Guardian photographer stripped of award after organisers sent wrong name to engravers

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.44.03 amThe charity behind NSW journalism’s biggest awards will launch a major review of its processes after telling The Guardian to return an award it was incorrectly given because the wrong name was sent to the engravers.

Last Friday night’s Kennedy Awards show was plagued with a series of technical glitches including the wrong winner videos being played in both the turf and racing writer category and incorrect winners being tweeted from the official account.

This week the Kennedy Foundation, named in honour of legendary crime reporter Les Kennedy, was forced to ask Guardian photographer Mike Bowers to return his award for outstanding photographic essay, which should have been given to Fairfax’s Nic Walker.

However it appears the wrong name was sent to the engravers and then the wrong name announced on the night.

While Bowers’ name was called out from the stage the winner’s video to accompany it was about Walker’s work.

Bowers was only told five days later he should not have won it, while Fairfax’s Walker is understood to have been told he should have won on the night.

Foundation chairman Peter Ryan told Mumbrella: “We have asked for a review to be undertaken of the process and exactly what went wrong and why this went wrong. There will be a review of the procedures and processes that go into the presentation to ensure the same mistakes are not made at future awards nights.”

As well as that award being handed to the wrong winner there was confusion over the winner in the turf and racing categories after the wrong video was played, and the Foundation announcing on Twitter the Daily Telegraph’s Janet Fife-Yeomans had won court reporting despite the award going to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Louise Hall.

Kennedy Awards

A tweet from Friday incorrectly naming a Telegraph reporter as the winner of the court reporting category

Ryan conceded: “Things could have been done differently and should have been done better. We will learn from these mistakes and ensure that it is an event without any hitch.

“This is an unfortunate error which has caused Mike a lot of distress and hurt and we are looking to mitigate that as much as possible.

Ryan has also written to the Guardian apologising for the error and for their subsequent handling of the situation.

Mumbrella understands staff at the Guardian are furious about the handling of the situation, having published a story heralding the win last weekend.

The Guardian published a news story about the blunder today noting that Bowers will no longer be entering the awards.

Asked if the online publication will continue to enter the awards Guardian editor Emily Wilson said: “I need to think that over but at least two senior colleagues, other than Mike, have already said they will not enter next year.

“I’d like to repeat my congratulations to Nic Walker for his win,” she added.



Bowers told Mumbrella, this morning, that he too was pleased for Nic Walker and felt he deserved to have his win celebrated.

“The Kennedy Foundation is well intended but I am calling on them to get their act together for the sake of the memory of Les Kennedy,” said Bowers, who worked with Kennedy at Fairfax.

“They need to get some professional event management people in their so this shit doesn’t happen.”

Mumbrella also understands that some of the event sponsors were unhappy with the Foundation’s use of their logo with one noting that there were three different and out of date logos for their brand being used throughout the event.

The sponsors of the Kennedy Awards include P&O Cruises, Paradigm Resources, Hillbrick Bicycles, Seven Network, Network Ten, The NRMA, Stabilo, and Spirax.

Nic Christensen 

Update 1.00pm: The Kennedy Foundation has now put up an apology to Mike Bowers and Nick Walker on its website. 

The full apology is below.

Update 3.30pm: Mike Bowers has tweeted. this afternoon, in response to the comment from Kennedy Foundation trustee Peter Kogoy below:Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 3.48.13 pm

Update 4.00pm: One of the Kennedy Foundation’s chief sponsors the NRMA this afternoon has issued a statement reaffirming their ongoing support for the awards.

“What began five years ago with a handful of journalists getting together to pay tribute to one of their fallen comrades has grown to become this state’s premiere awards night for journalists, and it’s all been done off the back of hard work by a small group of busy people who have volunteered their time,” Peter Khoury said.

“In the process, not only have they celebrated some outstanding journalism by outstanding journalists, but even more importantly, injected the funds raised into helping both those of their colleagues who have fallen on hard times and those in our community in need.

“On top of all of this, the awards night has become a fantastic celebration of camaraderie  and enjoyment for the industry – and there aren’t many of these in the calendar year.

“As long as good journalists continue to give their time for such a good cause, the NRMA will always have their back.”

Kennedy Foundation apology to Mike Bowers and Nic Walker:

The trustees of the Kennedy Foundation express their deep regret and sincere apologies for a mistake in the presentation of the Kennedy Award for Outstanding Online Photographic Essay at last Friday’s gala event.

A simple error in the list of successful finalists sent to the engravers was responsible for the announcement of runner-up Mike Bowers as the winner.

The judging panel actually awarded the prize to Fairfax photographer Nic Walker for his excellent series on schoolies week in Bali.

A video – produced according to the final judging – was stopped to minimise embarrassment for all concerned before an investigation began after the event.

The Kennedy Awards has presented more than 140 trophies and highlighted the work of 400 finalists since the inaugural event was staged three years ago to honour Les Kennedy and many other colleagues.

We rely on the hard work of a few volunteers, working for the Kennedy Foundation to raise funds for media professionals in hardship.

We have also supported charities in the wider community, including the ANZUP Below-the-belt Cancer Trials, the Redkite children’s cancer charity and the Charles Perkins Trust for Students and Young People.

As the awards grow we are hoping to strengthen our sponsorship base and outsource to professionals much of the event management work performed tirelessly to date by our volunteers.

Just as we are willing to put our hands up to help – we are equally prepared to accept complete responsibility for mistakes when they occur.

The trustees of the Kennedy Foundation apologise to both Mr Bowers and Mr Walker for any distress our error has created and wish both all the best for the future.

Foundation chairman Peter Ryan’s letter:

Dear Emily

This letter is to express our sincere regret for an error last Friday night that saw Guardian photographer Mike Bowers inadvertently presented with a Kennedy Award for Online Photographic Essay.

On behalf of the Kennedy Foundation, I have already spoken to Mike and apologised for the circumstances that led to this mistake and the resulting hurt and embarrassment.

We also apologise to The Guardian Australia after a story on Mike’s Kennedy honour was published in good faith.

This unfortunate error came as a result of the last minute engraving of winners’ names on the Kennedy Award trophies.

The “engraver’s list” was created by deleting the names of those finalists who did not win.

When Friday’s presentation went to the winner’s video package for Online Photographic Essay it was immediately apparent that the wrong name had been sent to the engravers.

With the event underway and running to a tight schedule, it was decided to spare Mike Bowers, as the runner up, from any on-stage embarrassment.

However, we resolved to investigate the issue after the awards presentation concluded and are now tightening up administrative procedures to ensure such a mistake is never repeated.

We informed the actual winner of this category, Nic Walker of Fairfax Media, and attempted to alert Michael. Unfortunately, an email was inadvertently sent to his former Global Mail address.

Both Nic Walker and Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir were equally keen to spare The Guardian and Mike any further embarrassment given his wide respect in the media industry.

We then informed the judges of this award about the error. Mike was justifiably distressed to learn of the mistake from them.

Our charity director and judging convenor Mr Peter Kogoy then telephoned Mike to apologise on the Foundation’s behalf.

While we appreciate your understanding, we also acknowledge the distress this has caused Mike.

We hope that in time he will accept this was an honest error, enter in future Kennedy Awards and support the Foundation’s work in supporting media professionals who fall upon genuine hardship.

Since 2012 we have presented more than 140 awards without a hitch despite our limited resources. As a largely volunteer organisation, we have one full time staff member compared to the staffing of the Walkley Foundation and the Melbourne Press Club.

We greatly appreciate The Guardian’s support of the Kennedy Awards and congratulate your on your continuing success.

Once again, we can only offer our profuse apologies to Mike Bowers and your team.

Yours faithfully

Peter Ryan

Kennedy Foundation



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