Award-winning reporter and editor Steve Davies – who “believed in the power of the media to make a difference” – has died aged 72.
Steve Davies (pictured right) led newspapers across the South East during a career spanning four decades. He was known for dogged investigative and campaigning journalism, which earned him many regional and national awards.
He had superb news sense, a penchant for witty headlines and a passion for holding power to account. He loved the little details that brought stories to life. Most of all he believed strongly in local journalism and its potential to change people’s lives for the better.
Steve worked at The News, in Portsmouth, in the late 1970s and it was while running the newspaper’s Gosport office that he met his wife Carole. He briefly left journalism to look after their first child before joining the weekly Southampton Advertiser.
He had a strong interest in social justice, and regularly exposed the shocking standards blighting Southampton’s housing market.
His ‘Open the Empties’ campaign – which called on the local council to bring vacant properties back into use – was particularly impactful.
During the 1990s he was one of the country’s most successful local journalists, establishing the Advertiser among the best weekly papers in the country and winning individual accolades including Provincial Journalist of the Year at the 1992 British Press Awards.
Journalist Nick Dermody, who worked at the Advertiser at the time, said: “Steve believed in the power of the media to make a difference using good stories that were well told.
“One of his strengths was the way he wrote stories. If he announced it was a ‘great yarn’ you knew he had got to the bottom of the matter and was building it back up in a way that would be engaging, often funny, and to the point.
“He demonstrated how campaigns, if they were successful, often became a source of stories in themselves, so they would help to fill the paper – and some were great tales which we would not have had otherwise. He set high standards for himself and his body of work shows that he achieved them time after time.”
As well as hard-hitting exclusives, Steve loved the lighter side of local journalism, and had a flair for elaborate and convincing April Fool’s stories.
His most successful yarn was about plans to build a replica of the Statue of Liberty in the Solent. The spoof included a four-page supplement, with advertisers and even Southampton Council in on the act, and was so convincing that it led to a free trip to New York, complimentary hotel accommodation and interviews with unsuspecting officials from the National Parks Service, who were convinced the plans were genuine.
The Advertiser’s editor Tony Curran was also on the trip. In 1989 he left and Steve took over the top job.
Recalling the New York spoof, Tony said: “Everyone at the paper, all the advertisers and even the council were in on it. The only people who weren’t were the readers and the poor guys in the US.
“We never let on that it wasn’t a spoof and they all fell for it. But we were a bit skint at the time. We had free accommodation in the New York Hilton but we had to smuggle in pizza and cans of beer because we couldn’t afford the hotel meals.
“Steve was a top-notch reporter and a brilliant newshound – and we had some great fun too.”
Steve later moved to the Southern Daily Echo, the Advertiser’s city rival, where he became investigations editor with a remit to bring in the biggest stories. While doing this work an incident occurred that changed his life forever.
During an investigation into a gang of drug dealers Steve’s home was attacked and his family threatened. Believing he could reason with them, he went to the shopping precinct where they operated only to be brutally assaulted. Further attacks followed and his family were forced to flee the area. He never fully recovered from the psychological impact.
After leaving the Echo, Steve became the editor of the Basingstoke Observer, where he continued to be a thorn in the side of the establishment. He particularly enjoyed pushing junior reporters outside their comfort zone and challenging them to find underreported stories.
Ric Sumner, who worked under Steve at the Observer, said: “Steve had an outsized personality and didn’t suffer fools gladly but without the time and energy he invested in helping me as a cub reporter I doubt I would have gone on to have half the career I have had.
“He was a natural storyteller and a gifted journalist who always knew exactly what angle to take to grab readers’ attention. Armed with an impish wit, he loved nothing more than poking fun at establishment figures, and prided himself on giving marginalised people a voice.”
Steve was also a principled man away from journalism.
In 2004 he featured prominently in Keep Them Out, a Dispatches documentary which followed a campaign against plans to open an asylum centre in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire.
Steve was one of the leaders of an opposition group, and by night he would secretly remove protest banners – many of which featured racist messaging – from the walls surrounding the naval airbase where the centre was due to be opened, leading local media – including his former paper The News – to dub him “Bannerman”.
He was born in Newport, Wales, in 1949 and grew up in Burnley, Lancashire, where he attended the local grammar school. He was one of five siblings. Their early life was the subject of a screenplay broadcast on Yorkshire Television in May 1981.
Steve was a proud Welshman who loved sport, including rugby, boxing and golf. He was a lifelong fan of Burnley Football Club. He died earlier this month aged 72 and is survived by his two children, Gareth and Evan.
For details of his funeral or to contact his family please email firstname.lastname@example.org.