Brisbane Times takes out journalism award

Fairfax Media’s Brisbane Times has won a Clarion Award for Best Online Journalism 2014 for a portfolio of engaging live coverage ranging from politics to sport and crime.

The Clarion Awards are Queensland’s major awards for journalism excellence, run by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

Brisbane Times topped a solid field of finalists that included The Australian (for long-form piece “Cinderella Man”), the ABC (for “The Crocodile Removalists”) and The Courier-Mail (for “Catching the Devil”).

One pillar of the winning entry, the “House of Power” event at the Brisbane Powerhouse, saw politicians debate in front of more than 1000 readers in the lead-up to the 2013 federal election.

Brisbane Times journalists, in partnership with presenters from Channel Nine and 4BC radio, moderated and live blogged the debates, held across three theatres simultaneously in order to cover seven of the state’s most interesting electorates. Questions were asked by members of the public in a large-scale, 21st-century version of a community hall debate.

One politician, believed to be Labor MP Greg Perrett, attributed his win in his electorate to the debate.

“Get[ting] people in one place with common points of interest is a really good way to engage our community,” Brisbane Times editor Simon Holt said. “It’s the sort of thing we’re trying to do with our product so why not take it live?”

Live coverage was more vital than ever as a tool for engaging audiences, according to Mr Holt.

“What we’re finding is that people are not only demanding immediate news, they’re demanding immediate analysis off the back of that,” he said.

“So they want to know how it affects them and what it all means, and they want that within five minutes of the event happening.

“For young journalists, that’s a totally new skill that we didn’t need five years ago…Once upon a time, analysis was left up to the senior crew.”

He cited Brisbane Live, a daily blog of everything happening in the city – from sports matches to traffic accidents – and Marissa Calligeros’ coverage of the Gerard Baden-Clay murder case, which along with the Brett Cowan trial was covered live. All were part of BT’s winning entry.

“You can do a live blog where you transcribe the whole thing, or you can do what Marissa did and…she actually explored her journalistic talents and told people what was going on, described the courtroom and what was being said, in a way that was easy to understand over 21 days,” Mr Holt said.

The coverage was turned into the Brisbane Times’ first eBook, so readers “could sit down and read through the entire court case,” he said, with several thousand free downloads.

He said his team had adapted instinctively to digital coverage.

“Our team knows instinctively what to do with a story. They know whether to throw breaking news into a live blog atmosphere or whether it needs a traditional treatment.

“There’s a whole gamut of opportunities to tell stories in different ways.”

He also stressed the hard work involved in all of the projects – but said he would do them again, and more experimental online projects were in the works.

“In those court cases, there would have been three people doing 12 hour shifts,” Mr Holt said.

“It was real teamwork, and they have to be cohesive in what they do because if they’re not – if the left hand isn’t talking to the right hand – it just doesn’t work.

“The producer is pulling the bits that make it pretty, the reporter is putting the words through, so if the two don’t meet up the reader isn’t getting the experience.

“The reader is everything. That’s why we do what we do. We don’t just want to create an audience but engage an audience. We pride ourselves on engaging a loyal and, in our case, a local audience. The more we do that, the more successful we’ll be.”

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