Sneak preview: Konstanty Gebert on the decision-making process of the preparatory committee

Published on February, 27 2017

The countdown can begin! In just three days we will announce the European Press Prize shortlist of 2017.

Curious? Impatient?

Our esteemed member of the preparatory committee, Konstanty Gebert, reflects on this year’s entries and offers a sneak peek into the decision-making process of the European Press Prize.

Konstanty Gebert is a Polish journalist and one of the most notable war correspondents of various Polish daily newspapers. He has worked with independent media in Russia, Ukraine, the Balkans, Africa and Latin America. His essays, articles, columns and books were published worldwide.

What is excellence in journalism to you?

Excellence in journalism consists, in my eyes, of showing the reader (viewer, listener) an aspect of the world he/she probably was not aware of, explaining why it is important he/she should know about that, and providing him/her with evidence that allows to assess the trustworthiness of the text (program). This of course, is just for starters: the copy must be attractive both in context, form and presentation, it needs to have the appropriate length (long enough to make the case, short enough to make the reader engage with it). And of course it needs to have the flash of brilliance without which there is no journalism.

What makes an award winning article?

Obviously it must be excellent. Next, it needs to be relevant, that is deal with an issue which is important beyond the particular circumstances of time and place. It helps a lot if it is counterintuitive (eg. a story about corruption in Eastern Europe coming from the West, or a commentary convincingly explaining how Brexit actually makes Brits more European). And if on top of all that special hardship or danger was involved in writing it, this naturally helps.

How do you choose between excellent entries?

Mercifully I don’t; that’s the jury’s job. I just wish we had more awards to give.

How do this years entries compare to the previous years?

There has been an overabundance of truly excellent investigative stories from Eastern Europe: inventive, daring, thoroughly researched and brilliantly written. And a stunning paucity of commentary from that same part of the world – as if journalists have given up interpreting the world and decided they need to change it.

What is the hardest part of your job as being the Preparatory Committee?

Rejections. Obviously that is what we are there for – but once poor journalism has been sifted through, there always remains a number of stories which could have made it if the author had been blessed with an excellent editor/researcher/fixer, or has simply had more experience. I am sorry we cannot work with those authors, help them improve their copy, and thus increase their chances next time around. Maybe newspapers could offer internships for those almost-best?

What is the best part?

The company of other PrepCom members – and the thrill of occasionally discovering extraordinary journalism in places I would have never expected.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing journalism and journalists in 2017?

Retaining our relevance. For readers confronted with the anything goes of the social media and the alternative facts of politics, journalism could be an antidote – but only if we take our own profession seriously. Gossip, innuendo and sloppy footwork are not journalists – but they help, if practiced by journalists themselves, to bring journalism down.

What would your advice be to aspiring journalists?

Go have your heads examined.