Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy has taken out the Fairfax Woman of Influence Award for 2014 for her work uncovering stories that have been credited with helping to start the current royal commission into institutional child sex abuse.
Ms McCarthy, who spearheaded the paper’s Shine the Light campaign on the topic, also won the category award for Agenda Setting.
The Fairfax Women of Influence awards are now in their second year and have been introduced to recognise female employees who make valuable contributions to Fairfax’s future and the broader community.
“Joanne is a true leader,” Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood said. “She is a strong voice in her community. Her journalism is simply outstanding.”
Ms McCarthy won the Gold Walkley in 2013 and the Graham Perkin Award for Australian Journalist of the Year in 2012. Her reporting has seen her confront the Catholic clergy in the Hunter Valley and campaign for justice for victims of sexual abuse.
The Newcastle Herald won 2014 Newspaper of the Year Daily / Regional in August for its tenacious commitment to its local community, and the Shine the Light campaign was a cornerstone of its success.
“They tell you at editing school that you shouldn’t start a campaign unless you know you can achieve a result,” editor Chad Watson said. “That wasn’t the case with Shine the Light – we decided to do it because it was the right thing to do for our community.
“It wasn’t a campaign designed to sell newspapers – far from it. It was a campaign for justice. A campaign for the truth. A campaign based on trust.
“The victims had to trust Joanne to share their pain and the community had to trust the Herald that the painful truth had to be revealed before the healing began.”
Publishing stories about child sex abuse, especially ones that have been buried for up to half a century in some cases, was never going to be popular, Mr Watson said.
The paper “copped a lot of flak” at first, from priests preaching against the Herald to threats, legal and otherwise, but Joanne’s methods and motivations withstood the harshest scrutiny, Mr Watson said.
“Joanne is an extraordinarily brave journalist. While she has a thick skin, she also has an extremely sensitive nature when it comes to advocating for victims.”
Ms McCarthy received $10,000 for professional development as part of her overall prize.
Other winners included Bunbury Mail editor Shanelle Miller (Emerging Leader), 2UE head of content solutions Dannielle Hennah (Community Leader), group financial controller Carla Webb-Sear (Leadership Champion) and AgTrader general manager Siri Kommedahl and Life Media managing editor Sue Bennet (joint winners, Change and Innovation Champions).
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