tracked down those involved to find out the cause of the problem. Her coverage saw the local council and the State Government, then in opposition, take action. Good old-fashioned journalism with flair and purpose.

Highly Commended: A high country hiccup, Jenny Kelly, The Weekly times

Judges’ comments: The 2015 High Country calf sales were widely reported as the “best ever”. However, Jenny analysed historical price results and comparisons to financial returns to give producers a better insight into the market. At a time when most media was focused on the hype and headlines of rapid price increases, Jenny’s analysis painted a more complete picture.

Winner: Not so Super, Peter Hemphill, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: Picking up on frustration in the agribusiness sector about Australian superannuation funds’ reluctance to invest in Australian agriculture, Peter Hemphill followed the trail. He found that Australian super funds hold $1.9 trillion in capital and were prepared to invest in overseas agriculture, but not in Australia. The story highlights a trend in how the “farm” is often sold off to foreign investors when big financial institutions could invest but won’t. Peter provides a complete and balanced picture of a scenario detrimental to Australia’s future.

Best Sports Story

Sponsored by Currie Communications

Commended: Gentleman Jim, Brendan Bunworth, Hamilton Spectator

Judges’ comments: Brendan has captured the longevity — and spirit of irreverence — of harness racing identity Jim Barker to a tee. And not just the highs of winning Cup races, but also the lows where Gentleman Jim suffered two broken shoulder bones over his long career.

Highly Commended: From a magpie to a crow, and much in between, Natalie McGregor, Hamilton Spectator

Judges’ comments: Natalie’s story was published in October well before Phil Walsh’s much-publicised death in Adelaide this year. It’s a well-researched backgrounder on Walsh’s local footy career in Hamilton and her story continues with his VFL progress at Collingwood, Richmond and the (then) Brisbane Bears. Natalie’s interview with Phil was not long after his senior appointment by the AFL Crows.

Winner: Kicking on in Memory of Aaron, Alex Oates, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A heart-wrenching story of the days following the death of a much-loved Otway Districts footballer. He’d passed away out on the football oval after the application of what seemed to be an everyday, run-of-the-mill tackle. Reporter Alex Oates has captured the feelings of Aaron Mahoney’s family very sensitively and clearly enjoys the confidence and respect of the entire, grieving family. It’s no easy thing for a reporter to capture a family’s feelings — particularly their grief — at such raw moments in their lives.

Best News Photography

Sponsored by Coretext

Commended: Fire Rages, Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A classic of the Australian bushfire season, this image captures the drama, the intensity and the sheer size of the task ahead for the fire brigade illustrated by the tiny truck dominated by the huge wall of fire as a fireman directs a tiny stream of water onto the flames.

Highly Commended: Fatal Fog Crash, Robert Gunstone, Warrnambool Standard

Judges’ comments:  The peace and tranquil atmosphere of the fog shrouded scene is shattered by the overturned semi-trailer leaving a trail of debris from what was a fatal crash. Rather than a tight shot of an overturned truck this image tells the story well.

Winner: Shooting Tragedy, Michael Dugdale, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A solid news picture clearly showing the distress of the situation and the importance for a newspaper photographer of being prepared. Well caught.

Best General Interest Photography

Sponsored by Dairy News Australia

Commended: Carer’s Love, Brendan McCarthy, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A fleeting, tender moment between Mother and Child beautifully captured.

Highly Commended: Harry Hay Season, Greg Scullin, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: The man on the land with wide-brimmed hat, mud stained jeans, soft focus bales of hay and stormy skies in the background all make for a classic portrait of a farmer.

Winner: Recovery, Brendan McCarthy, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: A simple image that beautifully captures what looks to be a period of reflection on the subject’s good fortune to have overcome the illness of drug addiction.

Best Sports Photography

Commended: Cold Splash, Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: An unexpected reaction to landing in cold water gives a great edge to what would otherwise have been a standard athletics pic.

Highly Commended: Washed Out, Adam Trafford, Ballarat Courier

Judges’ comments: An eye-catching image of a cricketer in front of a what could have been a huge snow bank – but is in reality the covers caught by the wind – turns out to be a cricketer watching hail pound down on the covers protecting the wicket from damage during a storm. Just because there is no play doesn’t mean there are no pictures for the newspaper photographer to find.

Winner: Challenge, Julie Mercer, Shepparton News

Judges’ comments: Newspaper photographers are always on the lookout for an unusual image at a sporting event and this shot of an athlete having an impromptu shower with what appears to be beer certainly fits the bill.

Ray Frawley Young Journalist of the Year

Commended: Richard Koenig, Hamilton Spectator

Judges’ comments: Richard has been at the Spectator for 18 months and has shown exceptional growth in his first role in journalism. His page one stories have created a difference in the community. His story on fuel pricing rallied the community, who took their concerns to Parliament, while his work with police on the Dob in a Dealer campaign saw a large increase in drug crime reported to police. Richard’s stories have also drawn national attention, with one of his first court stories causing outrage for the perceived lenience of the sentence.

Highly commended: Bethany Tyler, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: Bethany has demonstrated impressive versatility in her two years at the Advertiser – breaking big stories, reporting with sensitivity when needed, and generating impressive news content. Her work covering the scourge of the ice epidemic in Geelong was highlighted by the moving stories shared by victims of the drug. She gained their trust and the emotive yet hard-hitting stories showed the community the human side of this epidemic. A bright future ensues.

Winner: Kara Irving, The Ballarat Courier

Judges’ comments: Kara has shown great initative, dedication to the task and fine writing to compile an impressive portfolio of work over the past 12 months. Kara used a Freedom of Information request to force the council’s hand into revealing why they closed the Black Hill Pool, pressure which ultimately led to it reopening. She turned a routine call to a house fire into an impressive multimedia report, using an iPhone, while keeping the community informed through twitter, and filing copy. She displayed great sensitivity with her interview with a mother who had lost her daughter in a car crash, days after her 15th birthday. A very worthy winner.

Photographer of the year

Sponsored by RACV

Commended: Josh Nash, Portland Observer

Judges’ comments: Versatility is the name of the game in newspaper photography and this portfolio shows that versatility by making good images from subjects that lack drama.

Highly Commended: Brendan McCarthy, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: Three interesting images from jobs that had no inherent drama points to the skills necessary to be a good newspaper photographer.

Winner: Glenn Daniels, Bendigo Advertiser

Judges’ comments: Summing up a year’s work in three images is an almost impossible task but Glen Daniels has shown his versatility and skill in his portfolio.

Journalist of the Year

Sponsored by RACV

Commended: Peter Hemphill, The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: As the Weekly Times agribusiness reporter, Peter has broken some of the biggest and more important rural stories of the past 12 months. A hallmark is his forensic investigation of issues and painstaking research that enables him to present watertight reporting of some of the most complex and legally challenging stories imaginable. Peter’s skill is to then make each story completely engaging through simple yet effective writing. Peter’s work has given a voice to hundreds of people that have lost money and suffered through the shoddy business decisions of others. Each of Peter’s stories required a great deal of legal risk in publishing and place him in a hostile environment.

Highly commended: Danny Lannen, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: Danny Lannen has again shown his versatility and professionalism over the past 12 months. Danny’s reporting of the closure of the Alcoa plant not only showed the human impact, but led to several other front page features. His work on the human condition was again exemplary, taking his readers on an emotional journey through sensitive reporting of a local resident who survived a 12,700-volt powerline shock. His stories of Geelong’s involvement in war was a welcome break from the jingo-ism of the national coverage – providing a solemn counterpoint.

Winner: Mandy Squires, Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: Investigative reporter Mandy Squires has delivered compelling content across subjects as diverse as uncovering the ice epidemic in Geelong and exposing bullying within the council. She has also led successful campaigns that have benefited the community. All stories required an unflinching search for the truth, compassion and fearlessness, and an ability to do it all in a regional city. Mandy’s reporting on the impact of ice in Geelong unveiled a lack of treatment and led to a campaign for rehabilitation beds, while her expose on the widespread culture of bullying inside City Hill resulted in a high level inquiry. She has shown how journalism has the power to change the course of a city.

Media Outlet of the Year

Sponsored by the CFA

Commended: The Weekly Times

Judges’ comments: Like any great paper, The Weekly Times continues to invest in journalism, opening a new office in Bendigo, launched a new agribusiness magazine, and held a reader forum. This helped it engage with its readership, which in turn helped it hold print circulation and readership. It maintained its exclusive foreign worker coverage, leading all other media including the ABC’s Four Corners, and its exposes have now changed a raft of federal and state laws. It shows its importance on a national level, with revelations a seven-shot shotgun was on its way to Australia, and at a local level, with stories on closing one-man police shops, home-schooled kids and coal seam gas.

Highly Commended: The Latrobe Valley Express

Judges’ comments: The Latrobe Valley Express had a wealth of issues within its community to cover but it did so with great impact and, when needed, great sensitivity. When the national media moved on from the Hazelwood mine fire, the Express continued to monitor and contribute to the community’s recovery. It provided context to the controversial sacking of a Latrobe City Council whistle-blower and the subsequent implosion of the council’s administration. Barred from fully reporting the departures for legal reasons, it gave personal accounts of harassment to paint a picture for its readers. Its reporting on dumped asbestos saw council overhaul its internal health service procedures – a significant win for community safety. The Express is an integral part of its community.

Winner: Geelong Advertiser

Judges’ comments: In its 175th year, the Geelong Advertiser fought for its readers and its community – and provided compelling reading throughout. It exposed a culture of bullying in the Geelong council, leading to State Government intervention and an ongoing investigation. It led an online petition and successfully fought for more police numbers in Geelong’s CBD. It revealed the depth of Geelong’s ice problem in a ground-breaking Breaking Ice series. It successfully campaigned for State Government backing to keep Jetstar at Avalon Airport. And it said goodbye to Alcoa, a major contributor to jobs and the economy. It was a big year – and the paper never stopped for breath.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Victorian Farmers Federation
Transport Accident Commission
Currie Communications
Devondale (Murray Goulburn)
Rural Finance/Rural Bank
Dairy News Australia