ABC journalist Alexandra Blucher has been named Queensland’s 2023 Journalist of the Year at the Clarion Awards.
Blucher won the top honour and the Investigative Journalism award for the joint investigation by the Background Briefing and ABC Investigations teams into the deaths of two-year-old Darcey-Helen and one-year-old Chloe-Ann in their mother’s overheated car in 2019. The investigation exposed shocking deficiencies in Queensland’s child safety department.
“It was a privilege to be trusted by Darcey and Chloe’s family, particularly Darcey’s father Peter, to tell their story and allow me to join them on their heartbreaking search for the truth on why the child protection system didn’t heed their dire warnings,” Blucher said.
“I hope the story’s exposure of the failings in Darcey and Chloe’s case goes some way to raise awareness so other vulnerable children and families in the system are afforded better protection.
“Thanks also to the talented Background Briefing and ABC Investigations team members who put their hearts and souls into the production of the story for podcast and digital – and the ABC for giving me the time needed to work on the story.”
ABC journalists and teams won 12 awards altogether.
Western Queensland-based video journalist Victoria Pengilley won three awards, for New Journalist of the Year, Rural Journalism and Regional and Community: News Report – Print/Text.
The ABC’s other awards were for Business Journalism; Health and Science Reporting; Innovation; Radio, Documentary and Podcast; Radio News and Current Affairs; News Report – Print/Text; Feature Article or Opinion Piece – Print/Text; and the John Bean Memorial Award for Television Camerawork
Full list of ABC finalists and winners
Journalist of the Year: Alexandra Blucher WINNER
Judges’ comments: Alexandra Blucher prosecutes a cross-platform case against Queensland’s child safety department, exposing shocking deficiencies. She reveals that despite multiple warnings, authorities failed to prevent the deaths of Darcey and Chloe. We hear not only from devastated family members, but a former child safety officer who worked with the mother of the two toddlers who died. This is investigative journalism at its finest.
About Alexandra: Alexandra Blucher is a multi-award-winning journalist for ABC Investigations based in Brisbane. She has reported, produced and researched for Four Corners, 7.30 and across other digital platforms. She’s also worked in Beijing for China Radio International. She reports on child protection and other human rights issues, government misconduct and corruption and has produced and researched war crimes stories. Alexandra has won multiple Clarions awards across multiple categories for joint-investigations into local government corruption, war crimes and environmental issues. She won a Walkley Award in 2018 for her joint investigation into local government corruption.
- Alexandra Blutcher – “How the system failed Darcey and Chloe” WINNER
Judges’ comments: What really stood out about this entry was the riveting and dramatic accounts of the lead up to the tragic deaths of two small children. Having spent two-and-a-half years working on the story, Alexandra Blucher’s two part series for the ABC’s Background Briefing was well produced and contained exclusive interviews with family members and an on the record interview with a child safety officer who worked on the case and admits she could have prevented the two little girl’s deaths if she wasn’t so overworked. This outstanding investigation revealed the human toll of a system that failed the innocent and led to sustained questions in parliament and follow up in national media.
All media categories
Artwork, Cartoon, Illustration or Graphic
- Lewi Hirvela – “Building Crisis”
- Katrina Beavan (ABC Capricornia) – “Mum’s fight for cystic fibrosis treatment”
- Erin Semmler (ABC Capricornia) – “Childhood Stroke”
- Josh Robertson and Echo Hui – “Dead Man’s Secrets”
- Michael Atkin, Loretta Florance and Zanthe Kleinig – “Australia’s Scam Honeypot” WINNER
Judges’ comments: [This] entry broke new ground on the highly topical issue of scams that are impacting the lives of ordinary Australians. The reporting was robust and considered as it looked at scams from all sides of the problem including how they arrive at Australia using sophisticated criminal networks. Adding to the strength of the reporting Michael was able to gain the trust of scam victims to talk candidly about their experience. He was also given rare access from authorities in their battle and this put the viewer at the front line at the crackdown. The reported pieces were technically excellent and the stories were told in a compelling way. The reports issued a strong community warning and also achieved an outcome by having a major bank – NAB – refund a scam victim.
Health and Science Reporting
- Emma Pollard and Janelle Miles – “Ruby’s Legacy”
- Carl Smith, ABC Science / Radio National, “Strange Frontiers” WINNER
Judges’ comments: In a strong group of entries, ‘Strange Frontiers’ was a stand-out example of excellence in health, medical or science reporting. The journalist combined multimedia storytelling and in-depth research to deliver insightful and impactful reporting on seriously complex science, which has the potential to change lives and society. The reporting was accessible, immersive, and stunningly produced.
- Matthew Liddy, Julian Fell, Georgina Piper and Ben Spraggon – “Why many data breaches are still a mystery, and how they affect you” WINNER
Judges’ comments: ‘Why many data breaches are still a mystery, and how they affect you’ used interactivity and data visualisations to instantly engage with the audience in a complex and important story. By asking the audience to enter their email into one of the articles, the experience was immediately compelling and personalised. This innovative use of interactivity placed the audience directly in the story, customising their experience and informing them of their data breach history. The inventive use of data and graphics across both articles elevated the findings of this investigation and effectively illustrated the scale of the broader problem.
- Cristen Tilley, Julian Fell, Ben Spraggon, Matt Liddy and Tim Leslie – “The true scale of the stage 3 tax cuts”
- Sally Eeles, Lily Nothling and Rebecca Richardson – “Miss MarToya”
New Journalist of the Year
- Julian Fell – “Julian Fell”
- Victoria Pengilley – “Victoria Pengilley, ABC Western Queensland” WINNER
Judges’ comments: The judges were very impressed with Victoria Pengilley’s body of work, that demonstrated great skill in cultivating and nurturing sensitive contacts to break stories with significant public interest. The judges found her work engaging, well researched and, often, solutions oriented, despite the resource limitations of working across a wide-geographic footprint. The judges would also like to acknowledge Samantha Scott’s entry for deeply engaging and sensitively written human-interest journalism.
- Nathan Morris, Caroline Graham and Lisa Domrow – “Outback Musical”
- Victoria Pengilley – “Outback Queensland Drought” WINNER
Judges’ comments: In a tight field, Victoria Pengilley’s entry was both news breaking and emotional. Not only was her work highlighting the breaking of the Queensland drought great storytelling, but it showed what can be done when there’s not much media in town, and in a very massive area at that! Her words were accompanied by particularly compelling photos and videos.
Social Issues Reporting
- Alexandra Blucher – “How the system failed Darcey and Chloe”
- Rory Callinan – “Christian Brothers’ foster care abuse cover-up”
- Jessica Stewart and Dan Colasimone – “Sport’s Silent Epidemic”
- Daniel Colasimone and Jessica Stewart – “The Silent Epidemic”
- Emma Pollard, Janelle Miles, Heidi Davoren and Kelsie Iorio – “Ruby’s Legacy”
Radio, Documentary and Podcast
- Ellie Grounds and Claudia Long – “Background Briefing: The tiny device that can cause huge pain”
- Heidi Davoren and Adelaide Miller – “False Witness” WINNER
Judges’ comments: In a field crowded with compelling audio projects, Heidi Davoren and Adelaide Miller’s ‘False Witness’ boldly raised its head with its storytelling. This thought-provoking, expertly researched and bravely told documentary was stunningly augmented by a digital feature which demonstrated first class, best practice audio storytelling which takes the form to a new level, demonstrating an innovative future for the craft.
Radio, News and Current Affairs
- Josh Robertson, Mark Willacy, Echo Hui and Kyle Taylor – “Fallen Star” WINNER
Judges’ comments: The high quality of all the entrants in this section made judging very difficult. Entries ranged geographically from the Solomon Islands to the far northwest of Queensland to the south-east corner. Research and investigations ranged from local to international in scope. Personnel ranged from lone reporters in the outback to well-staffed program crews. Several of the stories resulted in socio-political change – new staff for a regional hospital, calls for more transparency about drought declarations, calls for professional foster carers for our most vulnerable children, and greater transparency of government changes to immigrant visas. The three shortlisted finalists were ‘Gladstone maternity crisis’, ‘Fixing our failing foster care’ and ‘Fallen Star’. The winner in this section went the extra mile, undertaking extensive research, including with off-shore police into links between the Queen’s Wharf casino and international criminal figures that forced the Queensland Attorney-General to call for an investigation.
- Annie Guest – “Fixing our failing foster care”
- Tobi Loftus, Paul Culliver and Katrina Beavan – “Gladstone maternity crisis”
Television/audio visual categories
TV Current Affairs, Feature, Documentary or Special Broadcast
- Michael Atkin, Loretta Florance and Xanthe Kleinig – “Australia’s Scam Honeypot”
- Mark Willacy, Josh Robertson and Alex McDonald – “Line of Fire”
The John Bean Memorial Award for Television Camerawork
- Stephen Cavenagh – “Greener Pastures”
- Mark Leonardi – “7.30: ‘Silenced by the State’” WINNER
Judges’ comments: For a subject difficult to capture, Leonardi’s work was very well stylised. He made beautiful use of light and cleverly set the scene with unexpected camera angles and evocative objects. An observational piece that was still very emotive, this was a tribute to Leonardi’s creativity and attention to detail.
- Nathan Morris, Caroline Graham and Lisa Domrow – “Outback Musical”
Regional and community
Feature Article or Opinion Piece – Print/Text
- Nathan Morris, Caroline Graham and Lisa Domrow – “Outback Musical” WINNER
Judges’ comments: The judges were impressed by the overall standard of entries in this category, but Nathan Morris’ Outback Musical was a standout. Writing with flair and originality, Morris took the reader to remote Queensland outposts, and introduced us to unique young characters. As well as a rollicking read, the article was also an insight into the challenges faced by students in isolated communities and how adversity can be overcome by talent and good humour.
News Report – Print/Text
- Victoria Pengilley, Charlotte King and Andy Burns – “Hostel Allegations” WINNER
Judges’ comments: This team uncovered shocking mistreatment of indigenous students who had been sent hundreds of kilometres from home to live in private student hostels. Their families thought they were getting a good education but instead they were at risk of abuse and neglect while an unscrupulous operator pocketed government funding. The reporting was compelling and well-researched and shined a light on a serious gap in regulation in the hostel and boarding sector.
Related links – ABC News awards in 2023