Michael Clifford of the Irish Examiner was today named 2016 NewsBrands Ireland Journalist of the Year at a special event in the Mansion House, Dublin.
In addition to the overall 2016 Journalist of the Year award – the first time the Irish Examiner has won the accolade – a total of 24 category awards were presented in this year’s NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards, held in association with the National Lottery.
Columnist Michael Clifford, who had earlier won the 2016 category award for Broadsheet Columnist of the Year, was singled out by the judging panel for a body of work that consistently demonstrated the “basic characteristics of good journalism”.
He was presented with his award by Vincent Crowley, Chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, guest of honour Frances Fitzgerald TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Dermot Griffin, CEO Premier Lotteries Ireland and Professor John Horgan, Chairman of the judging panel.
1200 individual entries
Having presided over the judging of some 1200 individual entries, Professor Horgan spoke of the decision-making process that saw Michael Clifford crowned Journalist of the Year.
“You are not just comparing apples and oranges: you’re comparing them with all sorts of other exotic fruit,” he said. “Features and news, broadsheets and popular papers, scoops and series, sports and crime, columnists and reporters – they are all in the mix, and properly so.
“That said, the person who emerged as the overall winner is a journalist who has demonstrated that, although he is a winner in one category, he would be equally at home in several others,” Professor Horgan said. “In everything Michael Clifford does – commentary, analysis, exposés – he is driven by the three basic characteristics of good journalism in any paper, on any topic, and in any age: evidence, accuracy, and fair-mindedness. And good writing, of course – that goes without saying.”’
“Thoughtful, researched journalism”
Mr Clifford’s citation for Columnist of the Year praised “a writer whose commentaries and analysis are invariably grounded in careful research and inquiry. They are distinguished by their sharp insight and their balanced judgment. They are presented in a writing style that is strong, courageous, lucid and accessible. They are always constructed on a solid factual framework and the distinction between fact and opinion is always made clear.
“[He] uses sources skilfully and is meticulous in protecting them even when his work is challenged. The range and variety of his work is extensive, encompassing many issues from sexual equality to rural decline, to politics, to crime, policing and criminal justice. He is an exemplar of considered, thoughtful, researched journalism in an era when these qualities are increasingly rare and often under threat.”
The full list of winners at the 2016 Journalism Awards is as follows (judges’ citations attached separately):
Journalist of the Year: Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner
Business Journalist of the Year: Tom Lyons, The Sunday Business Post
Business Story of the Year: Fearghal O’Connor, The Sunday Business Post
Columnist of the Year – Broadsheet: Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner
Columnist of the Year – Popular: Paddy Murray, Sunday World
Crime Journalist of the Year: Nicola Tallant, Sunday World
Crime Story of the Year: Alan Sherry, Sunday World
Critic of the Year: Patrick Freyne, The Irish Times
Digital Innovation Award: The Irish Times, Remembering the 1916 Rising
Feature Writer of the Year (Popular): Catherine Fegan, Irish Daily Mail / The Irish Mail on Sunday
Feature Writer of the Year (Broadsheet): Susan Mitchell, The Sunday Business Post
Foreign Coverage of the Year: Jason O’Brien, Irish Independent
Front Page of the Year: The Herald, ‘Hotel Killers’
Headline of the Year: The Irish Sun, ‘Charlie Chaplain’
Investigative Journalism of the Year: Peter Murtagh, The Irish Times
News Analysis of the Year: Rosita Boland, The Irish Times
News Reporter of the Year: Patrick O’Connell, Irish Daily Star / Sunday World
Political Journalist of the Year: Jody Corcoran, Sunday Independent
Political Story of the Year: Niamh Horan, Sunday Independent
Showbiz Journalist of the Year: Ken Sweeney, The Irish Sun
Showbiz Story of the Year: Maeve Quigley, Irish Daily Mirror
Sports Story of the Year: Vincent Hogan, Irish Independent
Sports Writer of the Year: Neil Francis, Sunday Independent
Scoop of the Year: Sunday World Crime Team, Sunday World
Young Journalist of the Year: Sean Dunne, Irish Daily Mail
“Valuable contribution to Irish society”
Commenting on the awards, Frances Fitzgerald TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, said “today’s awards are a fitting tribute to the many talented journalists who make such a valuable contribution to Irish society. Their diligent work sheds light on what is happening on our streets, in our hospital wards, in our courtrooms and our boardrooms, enlightening and entertaining hundreds of thousands of people every day. It is vital work and I commend all today’s winners
“Relentless demand” for news and information
Speaking at this afternoon’s ceremony, Vincent Crowley, Chairman of NewsBrands Ireland, paid tribute to the journalists who analyse, interpret and report the news.
“There is a relentless demand for information today, with more people than ever accessing our newspapers and news media sites to find out what is happening in the world,” he said. “Quality journalism is a cornerstone of democracy, and a legacy that will help future generations to understand why the world is the way it is.
Review of Defamation Act
“Original journalism needs to be protected,” Mr Crowley went on, addressing the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald TD. “We need a legislative framework that protects the ability of publishers to create and invest in original news content.
“The current libel laws are a sword hanging over the head of every national newspaper in this country,” Mr Crowley said. “The costs involved, and the level of awards made, place an enormous burden on publishers, and the need for change has never been more pressing.
“In that context, we welcome the Tánaiste’s forthcoming review of the Defamation Act.”
Mr Crowley went on to reference the current EU copyright directive which, if passed, would significantly strengthen the rights of all those who invest in original content, including publishers.
He also repeated the view of NewsBrands Ireland that Irish newspapers should be subject to a VAT rate of zero – as they are in the UK and several other European countries – and that VAT on print and digital news should be aligned.
Also commenting was Dermot Griffin, Chief Executive of awards sponsor, Premier Lotteries Ireland, who said: “We are delighted to support the 2016 Journalism Awards and congratulate all of today’s winners, including our overall Journalist of the Year, Mick Clifford – a worthy winner.”
Tribute to Veronica Guerin and Martin O’Hagan
Earlier, journalist and broadcaster Matt Cooper paid an emotional tribute to Veronica Guerin, marking 20 years since the Sunday Independent reporter was murdered, as well as Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan, who was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in 2001.
“Veronica was one of the finest investigative journalists that Ireland has ever seen,” he said. “She did her job with passion, persistence, courage, integrity and above all an unwavering conviction that the public had a right to know the truth.
“That was a characteristic she shared with fellow journalist, Martin O’Hagan, who had been repeatedly threatened but continued to expose criminal activity in his work.
“Their deaths were an attack, not only on journalism but on democracy itself,” Mr Cooper said. “We must acknowledge that journalists today are still being threatened and intimidated in their quest to expose wrongdoing.
“Indeed, some of the work nominated in this year’s awards was produced by journalists who have received death threats; who have had to leave their homes; who are living and working in fear for their lives.”