Guardians of posterity: how a new trust is safeguarding the future of journalism in Australia

A Walkley Award is Australia's highest honour for excellence in journalism. So how did Jack Banister, a University of Melbourne Master of Journalism student, join this illustrious list of Walkley winners?

By Sarah Hall

A Walkley Award is Australia's highest honour for excellence in journalism, recognising innovation, courageousness and reporting with a social impact. Over the years Walkleys have been awarded to Australia’s foremost journalists – Leigh Sales, Michelle Grattan, Jenny Brockie, Tony Jones and Laurie Oakes, to name a few.

So how did Jack Banister, a University of Melbourne Master of Journalism student, join this illustrious list of Walkley winners in 2018?

It started with the establishment in December 2017 of the Guardian Civic Journalism Trust, a joint philanthropic initiative between Guardian Australia and the University of Melbourne's Centre for Advancing Journalism. The Trust was set up to fund journalism projects that advance public discourse about the environment, Indigenous affairs, human rights, governance, inequality and accountability.

The reciprocal benefits were clear. The Trust, held in perpetuity, would give Australia's next generation of journalists access to invaluable education opportunities through internships, mentoring and cadetships, while at the same time providing Guardian Australia with resourcing assistance for critical investigative reporting.

The Trust was launched with a $50,000 gift from Guardian Australia’s parent company Guardian News and Media, and with significant grants from The Balnaves Foundation and the Susan McKinnon Foundation, has so far raised over $750,000. The Balnaves Foundation gift was made to support reporting on Indigenous affairs, and the Susan McKinnon Foundation gift to support reporting on political accountability and governance.

In its first year, the Trust enabled five students from the Centre for Advancing Journalism to undertake internships at Guardian Australia: Ciaran O'Mahony, Jeremy Nadel, Elliot Munn, Jess Bassano – and soon-to-be Walkley recipient Jack Banister.

Banister worked on the Deaths Inside Project, which demonstrated that since the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission report in 1991 there have been 407 Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia. The report profiled all 147 deaths from the last ten years, and was spearheaded by Guardian Australia's Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam, whose role was developed as part of the Trust.

The Walkley was awarded to the Deaths Inside Project team – including Banister – who together trawled through thousands of coronial records to compile the report.

"It's just amazing to have been able to work on a project with this kind of social impact – I think it was eventually mentioned in the Senate which is really, really great," said Banister.

Needless to say, the internship has catapulted Banister's career.

Since the Walkley, and off the back of his research work at Guardian Australia, he was awarded an inaugural Michael Gordon social justice fellowship from the Melbourne Press Club.

Jack Banister
Walkley Award winner Jack Banister.

The fellowship will fund a 10-day trip to the Tiwi Islands to investigate the topic of suicide prevention in the Tiwi Islands.

"Having done my internship [at Guardian Australia] made me capable and willing to actually pitch for that grant. I'm super excited," he said.

The piece Banister wrote for the Deaths Inside Project, "Indigenous suicide in custody: 'How have lives just slipped away?", additionally won the John Newfong Prize for Reporting on Indigenous Affairs at the 2018 Ozzie Awards for Student Journalism.

This was made possible, he reflects, by the mentorship he received at Guardian Australia.

"I was working in a team of six people, and I was the least experienced member, so I got quite a lot of great mentorship which I'm really thankful for," said Banister.

"In particular, [Guardian Australia's] Calla [Wahlquist] and Lorena [Allam] worked with me quite closely when I was writing the feature piece. They helped me tackle a lot of the cultural sensitivities around reporting on Indigenous matters of this nature," he said.

The Centre for Advancing Journalism's Andrew Dodd said the Walkley recognition was testament to Jack's "impressive and forensic work."

"It's also a reflection of the unique relationship the Centre for Advancing Journalism has with Guardian Australia, which helps the Guardian do great journalism while our Masters students benefit from wonderful opportunities and mentoring."

The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust promises many more exciting outcomes, and not just for journalism students. The Trust is contributing to our media landscape by investing in in-depth investigative reporting on some of the most pressing issues facing modern Australia – and in an era of funding cuts, media ownership concentration and fake news, it could not have come at a better time.

Find out how you can support the Guardian Civic Journalism Trust

Find out more about the Master of Journalism