Revealed: the journalists with the most front-page bylines in 2019

The Walkleys aren’t the only way to celebrate journalists who have had a great year, writes Streem’s Conal Hanna.

On Thursday, the media will gather to celebrate the year’s most outstanding journalism at the annual Walkley Awards.

It is a night that never ceases to inspire. Every time I’ve attended, I have left with a renewed affection and respect for the craft.

But it also represents a mere sliver of the journalism produced this year. We estimate that finalists in the print and online categories make up just 0.0035% of the approximately 1.6 million stories published by mainstream media outlets in Australia in a year. As such, while the Walkleys is a respected and worthwhile way to celebrate the year’s best journalism, it’s not the only way to highlight the industry’s strong performers.

Part of being a professional is being judged not just on your best work but the consistency you bring to the table. That is as true of journalists as it is sportspeople, chefs or musicians.

As a newspaper editor, yes, you want to win Walkley Awards, but you also want to put out an excellent paper 363 days a year (most publishers forego Christmas and Good Friday at least). Online - like broadcast - requires you to go the extra two days as well.

This requires not just a high quality of work but a high quantity.

That’s why we decided to celebrate the journalists who have produced the most page-one stories this year in print, or homepage-leading stories in digital.

We have produced top-10 lists for 10 major newspapers and 17 websites. They include 212 journalists, all of whom have had a good year, even though only a fraction are up for Walkley awards on Thursday. You can scroll through the lists one page at a time, or search for a name or publication.

Top 10s - the journalists with the most page 1s at major Australian publishers in 2019

Highly prevalent at the top of list are members of the federal parliamentary press gallery who have both the blessing and curse of a high-profile round that almost guarantees frequent page-one opportunities but requires boundless energy, single-minded determination and a willingness to put up with Canberra’s brutal winter. In fact, all of the top 10 positions overall in print went to people writing about events out of federal parliament.

Comparing lists between publishers is of limited value, though. For instance, The Australian has twice as much space to fill on its front page as other compact newspapers, giving reporters more opportunities to crack P1 (The Oz’s Simon Benson tops the print tally overall). Meanwhile smaller digital newsrooms like WA Today’s are very different from the national behemoth that is the ABC.

So while we don’t recommend comparing story numbers between publishers, what is fascinating is to examine the different rounds that rise to the top, giving an insight into differing priorities.

You can also compare between print and digital lists at the same masthead, shedding light on the high-priority topics for each platform. These may represent conscious strategic decisions or simply reflect the differing tastes of individual platform editors.

At The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, the health and education editors appear in the top 10 list of page one print bylines, but not online. For transport, the reverse is true.

Meanwhile, across town at The Daily Telegraph, state political editor Anna Caldwell tops the newspaper front pages list, but it’s sports journalist Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield who has the most online no.1s, as the masthead puts rugby league front and centre of its digital subscription strategy.

Looking at the overall trends it is clear that generalists thrive a lot more online, pointing to the breakdown of traditional rounds journalism in digital newsrooms. Courts and crime reporting features much more heavily at the top of websites - at the Herald Sun for example, five of the top six placegetters report on crime. World news is also well represented online, as foreign correspondents previously hamstrung by incompatible print deadlines are given a new lease of life. Columnists too, frequently find themselves atop the website, something very rare on page one in print.

Newspapers, meanwhile, remain heavily focused on politics, particularly federal, although state politics also gets a better run in ink. Investigations, too, are more likely to be on the front page than the very top of the homepage.

Of course while this list provides another snapshot of some of the industry’s best craftswomen and men of the past year, it too is by no means definitive. Not all page-ones are created equal: some come about through months of digging, others are a ‘drop’ handed up on a platter. Meanwhile there are many, many other hardworking souls plugging away in production, visual and editing roles, or writing for many of the other sections beyond general news. Not to mention broadcasters. Maybe next year we’ll figure out a way to celebrate all of you too.

In the meantime, good luck to all of Thursday’s finalists. Whoever takes home the prizes, know that by the time your hangover subsides - possibly even before - your editor will be asking ‘What’s next?’.

* About the data

  • Data is from Jan 1 - Nov 17, 2019.
  • Print tallies include all page-one stories with a byline.
  • Online counts all stories that were positioned in the top slot on the homepage, as seen on mobile.
  • Joint bylines are included in the count.
  • ABC counts are for abc.net.au, not for ABC News online.
  • Online counts for the Canberra Times and 9News were incomplete for April and May.
  • Unfortunately, technical issues prevented us from including The West Australian online.
  • Rounds were gleaned from publicly available information. If none was easily found, reporters were attributed to ‘General’.

About Streem

Streem delivers comprehensive and realtime Print, Online, TV, Radio and Social media monitoring and insights to Australia’s leading corporate and government media teams. Every day we help organisations to monitor, analyse and respond to media as-it-happens. Find out more.

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