The Slugger Awards 2008: Journalism

In our reckoning a functioning democracy, four major elements are required. A committment from politicians themselves to continue to communicate to the electorate throughout the period of their mandate. A conversational public, ie a body voters who are prepared to deliberate on the issues of the day. A bureaucracy that is prepared to respond and change according to new political initiatives. And a press that is prepared to act as a candid friend to the political. By which I mean that it is critical when it has to be critical, but is not afraid to lay plaudits where plaudits are due.That’s not a easy trick to pull off. It requires sceptical inquiry, rather than giving into the temptation to be cynical about politics and the whole political class. Something akin to what John Lloyd of the RReuters Institute has described as civic journalism:

…which defies its own instincts – to make celebrities of itself; which acts as an adjunct to activity and reflection; which presents to its audience first drafts of history which are absorbing and subtle, strong on narrative but attentive to the complexity and context of every story; which is not struggling with political power, but struggling, together with that power’s best instinct to make the contemporary world at once comprehensible and opne to the participation of its citizens.

So which of our journalists are making the switch from troubles to peace? Who is bringing clarity on the challenges facing our unseasoned politicians? Prepared to ask the tough questions, and to make reasoned judgement when a politician comes through?

You decide. But tell us why you think the judges should seriously consider each candidate you put forward. Tell us what you like about their work and why they should win.

The Slugger Awards are about promoting a better quality of politics in Northern Ireland. It’s not a forum to continue long-held grudges or a general cynicism about politics – and journalists have taken more than their fair share of brick bats on that in the past. As we’ve said before Sluggers’ normal light-touch moderation policy will be tightened up on this one, so please continue to keep it positive.

  • Damien Okado-Gough

    David Gordon of the Belfast Telegraph for his investigative work into the finances of NI’s elected representatives. He has shown doggedness, thoroughness and courage in taking people to task over how they have spent allowances given to them as a result of their elected positions.

    A central element of journalism is the scrutiny of those who hold elected office. It is an extremely important aspect of what journalists are supposed to do. David Gordon, in the work I’ve referred to above, has excelled in this role.

  • slug

    John Murray Brown of the Financial Times. His pieces cover the business economic and social rather than the narrowly political and he doesn’t go in for hyperbole.

  • interested

    Odd as it might sound for a unionist certainly one of the few NI political journalists I respect/like to read has to be William Graham at the Irish News.

    The coverage is balanced (given the editorial slant and obvious greater focus on nationalist issues) and actually shows some knowledge and insight into issues.

    He also manages to cover political issues without resorting to either the child-like level of analysis we get from some or the use of needless agression to cover up a complete lack of knowledge.

    He also manages to get his information by actually going out there and asking it would appear, rather than an adept ability to fill in FOI requests which, like it or not, do have all the appearance of lazy journalism, whether some people like them or not.

    Oddly again (for a unionist) – the other political/NI coverage which is usually worth reading is that in the Irish Times.

    On the radio the only people with any level of brains/insight above that of a trained chimp would have to be Seamus McKee and Conor Bradford when doing Good Morning Ulster. Again you have that disturbing (for the politicians) feeling that they probably/actually know more than the person they’re interviewing. They therefore don’t have to resort to the kind of hectoring interview technique where the same question is simply put again and again in increasingly loud tones, but actually solicit more information and put the interviewee under more pressure with seemingly ‘soft’ questioning.

    There does appear to be a generation of reporters/interviewers growing up who all believe that they’re Paxman doing that interview with Michael Howard, when even Paxman is getting a little tiresome with that routine.

    On the TV frankly you were better off watching Eastenders – Well’ard had as good a grasp as most of them.

  • wild turkey

    Second Damiens nomination of David Gordon.

    Rationale? From my limited awareness of the local media he is the exemplary PRINT journalist who appoaches what could be credibly called investigative journalism. And contrary to what others may think/pontificate, Gordon uses FoI requests to good effect.

  • fair_deal

    Frank Millar of the Irish Times for the breadth and depth of the material he produces. He manages to provide an insight to the London, Dublin and local perspectives of the issues that goes beyond the public positions. He is also good at outlining the Unionist position to a southern audience but questions and challenges it too.

  • Peking

    Agree with most of what has already been said here. Though Interested might like to consider the history of the Irish Times and then he would not think it so strange that a unionist would feel comfortable with that paper.

    The Irish Times is generally the best newspaper on the island with, for me, Frank Millar being the best journo they have.
    The only fly in the ointment is the less than critical reporting and analysis from one of its northern staff. I won’t name the individual concerned, but Pollyanna comes across as a complete pessimist in comparison.
    Someone at HQ should remind him that he is there to report the peace process, warts and all. Not act as an uncritical cheerleader for it.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    I was going to go for Suzanne Breen for her fantastic coverage of the dissidents over the last 15 years or the Sunday World Team for keeping us up to speed on Johnny Adair’s bowel movements but after much consideration it has to be the BBC Newsline girl who did a story revealing that she was in Botanic Park but found one of the exit gates closed and had to use a different gate.

    Marie-Louise McCrory at the Irish News is brilliant – she has a degree, you know. Her “ironic” feature on blondes not being dumb will be a minor classic after she spelled Blonde in two different ways 16 times. Ten times it was blonde and 6 times she went for blonde. Did I mention her degree? She often does.

    One of the few reporters who actually seems to have any idea what she’s on about is Maggie Taggart covering education stories with some depth of knowledge and the ability to occasionally set the agenda.

  • It obviously has to be Squinter. His column castigating Gerry Adams, the local MP in West Belfast, was picked up and broadcast all over the island. The apology from the newspaper’s publishers merely reinforced the potency of the column! And what followed – was prompted, perhaps, by – Squinter’s column – the Summer mini crisis. That’s surely good enough to place him in the reckoning for this award.

  • Damien, David Gordon did an excellent job on the Paisley and related stories but has been strangely silent on the potentially more significant Rathlin ferry contract fiasco. Kevin Magee also did a very good BBC Spotlight report on Paisley Junior.

  • matalan

    I think that Susanne Breen has been milking the half a dozen uber republican crackpots she calls contacts for all they are worth for far too long and should be decommissioned along with them.

    William Graham is excellent, understated intelligence without the need to resort to self promotion.
    David Gordan for bringing down the Paisley dynasty will be rightly written into history and its not often that can be said of a journalist.
    Alison Morris at the Irish News seems to have some proper insight into the criminal justice system, I work in law so I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to those issues and always look out for her.
    Apart from that the standard of journalism here is still pretty poor in my humble opinion.

  • DC

    Credit where it is due the BBC team in Mark Devenport and Jim Fitzpatrick do deserve credit with their reporting on Stormont, keeping it in the minds of the everyday public.

    Mark Devenport has asked some difficult questions and has shadowed politicians of all hues and gave some good commentary, despite my own prejudices of the small man theory.

    And, Jim Fitzpatrick has attempted to freshen up local politics on a Sunday appealing to the younger viewer by having, in my opinion, a more approachable style and accessible show on politics here.

    The combination of Mark and Jim on Stormont live, for example, has produced some good results (not to mention on the blogs too). Martina Purdy as well. Together they present a good steer on Stormont and are well ahead of the rest, in my view.

  • bisto

    DC

    Jim Fitzpatrick is dreadful – more wodden than a Burton’s Dummy.

    My nomination goes to Martina – she actually will chase up a story and pursue it, which is more than can be said for most of the cut and paste merchants in operation here. As for David Gordon, if making innuendo and accusation which is then proven to be non-actionable is a good journalistic approach, he should win.

  • Bistio, perhaps you’re confusing the DG reports with the ensuing actions of others …

    On the other hand, here’s one of my reports which has been followed by the ‘non-action’ of most politicians and journalists. The report deals with the official acceptance of a planning application for two replacement dwellings when the records show that there was only one dwelling. BTW, the site is still a hole in the ground nearly ten years on.

  • DC

    “Jim Fitzpatrick is dreadful – more wodden than a Burton’s Dummy”

    Well maybe he is there for a purpose? Perhaps Jim is a true reflection of large parts of the voting NI people, those who know no other than big C conservatism and starched shirts in thy name of God.

    You can tell, like pre-programmed God-a-thons, how they will react next. Walking on the 12 Day – traditional routes a must; internment bonfires – a must too; abortion on the NHS – no!; age of consent at 16 – no; sectarian god-driven schools – a must; sexually conservative – of course. Etc, etc. It’s groundhog day all over again, again, again, again.

    : /

  • bisto

    DC

    I doubt very much if Kirkpatrick is a reflection of religous opinions because he’s a bit wooden in front of a camera.

    Strange post…..

  • DC

    Really, there’s an awful lot of wooden political people with conservatively stiff approaches to very complex issues…

    If wasn’t for Blair and Ahern in particular we would still be walking around in circles together with eyes to the ground.

    Think harder bisto.

  • Rory

    Because I have not sufficient exposure to the Irish press and broadcasting I do not feel qualified to offer an opinion. But I am enjoying the thread through being informed by others and I will make my own private award based on their nominations.

    Thus far I am much impressed by Billie Joe Remarkable’s nomination and if investigative journalism is to win out then it would be difficult to ignore this dauntless scoop on Belfast’s own Botanicgate by the Newsline reporter. Her relentless determination in locating “the other gate” should not be allowed to pass without mention.

  • Matalan:

    “Alison Morris at the Irish News seems to have some proper insight into the criminal justice system, I work in law so I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to those issues and always look out for her.”

    That’s intriguing. I don’t know about Morris as it happens, but I think that the journalist that appeals to people who are specifically interested in a subject makes for a fairly weighty vote.

    Journalists who forgo noticeability to cover a story well must be worth a mench here?

  • It’s a pity more journalists don’t call a spade a spade instead of regugitating press releases from Stormont about how great everything is here.

    Newsflash- we’re not an economic power house, we’re going nowhere quickly, and the sooner those in power wake up and get their act together, the sooner we can move forward.

  • Lamaria

    Stephen Nolan – loathe him or loathe him – but fair play to him for his ‘Irisgate’ coup, he realised the impact of her comments, kept her on air for as long as possible, even got her back on air allowing her to dig herself an even deeper hole. I remember my jaw dropping further and further as the interview continued!

  • ggn

    Ba mhaith liom Eoghain Ó Néill, ‘Anchorman’ Raidió Fáilte a ainmniú.

    Déanann sé dhá uair in aghaidh an lae, 8:00-9:00 agus 12:00 – 13:00.

    Ó thaobh chláir s’aige fhéin de tá sé leis féin go hiomlán, déanann sé é a láithriú is a léiriú agus scríobhann sé an script, chomh maith leis sin déanann sé an nuacht ann! – agus déanann sé chuile rud acu chomh maith sin, dochreidte.

    I would like to nominate Eoghan Ó Néill, Raidió Fáilte’s anchorman who does two hours a day and the news, he writes, produces and presents the programs single handedly and does a great job and produces some great documentary pieces.

    Eoghan Ó Néill, ui. 1.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Nolan definitely deserves nomination. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s no doubting his popular reach, and the Iris interviews stand above any other MLA- Presenter exchange in terms of consequent impact on news agenda.

    I have to say I like the Fitzpatrick/ Devenport duet on Stormont Live. Like the entire Stormont saga, they’re by no means the finished article, but they’re growing into the posts and have a good grasp on developments.

  • o’malley

    While Squinter should definately be in the running for enlivening the pages of the Andytown news and provoking the wrath of SF, I would be interested to hear what people think of UTV’s Ken Reid? a consistently good journalist.

    Dan McGinn was execellent when he was at PA. Noel Thompson, when he gets the opportunity is a fantastic interviewer – a memory of a recent engagement with Martin M comes to mind.

  • When left & right are wrong

    Diane Rusk from the Irish News definitely needs to be on the nomination list for this award. Her writing is informative, her style entertaining and her wit can be wicked. Diane is a talent journalist who provides her readers with a balanced perspective – a feat in itself when writing about the political pantomime that is Northern Ireland. She a real credit to the newspaper industry and I hope that she knows that her craft is highly respected.