You never think you’re going to win – but I really wanted to. I’d entered the CIPR Education Journalism Awards before, but this was the first time I’d been shortlisted, for the piece that meant the most to me in the 13 years I’d been writing on education.
It explored how some schools had ignored and possibly even facilitated child sexual abuse over many years, and examined the system of statutory guidance that allowed them to do so with no legal implications if they were found out. The access to abusees, their parents and campaigners had been secured only because of the 18 months-worth of previous work I’d done on the subject. It took a lot of trust.
This was also the first time I’d had the chance to write a long-form piece of over 3,000 words for the Guardian’s Weekend magazine. There’s no doubt that keeping a reader interested to the very end stretched my research, organisation and story-telling skills. I’d learned a lot, and was passionately invested in the issue and the people I’d interviewed, who put themselves through so much to tell me what they and their families had suffered.
When I heard my name called out, I was fizzingly happy. Thrilled too for a man called Tom Perry, the abusee who had first contacted me about this issue and who as a campaigner and a robust source, had educated me about the ways that children have been and continue to be failed by government guidance intended to protect them. He was the first person I called to tell, a few minutes later, before I phoned my partner or my editor.
It’s hard for staff journalists to get that sort of space in a national weekend magazine, but it’s definitely harder for freelancers. So winning the award was a vindication of the time and effort it had taken to get the piece commissioned, and of the risk my editor, Liese Spencer, had taken on a journalist who was new to her. Another national weekend supplement editor had almost taken the idea, but because I’d not written at that length before, had been wary and after a lot of mulling had finally said no.
Winning also encouraged me to pitch more ideas to Guardian Weekend and other national and international publications, and I have no doubt that being able to say that other people had recognised my work has helped me crack new markets. I’ve done two subsequent long-form features for Weekend, one following a critically ill baby through neonatal intensive care and the other on domestic abuse. I have written my first pieces for the Sunday Times, am working with a documentary company on two film proposals and have had my first feature in Newsweek. In October I’m going to Pakistan to research another piece they’ve commissioned.
I cannot imagine that all of this would have happened in a single year had I not won the award, so I’d encourage anyone to enter – winning can change the trajectory of your career.
Louise Tickle is a specialist education and social affairs journalist and CIPR Education Journalism Award winner.