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Camden New Journal named the nation’s best at Regional Press Awards

Poignant victory after death of founding editor

23 September, 2021

THE Camden New Journal has been officially named as one of the best local newspapers in the entire UK at the industry’s annual “Oscars”.

While there was no glittering ceremony this year due to Covid restrictions, the Regional Press Awards judges revealed on Thursday that the New Journal was a winner in the “Free Newspaper of The Year” category.

As more and more titles realise the sense in opening up news to everyone with free editions, this has become a hotly-contested prize but the gong has stayed “in-house” for three years.

The New Journal won two years ago but was pipped to the post by our sister title – the Islington Tribune last year.

The crown switched across the office this year again, although the judges also made a special “highly commended” reference to both our paper in Islington and our reporter Bronwen Weatherby.

She was credited for covering the exclusive story of a 12-year-old boy arrested by armed police – only to be found at his Somers Town home with just a toy gun.

The story was dismissed as sensationalist by some elements of the police force at the time, but how the case was handled is still being reviewed. Following a long tradition of journalists going on to bright careers, Bronwen now works for the Press Association.

The New Journal made a distinct pledge at the start of the Covid pandemic that it would be out on the ground during the crisis – where it was possible and where it was safe to do so. It was not enough to simply to sit at home behind laptops and watch the unprecedented events unfold as detached observers.

Instead, we set up our New Journal food aid van project in which we played an active role in getting food to those at risk of going hungry.

We used contacts built up over 40 years to collect donations from those who had provisions to spare and take them to those who needed them most. It was heartbreaking at times, sometimes frightening, but it was part of a wider story of how Camden as a community came together to look after our most vulnerable.

We exposed some of the failings in the response to the pandemic, always ready with one more question.

But the newspaper also celebrated the extraordinary ways people went to help others in the borough – those magic moments of spontaneous generosity.

The staff worked long hours, we gave everything we had to keep the paper out on the streets, and our readers informed. And the judges at the awards, organised by the Society of Editors and backed by a series of sponsors including the Hold The Front Page website, recognised this.

“Passion for the patch shines through,” they said in a statement explaining why they had named us a joint winners with the Jewish News. “This is a confident local paper with a powerful sense of its position at the heart of its community. It clearly knows its readers.”

The judges added: “The CNJ Food Aid Van is a remarkable achievement and a shining example of bringing a community together.”

Dawn Alford, the Society of Editors executive director, said: “The work done by the journalists, photog­raphers, designers and editors showcased in these awards is inspiring. In such a difficult period of time, their work has been essential in keeping the public informed, campaigning on issues, making us laugh and making us cry.”

The awards relate to work published in 2020, the final full year that Eric Gordon was editor of the newspaper (see below). He died in April this year aged 89.

Since the winners were announced, messages of congratulations have poured in from readers, community organisations and even some figures at the Town Hall who sometimes may feel they are on the wrong end of our commitment to scrutiny.

Editor Richard Osley said: “This is recognition for a team who met the challenge of reporting the Covid pandemic head on. I’m proud of all who work here – and all who support it.

“We have shown we can still pack a powerful punch as a newspaper – and that local journalism doesn’t have to be about dreaming up odd ways to make people click on a website. Good solid news output must always be the foundation.”

Editor Eric was a winner again

THE victory for the Camden New Journal announced at last week’s Regional Press Awards was for work published in 2020.

This was the year that Covid changed the world, but also the last full one in which Eric Gordon served as the editor of this newspaper. He died in April after 39 years in the hotseat – having been one of the original co-founders of a paper born out of strike action and an unending desire to give the community in Camden a campaigning voice.

The 89-year-old had worked until his death, always questioning, always resolutely committed to the standards he expected of the journalists who work here and what he felt the people of this borough deserved in their local newspaper.

“The readers are the real editors”, was a favourite catchphrase – guided as he was by the principle that newspapers should not be produced simply to make money for some faraway shareholder or a rich chief executive.

Eric Gordon, the founding editor, died in April

No, his idea was simply that the paper should cover the costs of publishing a publication which could inform, campaign and sometimes entertain.

He wanted to start debates. He wanted to be open to those struggling to be heard in a world of loud voices and sharp elbows.

Eric had seen the paper win a newspaper of the year prize at the national awards five times before. While he would never take the credit for himself, as the paper relies on a dedicated and long-serving staff, its readers and its loyal advertisers, this sixth major success at the industry Oscars is particularly poignant to come after his passing.

It is his recipe for a local newspaper that we continue to follow – that could not change with his death.

Richard Osley, who was appointed editor earlier this year, said: “If he was still with us, Eric would be tempering our celebrations by telling us awards are superficial and window dressing, but deep down he’d be proud of the recognition for what has been built here from small but determined beginnings all those years ago.”


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