The Walkley Judging Process

Every year, more than 1,400 entries are judged for the Walkley Awards.

It’s an enormous peer-judging process that requires the rigorous efforts of more than 100 media professionals chosen from across all areas of journalism, across Australia. Without this generous contribution by judges, the awards would simply not be possible.

The current two-tier judging process is in line with the Walkleys ethos of encouraging excellence in the media industry.

Three judges are assigned to each Walkley Awards category with the exception of the Book and Documentary categories, which involve up to nine judges each. There are also five photographers chosen as the judging panel for the Nikon-Walkley Awards for Excellence in Photojournalism and the Nikon photo prizes. With the approval of the Walkley Foundation Board, first-tier judges are carefully selected to ensure a balance of:

  • Media organisations
  • Geographic mix/states
  • Gender
  • Expertise in a medium

These expert panels are given at least two weeks to review the entries for their category before meeting in person or via teleconference to select three finalists in no particular order.

Judges are supplied with appraisal forms to help evaluate entries according to different criteria. And they are also given guidelines encouraging them to consider factors such as resources, demands on time and geographic location.

While first-tier panels are not required to nominate a winner, where there is a unanimous opinion this can be suggested to the Walkley Board as a potential winner.

The Nikon photo prizes (Community/Regional Prize, Photo of the Year, Portrait and Contemporary Australian Daily Life), which are not Walkley Awards but prizes administered by the Walkleys, are chosen by the first round photography panel.

After the first round of judging is complete, judges are debriefed and asked for feedback about the process and any issues that arose. Judges’ identities are not revealed until the finalists are announced.

The second tier of judging involves the Walkley Advisory Board, which is a rotating panel of up to twelve senior Australian media professionals.

The Walkley Board reviews all of the finalists’ entry materials – almost 100 entries over up to four weeks. It’s a mighty effort.

Members of the board then meet for an entire day to discuss the merits of each entry and review the comments of the first-tier judges.

It is a lively discussion and not every winner is necessarily chosen unanimously. This is democracy — and when it comes to journalism, as you’d expect, not everyone agrees!

Ultimately, a winner in each category emerges. The winner of the all-important Gold Walkley Award is also chosen.

The Walkley Trustees choose the winner of Outstanding Contribution to Journalism.

The entire judging process is confidential.

Frequently asked questions

Why can’t the first panels can’t just choose the winners?

This style of judging was established in 1997 and is based on the two-tier Pulitzer Prize system, which aims to create transparency and remove the potential for bias and professional conflicts of interest.

Conflict guidelines are also in place to assist judges in determining and declaring potential conflicts – after all, we do work in close proximity to one another in the Australian media and we’re often mates.

While first-tier panel judges are asked not to rank finalists’ work, they are responsible for summarising their conclusions and views on each finalist through expert comments. These comments are a critical guide for the Walkley Board.

Sometimes when panels are adamant about a standout candidate for an award, they will make that clear at the time of judging.

But the bottom line is the two-tier system puts the final decision in the hands of a range of experts who have seen the best work that year. It creates arguably the most transparent process possible.

What do the Walkley Awards recognise?

The Walkley Awards recognise creative and courageous acts of journalism that seek out the truth and give new insight to an issue.

The awards recognise excellence, independence, innovation and originality in storytelling and distinctive reporting. This can be through research and investigations, well-crafted and innovative presentations, news breaking single stories or engaging, entertaining and/or informative reporting.

General criteria for consideration in assessing entries include:

  • How the story was initiated and followed (with particular credit given for instigating or finding a story)
  • Newsworthiness, including exclusivity
  • Consideration of the resources available
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Research and investigation
  • Balance, accuracy and ethics
  • Consideration of production pressures or deadlines and time constraints
  • Demonstration of best use of the format/s in which the work was published or broadcast, including clever choices in storytelling through multimedia
  • Excellence in written or verbal communication and/or technical and production skill
  • Public impact or benefit, including audience engagement and serving specific communities

Category descriptions include specific criteria as well.

The Walkley Awards have a strong tradition of celebrating individual achievement in the craft of journalism.

When comparing the work of an individual with that of a group, investigative team or organisation, judges consider the resources and time available in creating the work. That includes the pressure and demand of reporting deadlines and the location of the journalist, taking into consideration potential isolation or exposure to outside forces, danger or pressure in presenting a story.

What happens when a conflict of interest arises?

The Walkley conflict guidelines are based on the understanding that in all cases an actual conflict of interest in judging is to be avoided and that even a perceived conflict can be damaging to all parties.

A conflict is considered to arise where a judge has a personal or professional relationship with a person, which may throw into question their ability to fairly and independently judge their entry. Being from the same news organisation does not necessarily make it a conflict of interests.

Prior to judging, all panels are sent a list of entrants to the categories they will judge which enables them to identify possible conflicts and alert the Walkley Foundation and other judges. The onus for declaring a conflict falls on individual judges.

If a possible conflict is raised, judges are called together to discuss it and decide whether this will have any influence on the judging process. A judge may abstain or remove themselves from judging all together or another judge may be called in to fill the gaps.

More questions? Please contact Awards Manager Lauren Dixon: lauren.dixon@walkleys.com