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“It is a sad, sad day when we lose one of our own too early. So it is with Les Kennedy … legendary crime reporter Les leaves a legacy of great public service. He told our readers what was really going on.” 

Greg Hywood, Fairfax CEO, August 10, 2011

“Les Kennedy’s journalistic legacy is right up there with some of the great names of Sydney crime reporting who worked in bygone eras. He was up there with the best and will be sorely missed.”

John Hartigan, News Ltd CEO, August 10, 2011

Les Kennedy

Les Kennedy (Image: Marcus O’Brien)  

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On Friday, August 10, 2012, NSW’s finest journalists gathered to celebrate the memories of six industry legends and their legacies.

Les Kennedy, Cliff Neville, Sean Flannery, Paul Lockyer, Peter Ruehl and Gary Ticehurst were all masters of their craft – dedicated, passionate professionals who entertained, enlightened, and informed millions of Australians over the past five decades.

The idea for these awards was hatched in a pub when Les’ close friends and fellow veteran crime reporters Steve Barrett and Adam Walters combined with his former editors, friends and family in February 2012. They had a plan to preserve Les Kennedy’s memory in something far more profound than the beer-soaked sentiment of bar banter.

They realised that unlike the other states and territories New South Wales did not properly recognise journalists doing battle in one of the world’s most competitive news markets.

The committee aimed to launch the Kennedy Awards on Friday August 10, 2012, the first anniversary of Les Kennedy’s death at the age of 53. It was a tough deadline, not just because of the logistics, sponsors and media support that needed addressing and securing. This was to be a very emotional journey.

There was no looking back after the Premier agreed to present the Kennedy Award for NSW Journalist of the Year. From that point the doors flew open in a remarkably enthusiastic and passionate response from sponsors and hundreds of other colleagues.

On August 10, 2011, more than 250 people gathered at the Kauri Foreshore Hotel in Glebe to farewell the legend who was the inimitable, irrepressible Les Kennedy.

It was to be a last goodbye to Les, but he had died just eight hours earlier. And so it became an extraordinary celebration of a life lived large by one of the true characters in Australian journalism.

At Les’ impromptu wake, chain-smoking tabloid warriors rubbed shoulders with the corduroy of broadsheet aficionados, senior cops clinked glasses with lawyers and barristers representing the underworld and many young journalists — mentored by Les – were there, trying to get a firm grip on batons he had passed-on to each and every one of them, and not one schooner hit the floor! Along with the amber fluid flowed myriad tributes. Les’ farewell was a truly remarkable gathering – and the inspiration for what happened exactly 12 months later.

As word of the awards spread, close friends and colleagues of five other legends lost in the last year suggested they be honoured in this celebration of quality NSW journalism.

Veteran television producer and newspaperman Cliff Neville is remembered in the Most Outstanding Team Player Award named in his honour. It’s finally time to sing the praises of this unsung hero and magnificent team player who was the glue that held Sixty Minutes together

The “most loveable rogue to ever hold a microphone” – Sean Flannery – is honoured in the category of Most Outstanding Radio Report.

Paul Lockyer – a veteran ABC and Channel Nine journalist – a foreign correspondent who came home to his beloved bush to bring us stories about the people who are the heart of Australia. The award of Regional Reporting of the Year is appropriately named after a man who staked a serious claim to the outback as his story.

Peter Ruehl was once described by Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood as a “national institution,” and by a former editor as a columnist who “launched a 24-year love affair with Australian readers.” Peter is remembered for his wit and wisdom in the Most Outstanding Columnist Award.

Gary Ticehurst was a hero to many after he helped save lives in the 1998 Sydney-Hobart tragedy – and a dedicated helicopter pilot who provided a spectacular platform for hundreds of his ABC camera colleagues to shoot memorable aerial pictures. The award for Most Outstanding TV News Camera Coverage is named after Gary.

By July 2, 2012, the organisers of the inaugural Kennedy Awards had attracted more than 400 entries across 30 categories, judged by a distinguished panel led by former News Ltd CEO John Hartigan, long-serving Nine News director Paul Fenn and Ian Heads, OAM.

By August 10 the Kennedy Awards left the dry dock and set sail for the first time as 460 quality journalists, relatives of those we honoured and special guests filled the room in what would become one of the great nights in the history of NSW journalism.

In 2013 we did it all again and the Kennedy Awards was established as a fixture on the NSW events calendar, with the Chris Watson Award introduced to recognise excellence in NSW regional newspaper journalism.

In 2014 the Harry Potter Award for Outstanding Television News Reporting and the Jim Oram Award for Outstanding Feature Writing were added to the distinguished list of legends honoured by the industry every August.

The Kennedy Awards is organised by the Kennedy Foundation, a registered charity helping media professionals in hardship, with compassion – in confidence – and supporting other community organisations.

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