Thursday, May 18, 2023
Walkley Award Categories updated following a major review of Australian journalism
The Walkley Foundation has today announced significant changes to the existing Walkley Award categories following the largest consultative media review in the Foundation’s history.
The Walkley Awards, the pre-eminent awards for Australian journalists, were first presented in 1956. Entries for the 68th Walkleys, including the category changes, will open on July 1, 2023, with the winners to be announced in Sydney on November 23, 2023.
Walkley Foundation chief executive Shona Martyn says the Foundation reviews award categories every five or so years to ensure the awards capture changes in the ever-evolving media landscape with an eye to achieving its overarching mission of recognising excellence in Australian journalism.
The latest review, led by external consultant Simon Crerar in association with the chair of the Judging Board Michael Brissenden, was an exhaustive process that began in June 2022. Meetings were held with fifteen media organisations, more than 300 journalists responded to an in-depth survey and lively round table discussions were held to focus on topics that had emerged in earlier feedback.
The Walkley Judging Board, which consists of 16 senior journalists from news organisations across Australia, met to make the final decisions on categories. While a previous review of the awards in 2017 reduced the number of awards, in 2023 two awards have been retired, two added and several others tightened and tweaked to better reflect trends such as the rise of innovative reporting mediums such as podcasts.
The total number of self-nominated Walkley Awards remains at 28. The Gold Walkley Award (chosen by the Judging Board from the category winners), the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism Award (chosen by the directors of the Walkley Foundation), the Nikon Photography Prizes and the awards presented in the separate Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism (including the John B. Fairfax Family Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards) did not form part of this review.
“This review was thorough and exhaustive,” Michael Brissenden, chair of the Walkley Judging Board says. “Opinions were taken from diverse newsrooms, journalists and editors across the country. We believe the changes made to the categories as a result of this process will ensure that the Walkley Awards continue to champion the best in our journalism and recognise the changes in our industry.”
Martyn says, “As in any comprehensive review, not every suggestion can be enacted. As journalists are highly opinionated there were hundreds of different suggestions. Having watched over the process on behalf of the Foundation, I can reassure journalists that all views were considered carefully.”
Two New Categories
Two new categories have been introduced to the Walkley Awards – ‘Specialist and Beat Reporting’ and ‘Explanatory Journalism’.
The ‘Specialist and Beat’ reporting category provides journalists covering a specific subject or round – such as science, health, environment, technology, transport, arts, education or crime with a dedicated awards destination for their work. This new category is not open to specialist fields covered by existing Walkley Award categories such as sport and business.
“Many organisations have views about specific subject areas they believe should be recognised,” Brissenden says. “This was discussed and considered at some length but the judging board decided against introducing additional topic categories at this time. However, we did recognise the need to acknowledge the work that specialist reporters do in their field of expertise. They are the mainstay of newsrooms across all media and the judging board felt the previous award structure did not serve them well.”
The ‘Explanatory Journalism’ category has been established to recognise reporting of complex subjects using any available journalistic medium.
Brissenden says, “One of the most consistent areas of focus over the past few years has been in the area of so-called ‘Explainer’ journalism. Almost every organisation we spoke to detailed how important this area had become to them and how much they were investing in it. Whether it’s digital, print, television or audio it seems everyone is laying out explainers.”
Entrants will be subject matter experts of their chosen topic and will provide a detailed explanation of how their content was engaging to audiences and thoroughly explained the topic.
The return of the International category
This year’s Walkley Awards will also see the return of the ‘International’ reporting category which was retired, amid controversy, six years ago. Following strong calls for its return during the review process, the ‘International’ category will be reinstated allowing the recognition of international reporting that is primarily produced overseas for Australian audiences.
“It wasn’t quite unanimous but it nearly was. Almost every editor and every working journalist from big organisations to freelancers wanted to know if we were going to reinstate the international award,” Brissenden says. “When it was removed at the last review there was a huge outcry and the outcry remains. Reporting international news on the ground through Australian eyes is often expensive and dangerous work. The judging board believes that commitment should be championed and celebrated. The Walkley Award for international reporting is back.”
Reflecting changes brought to newsrooms by technology, the current ‘Innovation’ and ‘Production’ categories have been amalgamated into a new category called ‘Innovation Journalism’.
“‘Innovation’ in journalism is a broad term. What we do know is that the industry is changing and new ways to tell stories are constantly evolving,” Brissenden says. “Just a few years ago TikTok was unknown – now it is a powerful information platform. We don’t have a crystal ball but we do know that data journalism, social media, multimedia and other areas of digital storytelling are being enthusiastically embraced by newsrooms. We think this new category is a better reflection of where the industry is now and is flexible enough to embrace where it might go in the near future.”
Due to the rise of podcasting, the Walkley Judging Board has also renamed and refined the audio and radio categories. There will now be two categories: Audio Short (under 20 minutes) and Audio Long (over 20 minutes).
Two categories have been retired as a result of the review process: ‘Headline, Caption and Hook’ which has been receiving low entries in recent years, and ‘Public Service Journalism’. The Judging Board decided the criteria for the ‘Public Service Journalism’ category was too broad and that entrants would be covered by other Walkley Award categories, including the new ‘Specialist and Beat’ category as well as categories in the Walkley Foundation’s separate Mid-Year Awards.
Brissenden says, “Isn’t everything we do public service journalism? This was a frequent refrain from the industry and from members of the judging board. The board concluded that this category had become an ill-defined catch-all for stories that would be better placed in more targeted category areas.”
No changes to most awards
There will be no changes to most of the awards – including photography, cartoon and documentary categories. Journalists and news organisations surveyed judged most categories fit for purpose and reflective of the modern newsroom.
The criteria for the Walkley Book Award have been tightened to focus on books of journalism rather than books by journalists.
Shona Martyn says full details of the new journalism category criteria will be announced on July 1. “I feel confident that the new awards reflect the bulk of what Australian journalists and news organisations asked for. I believe this review, and the Walkley Judging Board’s decisions, have produced categories that will allow even more journalists to enter these highly prestigious annual awards.”
Brissenden says continued reviews of the Walkley Awards categories were integral in ensuring the Walkleys remain the “gold standard” for excellence in journalism.
“Unlike previous reviews, the consultation with stakeholders for this one has been extensive. We met with most of the country’s media organisations and sought input from past Walkley winners, first-round judges, judging board members, MEAA members and the wider journalism community,” Brissenden says.
“One thing this process has shown us – if there was ever any doubt – is that The Walkleys remain the gold standard for excellence in our industry. It is our most recognised and acclaimed national journalism award and the longest-standing national award.
“This review process occurs every 4 or 5 years and is vital for the awards to maintain that integrity. The industry as a whole has some pretty strong opinions about what should be recognised and we believe we have positioned the awards to reflect where we are now but we have no doubt that will continue to evolve in future reviews.”
The 2023 review of the Walkley Awards was the most extensive evaluation of award categories in the Foundation’s history. The vast number of submissions received and the number of media outlets eager to have a voice in the process highlighted and affirmed the value our media sector places on robust, fair and evolving recognition of journalism in Australia.
How the Walkley Awards judging process works
All entries are judged by members of the Australian media industry. The Walkley Foundation does not have any influence or make any decisions during the selection process. In the reporting and photography categories, specialist panels of judges select a shortlist of three entrants that goes to the Walkley Judging Board, consisting of 16 senior journalists from around Australia. The board selects the winner in each category and the Gold Walkley which is chosen from the category winners. The Walkley Book Award and the Walkley Documentary Award are judged by industry experts again in two-step processes. The board of the Walkley Foundation selects the winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism award.
James Gorman, Communication Manager, the Walkley Foundation: email@example.com | +61 414 990 480
2023 Walkley Award Categories
- Gold Walkley – Chosen from all Walkley Award winners
- Outstanding Contribution to Journalism – Decided by the Walkley Board of Directors
- Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year
- Walkley Book Award
- Walkley Documentary Award
- News report
- Feature writing short (under 4,000 words)
- Feature writing long (over 4,000 words)
- News photography
- Sport photography
- Feature/photographic essay
- Audio Short (under 20 minutes) – Renamed
- Audio Long (over 20 minutes) – Renamed
- News reporting
- Current Affairs Short (less than 20 minutes)
- Current Affairs Long (more than 20 minutes)
- Specialists and Beat reporting – New
- Explanatory Journalism – New
- International – New
- Innovation Journalism – New
- Innovation – Retired
- Production – Retired
- Coverage of a Major News Event or Issue
- Scoop of the Year
- Business Journalism
- Coverage of Community & Regional Affairs
- Investigative Journalism
- Coverage of Indigenous Affairs
- Sports Journalism
- Commentary, Analysis, Opinion and Critique