Although it may have seemed that there was only one story in the news over the past year, says Private Eye, the record number of entries to the 2021 Paul Foot Award was a testament to the huge breadth and depth of investigative and campaigning reporting. While the government’s handling of the pandemic featured strongly among the topics covered in the entries, there was also a broad range of quality non-Covid reporting, from lobbying scandals to modern slavery and more. Interviews with all the shortlist discussing their stories will be available to listen to on the Private Eye podcast.
As in 2020, and in line with current government restrictions preventing large gatherings from taking place, the awards ceremony normally held at BAFTA will be broadcast online. The winning entry for 2021 will be awarded £5,000 at an online awards presentation on Tuesday 15th June, hosted on the Private Eye website and YouTube channel. A piece on the winner will also run in print issue 1550 of Private Eye, available Wednesday 23rd June.
The shortlist, in alphabetical order by journalist, are:
- Jonathan Calvert & George Arbuthnott, Sunday Times: Failures of State: Britain’s coronavirus scandal
- Harriet Clugston, JPIMedia: Modern slavery in the UK
- Peter Geoghegan, Jenna Corderoy & Lucas Amin, openDemocracy: How the UK government is undermining FoI
- Guardian Investigations Team, with lead reporters Felicity Lawrence and David Conn Guardian: Covid and the Conservative chumocracy
- Jack Shenker, Tortoise: Death at the Ministry
- Robert Smith and team, Financial Times: The unravelling of Lex Greensill
- Matthew Weaver, Pippa Crerar & Jeremy Armstrong Mirror/Guardian: Dominic Cummings/Barnard Castle
This year’s judging panel, chaired by Padraig Reidy, Little Atoms, comprised Julia Langdon, Political Journalist and Broadcaster; Sir Simon Jenkins, The Guardian; Helen Lewis, New Statesman; Francis Wheen, Private Eye; Amol Rajan, BBC; Matt Foot, criminal defence solicitor; Kim Sengupta, independent.co.uk; Janine Gibson, FT and Alexandra Heal, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism who won the 2020 Paul Foot Award.
Padraig Reidy, Chair of Judges, The Private Eye Paul Foot Award, commented: "The judges were delighted to receive a record number of entries this year. The extremely high standard of the stories put before us, from established outlets and upstart publications alike, made for a rigorous and intense judging process. It was so heartening to see that in a year of unimaginable difficulty for so many, there are journalists across the spectrum committed to finding the stories that make a difference to how we understand the world."
Set up in memory of journalist Paul Foot, who died in 2004, the award honours the UK’s most brilliant, talented and determined journalists working in the fields of investigative and campaigning journalism today.
Further information on the shortlist is below, with comments provided by the judges:
Jonathan Calvert & George Arbuthnott Sunday Times
Failures of State: Britain’s coronavirus scandal
The Sunday Times’s Insight team pulled together a devastating account of how the government overlooked warnings and ignored advice in the first weeks of the pandemic, with catastrophic consequences.
Harriet Clugston JPIMedia
Modern slavery in the UK
Johnston Press’s investigations team created a series of stories for local media highlighting the disturbing shortfalls in application of modern slavery legislation, bringing the story home to local newspaper readers across the UK.
Peter Geoghegan, Jenna Corderoy & Lucas Amin, openDemocracy
How the UK government is undermining FoI
OpenDemocracy discovered the government’s secret Freedom of Information request “clearing house”, which singled out unwanted requests from “nuisance” reporters, undermining the free press, government accountability and the entire FoI system.
Paul Lewis and team Guardian
Covid and the Conservative chumocracy
The Guardian team’s detailed investigation into the Covid-19 procurement practices exposed a chaotic system where cronyism appeared to trump experience in the awarding of millions of pounds of government money.
Jack Shenker Tortoise
Death at the Ministry
Focusing on the death due to Covid-19 of Ministry of Justice cleaner Emanuel Gomes, Jack Shenker crafted a compelling story of how government outsourcing and the gig economy combined to condemn migrant workers to suffer some of the worst effects of the pandemic.
Robert Smith and team, Financial Times
The unravelling of Lex Greensill
The Financial Times’s compelling reporting brought the revolving doors of politics and finance to life and documented former prime minister David Cameron’s dubious role lobbying for financier Lex Greensill to have access to Treasury Covid relief schemes.
Matthew Weaver, Pippa Crerar & Jeremy Armstrong Mirror/Guardian
Dominic Cummings/Barnard Castle
A joint entry by the Mirror and the Guardian, the discovery that Dominic Cummings had travelled the length of England in contravention of lockdown rules dominated the news agenda for days and exposed a double standard at the heart of government.