Chairman of the preparatory committee shares his thoughts on the start of the EPP season

Published on November, 25 2016

The bureau of the EPP is excited to see that so many journalists have submitted their best work of 2016! After the deadline closes, these entries will be passed on to our expert preparatory committee. The prepcom consists of members from seven different countries and together they speak thirteen languages.

Curious to know what goes through their minds at the beginning of the EPP season? We invited the chairman of the preparatory committee, Peter Preston, to share his thoughts. Be inspired!

EPP Bureau: What are you, as the chairman of the Preparatory Committee, looking forward to when the whole process of reading and selecting starts again in December?
Peter Preston: To being amazed again – by the sheer quality and diversity of so much journalism from right across Europe. In Britain, for good or ill, we’ve traditionally tended to look to America as the journalistic exemplar. Language barriers cut us off from the excellence of so much European journalism. But the Press Prize opens doors there. You can see – indeed, everyone can see – how much fine reporting and brilliant investigation you can find out there.

What is the hardest part of your job as being the Preparatory Committee?
It isn’t, as you might think, ploughing through hundreds of entries, gradually whittling them down to the very best. That’s a voyage of discovery, and it can be exhilarating. No, the real problem is trying to be fair when you balance entries from big organisations and great newsrooms against the work of small investigative teams, perhaps in the Balkans, or even lone freelances digging bravely for truth. It’s difficult. But usually there’s a flash of brilliance or originality in the work that helps you decide.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing journalism and journalists in 2016?
Obviously the very uncertain future we’re all facing. Though the situation varies a bit from country to country, newspaper circulations are falling and print advertising is sliding, too. We don’t know how far and fast that will go, just as we don’t know if properly resourced news online can ever make money. It’s a real problem. More people than ever are reading the news we produce, but fewer than ever are paying for it. What to do? There’s one central thing for me: to prove day after day that what we do is an indispensable part of a functioning democracy. That we matter.

What does ‘excellence in journalism’ mean to you?
Bravery. Eloquence. Wit. Balance. Passion. Hard, digging work. Perseverance. Intelligence. A passion to change society for the better – and to serve your readers.

Any combination of the above.

Which aspects of recent years’ entries made the Preparatory Committee proud?
I’d have to say the sheer courage of many individual Balkan inquiries into local or national corruption. We were in awe of the new, giant networks of data journalists, exposing financial corruption in revolutionary ways. We sat back and applauded so much of last year’s heartbreaking, fierce, vivid reporting of the migration crisis reaching to Europe’s heart. And we loved and respected the work of lone reporters – young Russians pulling aside the curtains of silence in the Ukraine (Your husband voluntarily went under fire by Elena Kostyuchenko), a single Spaniard tackling a murderous military plot that defiled Colombia (How to produce dead guerrillas by Ander Izagirre).

Is there something you want to say to journalists entering?
Keep on giving us your best. Make sure the range of subject matter is constantly stretched so that less familiar areas – such as education, health policy or the political tensions that run through our continent – are there. Look constantly for innovations – technical or simply journalistic – which expand horizons. Don’t feel you have to be older and established to have a chance: excellence comes at any age. One great blog can scoop the pool. And, though we’ve had some wonderful comment and opinion winners, we need more entries, spread more widely. This has been a year of ferment and confusion, a year of debate. I’d love to see that come through loud and clear.