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Journalism award revamped

Journalism award revamped

New Zealand's only award for critical journalism is being revamped to link in with a growing movement for more democratic local media.

The Bruce Jesson Foundation, set up after the death of journalist-politician Bruce Jesson in 1999, has provided up to $3000 a year since 2004 for "critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism or writing which will contribute to public debate in New Zealand on an important issue or issues".

A review after its first four years has concluded that the award should continue, with a slight change in the criteria to cover publishing, as well as producing, critical journalism.

Foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey says experience to date shows that the barrier to good journalism is not always in the actual production of the work, but in finding an outlet in our commercialised market that is willing to publish it.

"For example, freelance journalist Jon Stephenson, who won our award in 2005 for a two-part report from Iraq for Metro magazine, is so dedicated that he would have found a way to get to Iraq somehow," she says.

"You might argue that Metro, as the publisher, should have paid his full costs for his trip there. But the reality of our commercial marketplace is that neither Metro nor any other New Zealand news outlet was willing to pay Stephenson's full costs for stories of marginal commercial value, so by part-funding his trip we effectively subsidised his publisher because we believed in the social value of the stories he planned to write."

Kelsey says the award is now part of a growing recognition that the commercial imperatives of our largely foreign-owned media, increasingly focused on celebrities and consumerism, need to be balanced by a deliberate community-based effort to provide journalism on public issues - issues that affect us as citizens and workers as well as consumers.

The union representing most journalists, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), is organising a public review of NZ journalism this year, seeking submissions on issues such as media ownership and commercial pressures.

A Movement for Democratic Media is also being formed to bring together journalists and other citizens who want to produce and promote public issue journalism.

"Our award is more important than ever now," Kelsey says. "We hope we can support some of the other initiatives to produce more public issue journalism, and we hope that the growing recognition of this gap in our society will spur more journalists and citizens to apply for our award."

The award covers living costs and direct costs such as phone calls and travel to enable New Zealanders to investigate and report on issues in depth. Applications for the 2008 award close on 30 June.

  • http://www.brucejesson.com/
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