Digital Live News Reporter of the Year

Scroll down to meet the Regional Press Awards nominees for Digital Live News Reporter of the Year

This award seeks to recognise those journalists who go live either on Facebook or via live blogs or live tweeting that through their skill and understanding of the medium take the reader and viewer with them to the heart of the action. 

The Shortlist

Cathy Owen, Media Wales

In a statement, Cathy says:

As a key breaking news reporter for WalesOnline, I have broken stories that have led the news agenda in Wales over the past year

During the period covered by these awards, my articles have been read more than 20 million times.

One of the biggest stories of the year was when I was the first reporter in the newsroom covering the emerging news of Emiliano Sala’s plane going missing a flight between France and Cardiff. I oversaw the live updates on the search as it developed, and wrote many break out stories as the information developed.

By making contact with people involved from Cardiff to Guernsey to Argentina, we were able to lead the way with information on a sensitive story that was constantly changing and updating.

This was just one of the many stories I covered using real time updates during 2019.

The contacts I have built up over more than 20 years in south Wales also helped with the story of a brutal rape that was finally solved by a cold case team after 28 years. Valuable contacts meant I was able to tee up the detective leading the case, found and interviewed the forensic scientist who made the link in the case and secured the trust of someone who knew the defendant to talk about how she felt that the case had finally been solved. I also covered the court sentencing live and interviewed the detective on camera for his reaction outside the courthouse.

Contacts also helped with the live reporting of the murder of Cardiff 17-year-old Harry Baker. Police initially wouldn’t say that he had been stabbed, but after trying for several days I finally had it confirmed off the record and was able to include this in an investigation as well as the live reporting on the issue of knife crime on the rise in Cardiff.

I am also the lead reporter on WalesOnline’s daily rolling news blog, which covers everything from updates from court to traffic, weather and showbiz. But I do a lot more than just ‘hard news’ and source stories that we believe will be of interest to people in Wales.

I am at home at the scene or on social media, where I am always sourcing from and communicating with our audience. And on a hyper-local level, my personal Facebook page covers the Whitchurch, Rhiwbina, Heath and Llanishen areas of Cardiff. I am also heavily involved in helping to run the WalesOnline traffic and travel Facebook group, and the breaking news group that are proving popular with our readers.

The judges said:

Cathy shows how to combine old and new skills in developing all-round and comprehensive packages. Best leverage of contacts to secure special interviews and angle on specific cases.

Cathy’s portfolio highlights that even in a digital era, contacts and sources still produce some of the best untold stories. Her dogged determination to lead the way in both regional and national storytelling is apparent through this entry.

Emilia Bona, Liverpool Echo

In a statement, Emilia writes:

 I was sent to Barcelona on behalf of the ECHO’s news team to cover the fan build-up and reaction around Liverpool FC’s UEFA Champion’s League semi-final tie. My coverage in the city involved speaking with fans who travelled across the world to watch the Reds, as well as finding local supporters’ clubs and liaising with the Merseyside Police officers dispatched to Spain for the fixture.

While much of my coverage involved stopping people to chat on La Rambla and filming thousands of fans singing Liverpool chants, an unfolding incident in Placa Reial meant my fan coverage quickly adapted to become breaking news. I was interviewing fans at a supporters’ bar when I heard that a square had been cordoned off and supporters were engaged in a stand-off with police, so I ran across the city and rang my newsdesk back in Liverpool to tell them I would be going live.

I arrived to find fans being kettled by armed police and a situation that could easily have escalated into violent clashes. Using Twitter, I provided live updates and pieces to camera to populate a blog which told a developing story as it unfolded in front of me.

On a quiet Sunday shift in the offices, we started receiving reports of a major emergency services response descending on Liverpool’s Pier Head. I ran from our offices to the scene and was met with one of the biggest cordons I’ve ever arrived at in my career of live reporting. Speaking to people leaving the museum and reaching out to others who were there over social media, it quickly became apparent that a man had fallen to his death from the building’s atrium.

I provided hours of live coverage, tweeting from the scene to keep our readers up to speed on every new development, while liaising with Merseyside Police and working to establish a name for the victim. Over the coming days, I continued to report on the story, securing an ECHO exclusive that the victim was discharged by mental health teams just days before taking his own life in a horrific and public way.

Finally, my coverage of the funeral of Liverpool FC legend Tommy Smith involved arriving at the church ahead of time to speak with fans who came to line the route and pay their final respects. I took care to find a balance between providing regular updates but also maintaining a respectful tone that meant Mr Smith’s family thanked me for my careful and considered coverage.

 The judges said:

Excellent use of social media, particularly her Twitter live streaming.

A journalist always prepared to follow the story to ensure the reader/user is at the heart of the action.

Text-book example of how to handle breaking stories in a digital age.

Jilly Beattie, BelfastLive

In a statement, Jilly says:

With detail I was able to reveal some of the horror 39 people suffered on their ‘journey of hope’ in a lorry container that became their mass coffin in October 2019. This was a single and devastating article for Belfast Live after a dedicated investigation. I wanted to make sure our readers understood these men, women and children, did not fall asleep and pass away – I had a duty I felt, to let the world know what they went through as their dreams, the dreams of their families and communities ended in the ultimate nightmare and sorrow for their loved ones and all right-thinking people. We were not able to reveal the full extent of what the first responders faced on October 23 when the container was opened, simply because we had to balance getting the truth out there with ensuring it was not so upsetting that readers turned away. We did not publish images, we did not publish details of the injuries, but we got the message across with stark facts.

It is not possible to say exactly how many people my article reached as it was lifted and shared globally directly from Belfast Live and syndicated on our sister news brands and Daily Mirror NI newspaper – starting in Northern Ireland, into the Republic of Ireland, the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, India, Australia and further. In 2019, this was the ‘most read’ article on Belfast Live, it became a leading article for many media outlets from our own sister products to our major rival and beyond. The world was watching this story unfold and the momentum globally was swift and effective. With good contacts on the ground, the article ensured there was no room for any authority in any country to evade questions about the true horror of the international trade of people smuggling.

My contact was willing to tell me the pattern and design of people smuggling which is carried out by so-called Chinese ‘snakehead’ gangs from countries throughout Asia. Our readers were shocked and perplexed by what appears to be a casual attitude to people-smuggling from Asia by these gangs and our 1,660 readers who initially shared the article from Belfast Live, triggered another globally-impacting story. It was a game changer in that we now had understanding in the general public and media that people-smuggling can involve frightened but willing participants with families and communities making huge sacrifices to try to get one person to the UK – and the duty felt by many to try to make the journey work for everyone back home. 

The judges said:

A tragic story, sensitively handled, despite the dreadful nature of the events.

Jilly rose to the challenge of covering this huge story and managed to use contacts and good journalism to provide context and a broader picture as the story developed. 

Joe Thomas, Liverpool Echo

In a statement, Joe says:

For 17 weeks of 2019 I reported live from the trial, then retrial, of the former police officer charged with the manslaughter of the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.

The proceedings against David Duckenfield were the culmination of one of Britain’s longest justice campaigns following the UK’s worst sports stadium disaster.

The case was the most important trial in the Liverpool ECHO’s history, and arguably the most sensitive trial in modern British history.

For months before, and throughout 2019, barristers argued about every facet of the case.

This included its coverage in the media.

Not only was I the reporter representing our readership in that courtroom, I was the only journalist there for every single day of both trials – and every case management hearing.

As a result, when there was any doubt, challenge or confusion about what could and should enter the public domain, it was often down to myself to address the court on behalf of our profession.

Over the course of two blogs I provided timely, accurate updates, having to regularly make split-second legal calls as proceedings often descended into legal argument.

Those updates were crucial to the families of the 96 men, women and children who died as a result of the tragedy, the thousands of survivors and the many campaigners who could not attend the hearings.

They were also vital to solicitors working on the case from afar, and were followed by many other interested parties.

The updates were scrutinised by those representing Duckenfield and, at the first trial, former Sheffield Wednesday FC secretary Graham Mackrell, who was also prosecuted.

Both blogs were read intensely and extensively, as were the tweets I used to share the coverage.

The first trial, for which I had the newsroom support of Dan Kay, was one of the most read ECHO pieces of 2019, with more than 250,000 page views. Many of those who logged on followed for vast periods of time each day.

The second trial, for which I had no technical support and had to run entirely independently from the courtroom, covered similar evidence but was still extensively followed.

The emotion of covering such harrowing evidence meant I was often live-blogging through tears.

It was heartbreaking when the second trial concluded in a not guilty verdict and I had to break that to our readership before providing reaction and analysis.

Really, I just wanted to cry with, and for, the many family members who had become close friends.

Ultimately, I hope the coverage is evidence of how a reporter can handle what has always been a hugely significant topic for their readers in a modern way, bringing them to the heart of what is going on, yet remaining sensitive and accurate in doing so.

The judges said:

His live blogging of one of the biggest trials of last year was done with competence and flair. Speed, accuracy and emotion are just a few of the words used to describe Joe’s journalistic ability.

The Echo has been rightly lauded for its Hillsborough coverage, but that should not detract from this achievement. Covering a hugely complex and controversial trial in this way takes a lot of skill and focus on handling the facts and emotion of the case. Joe rose to that challenge.

Kristian Johnson, LeedsLive

In his statement, Kristian says:

My role as a live news reporter with LeedsLive means that every story I tell is tailored for our digital audience, with a huge focus on taking our readers into the heart of the action at breaking news incidents and the biggest events across the city.

Following on from my award-winning 2018 documentary on the Leeds sex zone, I filmed, produced and edited my second Untold Stories documentary in 2019. My film on male suicide featured an incredibly emotional interview with the family of a 23-year-old man who took his own life. I also shone a light on what Leeds is doing to help by showcasing the work of Andy’s Man Club – a support group which has grown massively in recent years.

In September, I reported live from the scene of a riot in Halton Moor as a police van was set on fire and officers in riot shields were pelted with bricks. I was the only reporter on the ground and got exclusive video footage of the charred remains of the police van being towed away, which was included in our live blog coverage. I sourced UGC videos of the van on fire after speaking to residents in the area, who told me why the clashes started. I also wrote several articles about the incident throughout the night, which were all linked into the blog coverage. The essence of taking our readers into the heart of the action was highlighted when I described the moment that officers fled the scene in vans as children continued to launch bricks at the vehicles. My exclusive coverage of the incident was the perfect example of what I do at LeedsLive by bringing each and every story to life in imaginative ways. My footage was used by several national news outlets, including Sky News.

I am LeedsLive’s go-to reporter for Facebook Lives, whether it is a breaking news story or a big event. In September, I hosted a 30-minute Facebook Live from the General Strike for Climate, which saw thousands of schoolchildren shut down the busiest roads in Leeds city centre. My coverage made people feel as though they were there – even if they were watching from their desk at work. I relayed essential information about road closures and timings, while explaining exactly what was going on and why it was happening. I also conducted live interviews with the organisers and researchers from the University of Leeds to give people context. I live-tweeted from the event too and included timelapse footage to show the true scale of the protest.

The above examples are just a small snippet of how I truly encompass what it means to be a multimedia digital reporter.

The judges said:

Exclusive coverage of key events and video shooting. Innovative ways to show the action – such as the timelapse – showcase a great use of digital tools.

An exemplary entry showing the high level of skills the modern-day reporter needs.

Neil Docking, Liverpool Echo

In his statement, Neil says:

I have led the Liverpool Echo’s pioneering live reporting from court and in 2019 set out to deliver even more quality content with my daily blogs of major trials. I want readers to feel like they are in the courtroom with me, watching a case unfold, and achieve this by assimilating and interpreting proceedings as they happen to provide timely, accurate, informative and gripping updates. Attention to detail and watertight legal knowledge are essential skills and I must maintain the highest of standards while getting the reader as close to the live action of the courtroom as possible through entertaining copy. I file daily round-ups and weekend reports, then exclusive, enticing and engaging articles and backgrounders. My aim is to set the bar for court reporting nationally and I hope to show how, with tenacity, organisation, passion for storytelling, creativity, great contacts and embracing of modern reporting methods, I deliver on this.

The trial into the murders of John Kinsella and Paul Massey which concluded in January was one of the biggest gangland trials this century. My live blog was among the most well-read on the entire Reach PLC network, recording 432,000 page views and 125,000 unique visits. My colour pieces and backgrounders included how the killers reacted to the verdicts and sentencing (when the Iceman assassin ‘melted’), extraordinary scenes when his co-accused ‘grassed’ on him, the underworld rise of the pair, analysis of key CCTV, and a revealing piece on the bloody gang war behind the killings. We ran an exclusive chat with Massey’s family, whose trust I gained, and video interview with the top detective on the case, which gained nearly 100,000 views.

The fatal stabbing of Bala Lloyd-Evans was another example of Liverpool’s knife crime epidemic. I captured the drama of the trial including the arrest of the killers’ mum on verdict, explored in depth the killers’ unfounded claims and the truth of Bala’s role in a gang feud, and described in detail the significance of CCTV and police bodycam footage. I ran revealing WhatsApp texts and calls shown to the jury and told of the harrowing impact on his family, including his little boy.

The shooting of 17-year-old James Meadows was one of the most challenging trials I have covered due to reporting restrictions, but the blog was read by 183,000 and the backgrounders were the finest I have produced in my career. I wrote about how one fugitive killer was part of a torture gang, the way he taunted the family at James’ graveside and the impact on them, explained the pivotal role of DNA evidence and why they were convicted of manslaughter not murder. I published prison phone calls showing the alleged motive and revealed what happened to two key witnesses absent at the trial. Having scoured our archives, documentary footage and sources, I ran two ‘deep dive’ exclusives into the killers’ lives – including the chilling prediction of one killer’s mum in a BBC documentary 11 years ago.

The judges said:

Covering a murder trial in this way is clearly appreciated by the readership who have followed it in huge numbers but carries huge responsibility for the reporter. Excellent court reporter creating content for a digital age. Each sentence written gave the reader/user a clear visual, almost like they were in the courtroom watching the action scene by scene.

Modern-day court reporting should still be dispassionate, accurate and comprehensive – and Neil does this with the addition of all the extra skills required by contemporary reporters.

Samantha Yarwood, Manchester Evening News

In her statement, Samantha says:

Live blogging is a skill that shows exactly how versatile reporters in this day and age have to be.

Not only do we have to be able to source and write stories, we also have to be able to shoot video, take photographs, speak in front of a camera, capture events in the moment, and at the same time push the content we are producing on social media in order to generate engagement and drive further traffic to the website.

I thrive on live news and I’m often the first to find out if something is going on.

I write fast and accurate copy under pressure and strive to ensure the M.E.N is first on breaking news, providing interesting and factual content for live blogs both from the office and the scene.

For example, in July there was a stabbing near Tameside Hospital – I’d been in the office for 10 minutes when I spotted it on Facebook. I also had contacts sending me photos from the scene.

The blog, which I ran from the office, amassed almost 40,000 page views.

One of my entry links is a fire at a carpet shop.

That morning I took on the role of reporter, photographer and videographer, while still helping to build traffic across social media platforms.

I spoke with witnesses and found an inspiring new take on the story after watching a woman who was standing on the street handing out hot drinks to those who had been evacuated from their homes. I also secured an interview with the owner of the business, as well as a follow up when he reopened elsewhere a few weeks later.

Another example of my live blogging and tweeting skills concerned another fire, at an old mill.

I managed to get close enough to the cordon to secure an interview with the fire commander, as well as climbing through the fields and woods above to source and tweet the best picture and video content for the blog.

As Social Lead Reporter, I also help take care of the day-to-day running of our local Facebook pages and groups – sharing article links, sourcing and posting native video and images, engaging with readers’ comments and building likes/membership.

My Facebook page has 6,300 likes and is currently the third top performing reporter page within Reach PLC. It is the top performing non-sport reporter page, as well as the top performing female journalist – achievements that I am incredibly proud of. I also have more than 5,000 Twitter followers which again I used to engage, source and push stories, as well as provide content for live blogs. Each month, I bring in on average 1.3m page views and during the course of 2019 generated more than 17.3 million clicks to our website.

The judges said:

Impressive figures demonstrate how skilled Samantha is using her live reporting to bring traffic to the website.

Live blogging with multi-skills. Very resourceful to get exclusive interviews on local stories with top Facebook expertise.