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Champion Ladies take the honours

TWO Clare Champion journalists were winners at the Local Ireland media awards last week, Jessica Quinn winning the best news story category and Carol Byrne taking the National Lottery Best Community story award.

The awards ceremony took place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Athlone last Thursday night and was hosted by RTÉ personality and Clareman Marty Morrissey.

The awards were open to all 43 member titles of Local Ireland and their staff and it attracted hundreds of entries across the country. Cork newspaper The Southern Star was the only other newspaper to win two awards on the night.

Jessica’s award came for a story on the proposed Supermacs development close to Clarecastle, which appeared in August of last year headlined ‘Bogus letters shocking’.

In the story, Anne Marie Russell told The Clare Champion that she had received a letter in the post from Clare County Council addressed to her father, with a receipt for €20 paid for a planning submission. Her father had died almost 15 years previously.

The story revealed that the council had received dozens of contacts from people querying their association with letters of support for the Supermacs development.

Jessica said she was thrilled to have received the award, for what was an incredible story. “Plans for the Supermacs motorway plaza have been fraught with controversy over the years and have garnered their fair share of column inches in The Clare Champion but nothing could have prepared me for what was to emerge.

“When I first uncovered the full extent of the what had happened, I was shocked. So many people in the Clarecastle area had been affected and there was a lot of hurt and anger locally, with questions being asked about who was behind it. Putting a face to those feelings was Ann Marie Russell, who told us that her father, the late Paddy Russell, was among those whose names had been forged. I would like to thank her particularly and others in the area who spoke with me, for their help in bringing this controversy to the fore.

“This just goes to show the importance of the local newspaper when it comes not only to breaking news stories from within the community that really mean something to the people who live here, but also in keeping a continuing focus, even when attention from others has died down.”

The citation for Jessica’s award said, “The revelations in The Clare Champion that many submissions to a planning authority in favour of a large scale planning application were in fact bogus, led to an investigation after an official complaint was made. The front page interview with a woman whose late father’s name had been used in support of the application gave a human face to the story, bringing both truth to power and showing what can happen when a local newspaper digs deep.”

Jessica said the fact that the Champion had been nominated in seven categories was a great achievement for the paper and also congratulated her colleague, Carol Byrne, on her award. Carol’s story was titled ‘Back in business: A community answers the call’, and was about how East Clare locals made sure a business survived after it was the victim of an arson attack.

The citation from the judges said, “A senseless arson attack on a local business does untold damage to local business people and can often result in the end of said business venture. Thanks to the community spirit in the Clare town of Mountshannon, Holy Island Tours and owner Gerard Madden rose from the flames like a water borne phoenixand he was able to commence tours on the same day, thanks to donations of lifejackets and a boat from members of his community.

“Our kudos goes to Carol Byrne for her reportage of a community getting together and rallying around one of its members in need and telling the story fantastically, as opposed to reporting an arson attack.”

Warm praise indeed from the judges and Carol said she was delighted with the award. “As a regional newspaper, to win best news story and best community story, in what I consider to be the pillars of local journalism and to have been shortlisted in categories for best sports story, best news series, best photograph, supplement of the year and best digital content gives us all great confidence in what we are doing here.

“I was delighted to have received this award for a story that told of a community rallying around and resurrecting a business following a devastating arson attack, like a phoenix from the flames. It was apt that this was used to describe the award, as it has a direct parallel with The Clare Champion’s own story, in fact the phoenix forms part of our emblem.”

In addition to this award, Carol was also shortlisted for news series of the year, with her fellow reporter Owen Ryan, for a three part series on ‘Clare’s Drugs Crisis’. Owen was also nominated for sports story of the year, while John Kelly was nominated for photographer of the year.

The Clare Champion title was nominated for Best Supplement of the Year and Best Digital Content.

Clare Champion Editor Peter O’Connell paid tribute to the two award-winners and noted that The Clare Champion’s seven nominations was the highest figure nationally. “The quality of Jessica and Carol’s work has been recognised in winning these awards. It is testament to their commitment to their roles within The Clare Champion newspaper and I am delighted for both of them.

“We were also delighted to be shortlisted in several other categories including photography, sport, digital content, a series on drugs issues in Clare and for our Where West supplement.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.