Geoff Hill, the ITV News editor who died in September aged 52, was posthumously given the Public Service Award at the British Journalism Awards 2021.
Hill, who died four years after being diagnosed with leukaemia, was recognised for his outstanding contribution to public interest journalism and the legacy he left with those who worked with him and remember him.
His wife Natalie chose not to attend the event as Wednesday would have been the couple’s first wedding anniversary. However ITV News London editor Hannah Emerson-Thomas accepted the award and read out a speech on her behalf.
“The ferociously passionate and busy journalist that I fell in love with is richly deserving of such an accolade and he would be so immensely proud to win this particular category,” Natalie said.
“Injustice drove Geoff in everything he did from his early days on local papers – representing the underdog, bringing stories to light that needed attention – through to editor of the country’s largest commercial channel for news.
“Throughout his career Geoff retained a hunger to give voice to those that deserved to be listened to and to cover events in the very best way he and his many teams could. One only has to look at the tributes that have been paid to him and his leadership since he passed away to know how much he was admired for his dedication to the profession.
“Many years ago, at the start of Geoff’s journey, the editor of the Southwark News Dave Clarke died suddenly. Geoff had moved on, but he returned after his shifts elsewhere to ensure that the paper still went out. As his good friend from those days wrote recently, ‘by helping to keep the paper going through the very toughest of times he was always fiercely proud that he could give something back to an area he loved so much’.
“That spirit never left Geoff. He carried it with him as he continued rising to the top. In everything he did he never forgot why he was in the position he was. And so, for all the door knocks, the long hours, the thousands of phone calls we salute you Geoff Hill, for a job very well done.”
The awards judges were touched that the word “inspiration” cropped up again and again when colleagues spoke about Hill, as did “his infectious passion for journalism”.
Hill was appointed ITV News editor in 2013 and, in an emotional message to staff when he stepped down due to his illness last year, said: “Please remember this: what we do – what you do – is a tremendous honour, and a privilege. You have a tremendous responsibility and with it enormous opportunity, one you must embrace each and every day.”
He said at the time he was “utterly devastated” to be leaving ITV News, especially as he had been hoping to return to work full-time within weeks, but it followed a relapse of his leukaemia which he wanted to fight “with everything I have”.
He told staff: “When I was appointed editor of this great newsroom in 2013 it was the proudest moment of my entire working life. And as I step down today, I would be greatly honoured to think that you all considered me worthy of the office, and that I brought a fresh perspective to managing the newsroom whilst doing my very best to uphold the finest journalistic traditions of ITV News and ITN.”
In his role, Hill was responsible for ITV’s national news programmes, ITV News London, the ITN-produced Tonight programmes, current affairs show On Assignment, and live specials and documentaries for ITV.
His editorship included the EU and Scottish referendums, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the 2015 and 2017 UK general elections.
Hill, described in an obituary as “never a man to be held back by nerves”, made the decision to call the EU referendum at 4.30am on 24 June 2016 meaning ITV News the first to declare the nation had voted for Brexit.
He joined ITV News from 5 News where he spent two years as editor, leading the programme’s relaunch and building a new newsroom when it returned to ITN in 2011.
Hill spent almost 20 years at ITN in roles including programme editor, with responsibility for ITV News at Ten, and editor-in-chief of sports channel Setanta Sports News. His time at ITN was broken only by a stint as director of coverage for CNN International.
Deborah Turness, chief executive of ITN, previously said Hill “led from the front, with guts and raw energy. His enthusiasm was limitless because he just loved his job. He came to work every day with a big smile on this face.
“He was a force of nature and loved nothing more than to be at the heart of the barely controlled chaos of a breaking news story. He was fizzing with ideas, a human dynamo always ready for action.
“His passion was infectious, which was what made him a great programme maker and an exceptional leader.”
The inaugural Public Service Award was won last year by the Daily Mail for its Mail Force campaign to provide NHS staff and care workers with PPE.
Picture: ITV News