Four of the Newcastle Herald's journalists have been named finalists from a record field of entries for the 2019 Kennedy Awards.
Herald court reporter Sam Rigney is one of three finalists for outstanding regional newspaper reporting, and picked up a second nod for outstanding court reporting.
Rigney was nominated for his extensive reporting to unmask the Hunter region's most egregious serial rapist, Andrew James Benn, who was jailed for a maximum 40-year term in September 2018, and to bring to light the courageous stories of Benn's victims.
"Not much was known about the Hunter's worst serial sex offender, even after he was sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in jail. And despite his penchant for using social media to meet his victims, there were no photographs of him anywhere online," Rigney said.
"It was a huge story in the Hunter that was going untold." Rigney employed an extensive network of legal and police sources to uncover a photograph of Benn, which published on the front page of the Herald on August 17, 2018.
Rigney is nominated alongside the Herald colleague and senior reporter Joanne McCarthy, who is also a finalist for outstanding regional newspaper reporting and outstanding feature writing for her work to uncover the devastating impacts of surgical mesh implants.
Donna Page and Nick Bielby were named finalists for outstanding reporting on the environment after spearheading the Herald's Dirty Deeds investigative series, which revealed over several weeks how millions of litres of toxic waste collected from across Australia had been secretly pumped into creeks or dumped on the ground by a Maitland waste-oil refinery company near Rutherford in NSW.
"It's wonderful to see the tenacity and hard work of our incredibly talented journalists recognised with strong representation as finalists across four categories in the 2019 NRMA Kennedy Awards," acting Newcastle Herald editor Lisa Allan said on Tuesday evening.
"The Herald's dedicated team of reporters and photographers work tirelessly every day to be the voice of the Hunter. It is wonderful to have their efforts acknowledged. Congratulations to Donna, Nick, Sam and Joanne."
A total 135 individual nominees from a record field of 640 entries have been chosen for all competitive categories for the 2019 NRMA Kennedy Awards, recognising excellence in journalism.
The finalists were announced on Tuesday evening at a function at the Crown Hotel in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, ahead of the Awards on August 9.
Finalists, in a fiercely competitive news year, included media professionals from interstate and all major metropolitan newspapers and television and radio networks; international journalists and photographers as well as artists and photographers from regional newspapers and radio networks throughout NSW.
Kennedy Foundation chairman and senior judge Simon Dulhunty said the judges were greatly impressed with the calibre of entries from metropolitan and regional newspaper, radio, television and online journalists.
"In a massive news year, the standard of submissions is really exceptional in every category," Mr Dulhunty said.
"In some categories it took judges days to finally sort out finalists from big fields, some of which had more than 50 entries.
"From investigative journalism to news breaking, superb feature writing, incredible pictorial entries and wonderful artwork, a class field has emerged to contest the coveted Spirax Trophies produced by Artline."
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