Business & Finance Journalist of the Year

Scroll down to meet the nominees for Business & Finance Journalist of the Year

Specification: For reporters and commentators covering all aspects of business and personal finance. Judges will be looking for the ability to break stories and explain issues to a general audience.

The Shortlist

Alistair Houghton, Liverpool Echo and Reach plc

Alistair reported enjoying another great year in the world of business reporting, spending the first half of the year as Executive Business Editor at the Liverpool Echo before moving to lead Reach plc’s pioneering new business news website, BusinessLive.

From stunning investigations to powerful live blogs and fascinating long reads, he enjoyed success in print and online.

Alistair helped lead the Echo’s coverage of Liverpool’s property development crisis over several years – and secured another scoop in April when he revealed that a development would have to be evacuated over fire safety fears. The investigation, including comments from a tenant and from the embattled developer, made a striking splash for the Echo.

Alistair wrote at length on Merseyside’s car industry and the challenges it faces, creating an innovative live blog about cuts at Jaguar Land Rover’s Halewood plant with live broadcasts and analysis of news and reaction to proposed job cuts.

Alistair’s investigation into the rise of robots in the workplace went behind the headlines to ask if machines would really take away jobs. Covering everything from Iron Man-style suits to chicken tray washers his work brought this complex subject to life.

The judges said: 

A forward-thinking portfolio. ‘Rise of the Robots’ was particularly effective.

Powerful portfolio from unearthing dangerous property developments to tackling car giant bosses over job cuts and digging deep into the complex world of automation and robots.

Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post

During the course of 2019, Greg wrote dozens of stories to highlight the suffering of thousands of people affected by the loan charge scandal.

There were seven reported suicides of people facing the loan charge. Many people faced life-changing tax bills, which in some cases dated from 1999. Greg’s campaigning journalism called for a suspension of the loan charge and an independent review into a policy which has been described as “devastating and draconian” by MPs.

Greg tracked down the daughter of a man who had committed suicide while facing the loan charge. His reporting also raised concerns about the activities of a behavioural insights team at HMRC and the use of aggressive imagery in HMRC’s internal communications.

After months of campaigning by MPs, the Loan Charge Action Group and The Yorkshire Post, the Government finally agreed to hold an independent review into the loan charge. When the review was published, the Government acknowledged that the loan charge had caused serious distress and promised to significantly amend it in the New Year. Sir Amyas Morse, who conducted the review, praised Greg’s journalism for keeping the loan charge in the public spotlight.

Greg’s entries included comment pieces on the loan charge which appeared in The Yorkshire Post’s Business supplement on September 26 and October 24 2019 and a feature on the loan charge which appeared in the July 2019 edition of The Yorkshire Post’s Yorkshire Vision magazine.

Judges’ Comments: 

Important, affecting all sorts of businesses and contractors, and deeply emotional. Nationally important story made much stronger by regional angle.

Unrelenting campaigning journalism on the HMRC loan charge scandal led to an independent government review and a promise of amended legislation.

Margaret Canning, Belfast Telegraph

Margaret followed the compelling and hugely significant story of the collapse of Wrightbus, and broke many exclusives about the company.  It was an important story because it employed around 1,600 people in Ballymena, and had been in the business of manufacturing buses – most famously the ‘Boris Bus’ – for around 70 years.  The Wright family who owned the business were themselves a subject of fascination, particularly the elderly patriarch and co-founder William Wright, who is in his 90s, and his son Jeff.  Jeff founded an evangelical church which received financial donations from Wrightbus’ parent company.  At the beginning of 2019, rumours were starting to build about the state of the company’s financial affairs.  Margaret kept monitoring the story – building contacts so that she could be sure of the exact state of affairs.  It required a lot of journalistic skill to separate what was correct and worthy of reporting – from what was rumour and exaggeration. 

Margaret quickly gleaned towards the end of September that the company was going into administration.  Her subsequent report reflects her insider knowledge of the situation and deep awareness of the impact it would have on the area.

Margaret continued to follow the story extremely closely, buoyed up by the great interest in the story from readers.  Insider information revealed how an earlier plan to sell the business to a Chinese company had failed because of demands for £1m in rent. 

Obtaining a print exclusive interview with Mr Bamford in which he revealed his plans for the company and the sense of responsibility he felt for his new ‘family’ of 400. 

Her dedication to following the Wrightbus story from beginning to end reflects tenacity, skill and the ability to build contacts and relationships.  Margaret states it’s the story she is proudest of in her career in business journalism. 

The judges said: 

Dogged reporting that would certainly help the local community understand chaos of what was happening to a key local employer and their livelihoods.

This is a cracking example of a local journalist, steeped in the area, getting her teeth into a huge story and seeing it through from beginning to end. Important, in-depth reporting all nicely told.

Paul Brackley, Cambridge Independent

In covering the exciting and competitive world of Cambridge business, Paul aims to offer fresh insight, uncover exclusive stories of start-ups, go behind the scenes with entrepreneurs and foster relationships that means he is first to major developments.

So it was when arguably the biggest business story of the year for Cambridge was announced: that Marshall Aerospace and Defence was to leave the city it had always called home for pastures new.

Called in for a briefing with the Marshall board on the day we went to press, Paul was able to offer real insight into the reasons behind the decision, its impact on Cambridge and a sense of what a momentous decision this was for the company and the city.

At the other end of the scale, AC Biode is an exciting start-up and Paul revealed, through an interview with the founder in Japan, how it is creating the world’s first alternating current battery, that could be used to improve significantly the batteries used in drones, electric vehicles and more.

Following the fortunes of companies and entrepreneurs, and building relationships with them, means he is often granted great access.

CMR Surgical invited Paul to the opening of its new HQ, where he was able to secure an interview with the NHS chairman, Lord Prior, and revealed how he was confident its surgical robots would be used within the NHS. This exclusive insight proved well-founded, as the company recently announced that the first NHS operations using Versius robot have been performed.

Later in the year, Paul would interview the co-founder and CEO Martin Frost in India on why he was stepping down, having grown the company from start-up to unicorn in six years.

Paul also organises and hosts the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards, which have a fast-growing reputation, and helps to promote and organise our SME Cambridgeshire Business Awards.

The judges said: 

Quality research and reporting in a heady business climate of hit-tech entrepreneurs. Brings excitement to the complex without losing the reader.

Technically competent, well-written and researched. Thoughtful and in-depth coverage of important stories given room to breathe. Very good reads.

Robin Johnson, Derby Telegraph

When three key stories involving the biggest employers on your patch break all in one go, it can be a challenge for any business journalist to handle on their own. However, Robin’s vast experience and expert knowledge of the operations of Derby’s three key manufacturers – Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota – allowed him to cover all the bases single-handedly.

And while each story performed well individually online, in print, Robin did not pass up the opportunity to present them together for a front page and spread that really celebrated the city’s manufacturing prowess at a time when Brexit uncertainty dominated the national headlines.

In an age where the emphasis is on getting breaking news online as soon as possible, Robin’s work also shows the merit of not taking spoon-fed press releases at face-value – taking the time to explore and question them, in order to find an even better story.

A prime example is when the newly-formed train operator East Midlands Railway announced which company would be building its new trains.

While positive news for Derby’s rail users, Robin instinctively knew that the first question on the lips of many readers, particularly in a railway city such as Derby, was why EMR had overlooked local train-maker Bombardier for the work.

As a veteran of the Derby Telegraph’s campaign to save the Bombardier factory in 2013 when the company lost out on the Thameslink contract to Siemens, Robin was able to draw on his experience and bring a new dimension to the EMR story.

As well as reporting on the major developments at Derby’s biggest firms, throughout 2019, Robin also continued to cover the plight of smaller, but well-known local companies that have been part of the city’s fabric for generations.

Overall, with his thorough understanding of his patch, Robin not only breaks business stories, crucially, he is able to analyse and explain them in a way that makes them accessible and engaging to all the readership.

The judges said: 

Demonstrates a tremendous knowledge of business, the local economy and the interests of readers. Well written and authoritative in a really accessible way.

It is wonderful to see business stories that touch the lives of the readers being give Page 1 prominence and written with depth and in an accessible way. 

Tom Houghton, Liverpool Echo

Tom took on the role of Liverpool Echo’s Business Editor in 2019 – taking charge of the Liverpool City  Region Business Post and covering content for the Liverpool Echo and BusinessLive.

His year included a mixture of celebrating the successes of the city’s business community, writing in-depth long-reads into issues dominating the landscape, as well as asking questions of high-profile individuals to break all manner of exclusives.

His first entry was an in-depth study into seaside resort New Brighton, which has effectively come back from the dead. Once a jewel in the crown of the North West and a destination visited by holiday makers from far and wide, it has in recent years become stuck in time – its streets and promenade rarely packed out even on sunny days.

The result is a must-read analysis of seaside resorts’ decades-long struggle to survive – battling both reduced footfall thanks to online shopping and out-of-town retail centres, and holidaymakers turning their backs on UK breaks in favour of cheap European alternatives.

Tom’s second entry sees investors in Liverpool development firm Signature Living share their fears and anguish over life savings they ploughed into the companies’ schemes. The shocking report leads on one man’s revelation that he hadn’t told his wife about a £300,000 investment he now does not expect to get back.

Football in the Liverpool City Region may be dominated by Premier League giants Liverpool and Everton, but Tranmere Rovers also have a success story of their own.

Tom’s final submission is a long-read interview with vice-chairman Nicola Palios, which broke a number of exclusives, including the revelation that Rovers plan for a new stadium – and that there is a football club where women are banned from the boardroom.

This revealing interview coincided with the start of the football season, touching on fascinating insights into the rollercoaster story of her and husband Mark’s journey with Rovers – from the lows of ending the 94-year stay in the Football League to the elation of winning back-to-back promotions at the first time of asking.

The judges said: 

Business stories that get below the surface and into the personalities. Enjoyable longer reads.

Takes the renaissance of a season town and the devastating losses of high-stake investors out of the realms of straight business reporting into the heart of community living.