South Africa's top journalists have been eagerly awaiting the regional results of the 2022 Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards. The results were announced today for the Free State, Northern Cape, Northwest and Limpopo Region. Regional category winners receive R5 000, national category winners take home R10 000. The overall Vodacom Journalist of the Year winner receives R100 000. Should there be joint winners, the prize money is shared.
The competition's judging panel reviewed more than 1,700 entries nationally. This year's VJOY judging panel consists of convener of the judging panel, Mapi Mhlangu and judges Elna Rossouw, Jermaine Craig, Arthur Goldstuck, Ryland Fisher, Professor Gilbert Motsaathebe, Patricia McCracken, Collin Nxumalo, Jovial Rantao, Advocate Robin Sewlal and Obed Zilwa. Collectively, the media experience of our full judging panel exceeds 300 years.
Takalani Netshitenzhe, Vodacom South Africa Chief Officer for External Affairs says "This year's theme is 'Storytellers', as we recognise the role which journalists play as watchdogs in our society, seeking to report the stories of our time and holding power to account. Credible journalism plays an essential part in supporting healthy democracies and Vodacom is proud to play a part in promoting world class journalism in South Africa. Congrats to our regional winners and thanks to our convener Mapi Mhlangu and her esteemed judging panel who selflessly devote many hours of work to the VJOYs."
VJOY Convener Mapi Mhlangu says "With 226 submissions, the entries from this region increased by 46% from last year. The Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards have once again produced an excellent selection of entries, which give the judges confidence in the future of journalism and the media industry in South Africa. Our journalists have displayed resilience and continue to produce work that belies the upheavals that the industry is experiencing. We are particularly pleased that the region managed to produce outstanding winners in all but one category. The judges were however disappointed with very limited entries in the category of innovation journalism, photography and the young journalist of the year. Nevertheless, the judges are pleased with the quality of overall entries. Congratulations to all the regional winners and good luck with the nationals."
The regional winners are:
Over the years the entries in the Lifestyle category sky-rocketed, especially on digital and online platforms, offering the audience not only infotainment, but also stories of ordinary people's hope and perseverance. There is no doubt that storytelling in this genre offers an intimate view of South Africa's social fabric. We commend Gopolang Botlhokwane of New Frame for the story of a tin shack that won international acclaim at film festivals.
Our winner in this region captivated the judges with a travel story – an unforgettable experience of how hundreds of people from all corners of our country came together to watch the thundering Augrabies Falls plummeting into the ravine after the big rains. The regional winner is Ulrich Hendriks with contributor, Lereko Motseko from the SABC.
Man has always been the biggest threat to the once-widespread African elephants. But little did we realise that even our diseases can spread to them and add to the threat. Chronicling action to test for and contain TB in elephants, this picture story was skilfully captured without aggravating the animals, getting in the way of the veterinary professionals or offending sensitive readers. There are no second takes in such situations but split-second timing and great skill produced great images against the odds. The regional winner is Lucas Ledwaba of Mukurukuru Media.
The judges also commended Willem van der Berg for WEG! Platteland magazine's photo essay, 'The Kalahari Miracle', depicting the Kuruman River brought back to life after years of drought.
Financials & Economics
During times of economic instability and uncertainty, there is no end to the number of potential financial and human-interest stories that shed additional light on the sector. These tend to be investigative in nature, drawing on the extensive data that is available especially in this sector, and often focus on the human cost, at the expense of insights into the human response.
In the judges' quest for reporting that goes under the skin of the story, the tale of farmers becoming roadbuilders struck a chord. Several journalists reported on the story. But the winner showed insight, empathy and excellent writing skills. The Free State Winner in the Finance category is Vida Booysen of Landblou Weekblad, for "Vrystaatse Boere maak Planne en Paaie".
Innovation in Journalism
The judges were sad not to see a winner from this region this year. Innovation in journalism revolves around both novel techniques and technologies on the one hand and, on the other, finding new ways to tell a story so that it provides insights that were not possible before. We know that, as in other regions, there are journalists here who are driven by one of the key questions of journalism and innovation: "How can we find out more?" We hope that local journalists will have the opportunities to develop and enter innovative work for next year's awards.
The production of organic food was revived as a literally growing trend about half a century ago. Now practitioners are looking back beyond trendsetters to enrich today's agriculture by expanding uptake of farming methods that are also ecologically sustainable. In Limpopo, so-called "backyard farmers" have been participating in an innovative agro-ecology project. Started in local communities, this has transformed the lives and food sustainability of rural women living in some of the province's most remote villages. For his wonderfully vivid, detailed and informative piece for DM168, our regional winner is Lucas Ledwaba.
The Features section brought different parts of the country to readers and listeners in direct and vivid ways. Almost all the entries showcased excellent journalism. So, the judges faced a tough decision. The entries in this region showcased the journalists as true wordsmiths. The features lured the reader into the pages of the publication, kept them fascinated in front of television screens or tuned to the radio. This year's theme of storytelling was aptly displayed in many of the entries. The judges wish to commend Mokgadi Mashako for highlighting a father's battle to win custody for his daughter in the Mail & Guardian along with Gopolang Botlhokwane of New Frame's heart wrenching portrayal of the homeless in Nelson Mandela Drive. However, the top entry was undisputed. For his descriptive writing laying bare the soul of the arid Northern Cape in two exemplar entries, the judges wish to congratulate Willem van der Berg writing for WEG! Platteland magazine.
Live Reporting & Breaking News
Live reporting or covering breaking news is one of the most difficult tasks in a journalist's life. You don't have time to prepare or gather information before you rush to the scene where a natural disaster is taking place or an accident scene where the police and ambulance sirens are still howling. To cover breaking news effectively – and get your facts straight when information is scanty – requires a cool head and a thorough knowledge of the principles of news reporting.
It was the winner's first experience of covering a veld fire threating the livelihood of people. Despite getting as close as 80 meters from the raging fire, he kept calm and focused, and within minutes updated the viewers about the fire that was dangerously out of control. Ulrich Hendriks from the SABC also joined the search for a missing child while he was on a weekend away with his family. The judges thought his commitment to doing his job as best as possible was exceptional. Congratulations, Ulrich!
One of the ingredients of a good opinion piece is the ability of the author to convey his or her ideas in a compelling way right from the beginning to the end. A good opinion piece starts with a hook that immediately grabs the reader's attention. Opinion pieces are also laced with facts and have a clearly defined topic and theme. The entries that impressed the judges did just that.
The judges in this category gave a commendation to a well-written opinion piece by Renaldo Schwarp of the Penguin Post and Sunday Times titled "Celebrating the LGBTIQ+ people whose stories freed us", which provides incisive insights on issues of identity. However, the region's winning entry was a piece which focused on the impact of mining on host communities and the environment. Stories of investment by big companies in rural communities often focus on the promises made by investors and ignore some of the problems that host communities' encounter.
The regional winner skilfully addresses the mining industry's negative impact on the environment and host communities. The winner is Lucas Ledwaba of Mukurukuru Media for his opinion piece titled "Will mining industry growth bless or curse rural Limpopo?
The best political stories are not necessarily the ones dealing with the biggest political issues in society. The good stories are often the ones explaining trends in society and trying to understand some of the complexities in our country. In this region, we had some strong entries and the judges decided to have two commendations. They are: Reginald Witbooi (SABC) for his body of work, Water shutdown in Kimberley, which deals with local government service delivery issues in the Northern Cape capital, and Paul Moola (NorthWest on Sunday) for his well-written column, Ramaphosa to heed the adage "Beware the Ides of March".
In the end, the judges decided that our winner would be someone who, in her body of work, wrote about unusual political encounters, for instance, between the leadership of Orania and traditional leaders and a controversial diamond dealer's visits to former President Jacob Zuma. Our winner in this region is Anene Burger of Netwerk24.
The winning segment in this region is from a series by the national broadcaster called 'Stories Untold'. We are thankful therefore that they chose to tell with great empathy and compassion the story of African wheelchair tennis champion who has become a champion at the height of his sport, representing the country in Grand Slams in some of the greatest tennis arenas in the world – after succeeding in recovering from great personal loss and learning to live with a condition commonly known as 'brittle bones disease'. For the story of Tzaneen's Donald Ramaphadi, the winner in this region is the SABC's Nomvuyo Ntanjana.
One of the roles of journalists is to expose wrongdoing by those in positions of authority and highlight issues that affect communities. The role of investigative journalists in particular cannot be overemphasised. They often have to take enormous risks to uncover the truth, expose wrongdoing and hold those in authority accountable. This was evident in the entries in this category. The winning entry was a body of work focusing on malfeasance by police reservists and mining companies. One report exposed wrongdoing by police reservists in the North West who use their uniforms to commit crimes because they are not paid as volunteers. Another investigation exposed a mining company's violation of human rights in the North West.
The regional winner in this category is Zinhle Khanyane of CheckPoint and her team Tshidiso Lechuba, Ashley Market, Nkepile Mabuse and Tshepo Dlamini.
Nominee for the Central Region, Young Journalist of the Year Award goes to Tshehla Koteli of OFM News.
The national awards ceremony will take place on 24 November 2022 and will be a hybrid event.