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Tom Clarke: Why I cannot back Gazette decision

The highly respected TOM CLARKE asked to be disassociated with a sports journalism award – after he found the organisers bending their own rules

According to the Press Gazette, David Walsh, of The Sunday Times, has been named as the Sports Journalist of the Year and Journalist of the Year in the British Journalism Awards.

David Walsh’s entry for the Press Gazette awards was excellent, says Tom Clarke, but it wasn’t within the entry rules

I was one of the judges of the awards – “was” because I was excluded from the list of judges published on the award organisers Press Gazette’s website after I was critical of the judging process.

When I expressed my dissent, Dominic Ponsford, the editor of Press Gazette and the chairman of the judges, emailed me: “If you wish, I can also add a footnote to the awards web page after the winners have been announced setting out your position.”

I submitted this:

“Tom Clarke, one of the judges, disassociates himself from the award to David Walsh.

“Clarke says: ‘This is not because David Walsh is the winner – he is an outstanding sportswriter – but because his entry was, in my view, not eligible. His entry consisted of three pieces, two of which were published (on September 23 and October 14) after the closing date for publication (September 1), and thus it should have been rejected. We journalists are forever urging others – politicians, bankers, footballers, cyclists – to abide by the rules, and we should have done the same ourselves.’”

That has not been published.

I owe it to David Walsh – and the unsuccessful entrants for this award – to explain my position a little more.

First, I have great admiration for David. He – along with Paul Kimmage, Pierre Ballester and others – was brave and relentless over 13 years in well-evidenced claims that Lance Armstrong was a cheat, as finally confirmed in August this year when Armstrong backed off from legally challenging the US Anti-Doping Agency’s findings that he was a serial doper.

Second, I have just as much admiration for Alex Butler and his team at The Sunday Times who stood by David even when his claims were being rubbished not only by Armstrong and his sponsors but also by the Union Cycliste Internationale and the Tour de France.

So why am I making a fuss? Because Press Gazette has not only broken the rules it laid down when it established the awards, but broken them at a most untimely moment.

The criteria for entry include:

“Each entry needs to state the award category in the subject line of the email and contain up to three examples of work plus an optional supporting statement of up to 300 words.”

“Work must have been first published or broadcast between 31 August, 2011, and 1 September 2012.”

David Walsh’s entry consisted of three articles, only one of which was published within the stipulated time-frame.

In my report on the sports journalism entries I was asked to judge, I wrote:

“David Walsh: He has led the field with his persistent and convincing campaign over a dozen years that Lance Armstrong was a cheat. Armstrong’s guilt was established this year and Walsh has every right to be proud of his campaign. The trouble is that two of his three entries were published after September 1. No score.”

Unfortunately, my wife was admitted to hospital on the morning of October 23 and I could not attend the meeting of the judges to further emphasise my view that we should work strictly within the rules. But that’s almost by the way; there should have been no need to emphasise the obvious.

To be fair, Dominic Ponsford wrote to me: “Sorry you can’t make the awards. Hopefully you might consider being a judge again next year. I will certainly invite you as have valued your input and principled stance!”

The other judges’ views prevailed. As one of them wrote: “I made it clear in the judging session that two of his pieces were out of time, but nonetheless he deserved to win the prize.”

I just cannot go along with that.

So let’s give the Premiership title to Manchester United because they’re a great team, even if they didn’t complete their fixtures?

So let’s give a gold medal to Mo Farah because he’s a great runner, even if he did two laps fewer than his rivals?

No!

At a time when journalism is under pressure as never before from Leveson, politicians and the public, we have to keep to the rules and be seen to keep to them, just as we’re asking everybody else to do.

  • Tom Clarke is a senior SJA member who is highly regarded within our business as a former sports editor at the Daily Mail, The Times and editor at the Sporting Life
  • What’s your view? Do you agree with the principled stand of Tom Clarke? Or should journalism awards organisers “bend the rules”? Post your comments below
  • Entry forms for the 2012 SJA British Sports Journalism Awards will be sent to all members in the next 10 days and will be available on this website

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Posted in Journalism news, Magazines, Members' news
By admin on Wednesday 5th December, 2012

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3 Comments »

  1. Tom – your name was taken off the list of judges at your own request, to suggest otherwise is very unfair. The British Press Awards judges did not bend the rules.

    Your minority report has been published on the Press Gazette website as agreed.

    Here is a piece I have written on the Press Gazette website outlining the judging process:

    The British Journalism Awards judging took place over two sessions at the end of October with judges divided up between the two to divide the workload.

    I chaired both judging sessions and all the winners were only agreed after unanimous agreement apart from in one case.

    Former Daily Mail sports editor Tom Clarke felt that the entry submitted by the Sunday Times in support of David Walsh for sports journalist of the year should be disregarded because two of the supporting articles were after the time cut-off.

    The other judges in that session: myself, Lori Miles, Kevin Marsh and Robin Morgan discussed his concerns and felt very strongly that David Walsh should be the winner. The rules state that journalists can submit up to three articles in support of their entry and all the other judges agreed that the one in-time Walsh article was enough to make him a worthy winner because of the extraordinary achievement which it represented – his 13-year-campaign to expose cyclist Lance Armstrong as a drug cheat.

    The judges didn’t just base their decision on that article, but on the supporting statement and their wider knowledge of David’s work.

    It was the unanimous decision of the judges in this session and in the other one that Walsh also deserved the accolade of Journalist of the Year. The other judges were David Banks, Phillip Knightley, Peter Cole, Bob Satchwell and George Brock.

    Tom’s name was taken off the British Journalism Awards web page at his request, and he also asked that this statement be published on his behalf after the winners were announced, which I am now happy to do.

    “Tom Clarke, one of the judges, disassociates himself from the award to David Walsh. Clarke says: ‘This is not because David Walsh is the winner – he is an outstanding sportswriter – but because his entry was, in my view, not eligible. His entry consisted of three pieces, two of which were published (on September 23 and October 14) after the closing date for publication (September 1), and thus it should have been rejected. We journalists are forever urging others – politicians, bankers, footballers, cyclists – to abide by the rules, and we should have done the same ourselves.”

    Comment by Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford — December 5, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

  2. Tom Clarke is absolutely correct, as competition rules should not be ignored or broken for any reason whatsoever.

    Comment by John Fryer — December 6, 2012 @ 11:28 pm

  3. A couple of points on Dominic Ponsford’s post on my piece on the SJA website . . .

    I did not ask to be excluded from the list of judges; I asked to be disassociated from the decision on the Sports Journalism award (Dominic has now acknowledged this was a misunderstanding).

    My statement (minus the last sentence) is now on the Press Gazette website.

    Comment by Tom Clarke — December 7, 2012 @ 10:57 am

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