Monday musings on Australian literature: The Walkley Awards

The Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism are Australia’s premier awards for journalists. Last week the winners of the 58th awards were announced.

According to the Walkley Foundation website, the awards were established in 1956 by Ampol Petroleum founder Sir William Gaston Walkley. Apparently, according to the website, William Walkley appreciated the media’s support for his oil exploration efforts. That’s rather telling of a different time isn’t it? Anyhow, as a result, he wanted to recognise and encourage emerging talent in the Australian media.

Back then the award categories – of which there were five – were all for print, even though radio had been around for a few decades. Television, on the other hand, had only just started – that year in fact – in Australia. Over the years the awards have changed, particularly with new categories added. In 2013, however, more changes were added, in categories and criteria, after a review was conducted of the awards, led by Walkley Advisory Board Chair and well-known Australian journalist, Laurie Oakes. The review recognised that modern journalism “draws on a broad range of interactive tools and multi-media platforms”.  It’s interesting that they needed a review to recognise this, that they hadn’t learnt the lessons from the past when new technologies like radio and television appeared. Anyhow, the aim of the awards is still to maintain and strengthen “commitment to the fundamentals of ‘quality, independent journalism'” but appreciates that quality journalism can appear in many different places.

Here’s what the website says:

For the first time, entry was open to Australian journalists who have self-published, including bloggers and independent operators of online news sites. So too, journalism was invited under the sections of text/print; audio/radio and audio-visual/television to better reflect journalism’s digital evolution as well as specialist All Media categories.

In other words, as Oakes said, “if it looks like journalism and feels like journalism it will be treated as journalism.” According to Oakes, the Walkleys are unique in the world for recognising “excellence across all areas of journalism”.

There are now over 30 categories in which awards are made – and as far as I can see there are no specific categories for blogging journalists. I guess it’s more that blog articles will now be considered in the relevant categories. Anyhow, I’m not going to list all the categories and this year’s winners here. There are some, though that particularly interest me.

  • All Media Coverage of Indigenous Affairs was won by Kathy Marks, Griffith Review, “Channelling Mannalargenna”. I don’t recollect having read Kathy Marks before, but apparently she won a Ned Kelly Award for her book Pitcairn: Paradise Lost and has written a few pieces for Griffith Review. This winning piece is about Aboriginal Tasmania, about “a people who were pronounced extinct in 1896, but a century later re-emerged to proclaim their Tasmanian Aboriginal identity, demand land rights and revive traditional cultural practices”.
  • Print/Text Feature Writing Long (Over 4000 words) was won by Melissa Lucashenko, Griffith Review, “Sinking below sight: Down and out in Brisbane and Logan”. Lucashenko has been a regular contributor to the Griffith Review pretty much since it was established. I have reviewed stories and articles by Lucashenko, and have now read this winning essay about poverty in Australia and some of its identifying features. The research is local and, as she says, not statistical but it is powerful nonetheless. I shall write it up separately.
  • Walkley Book Award was won by Pamela Williams for her book Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the ultimate revenge, which is, rather ironically I suppose,  about the decline of one of Australia’s oldest and most respected media organisations. It’s a book I’d like to read. Anna Krein’s Night games: Sex, power and sport (which I reviewed here a few months ago) was one of the three books shortlisted for this award from a long list of nine.

As a fan of the Griffith Review, I’m thrilled to see that it picked up two awards. It has won Walkleys before. It’s good to see that this Griffith University initiative which, in each issue, tackles in some depth and from multiple angles a contemporary issue or concern, is being recognised for the quality of its writers and output.

I was rather hoping that one of the new quality on-line sites would win an award but, as far as I can tell from the list of winners I’ve seen, that doesn’t seem to have happened. However, there is an interesting article at The Conversation on the changes to the Walkleys and in regards to changes in journalism. It looks at the old digital versus analogue debate, the role of user-generated content, and our ongoing need for professional journalists to sift through the available information and present it to us in an intelligent way – because, in the end, it’s not the platform that matters, is it, but the content.

At a time when investigative and long-form journalism is being threatened and when the reputation of journalists for ethical reporting seems pretty low, it’s good to see the Walkley Foundation doing its best to support and encourage the best. I think that’s worth celebrating.

8 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: The Walkley Awards

  1. I watched the ABC TV replay of the Walkleys on Sunday evening – thanks for the history – I’d been wondering – and immediately searched for and read Kathy MARKS: “Channelling Mannalargenna”! A brilliant piece presenting complexities within complexities. A great x 3 grand-father had sealing interests with teams of men placed on Bass Strait islands in the early 1800s. The topic has some poignancy for me – though not only for that reason. And the Gold Walkley award winner was Joanne McCARTHY (the Newcastle Herald) for her work honouring the souls who entrusted her with their tales of horrific abuse. Whatever she writes – whether with light-hearted humour or out of deep seriousness – her ability to connect with the reader is peerless.

  2. Interesting and encouraging to read that blogging is receiving wider recognition. You’ve chosen some winners that sound interesting to me too. I haven’t read the Griffith Review but should catch up. One of my favourite reviews is the London Book Review which has long meaty articles I never seem to finish, but brilliant.

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