AN emotional journey into the life of a refugee family won Rosemarie Milsom a new friendship and landed her the Northern NSW Journalist of the Year award.
The Newcastle Herald feature writer was presented with the honour at the 45th annual Northern NSW Journalism Awards in Tamworth on Saturday night.
Her work with Herald photographer Simone De Peak telling the story of a reunited Congolese family also won the two journalists the Tom Barrass Award for Regional Journalism.
To read Rosemarie Milsom and Simone De Peak's award-winning story, Out of Africa in to Newcastle, charting the reunion of Congolese refugee and Newcastle University student Jerome Rugaruza with his wife and children after years of unimaginable hardship and tragedy, click here.
Milsom said she was determined to tell the story after noticing a Sudanese woman taking care of her three children in a Mayfield supermarket.
‘‘It occurred to me how difficult it must be for these people to start a new life,’’ she said. ‘‘I’d never read that side of the story. I’d never heard about the legitimate refugee that comes here.’’
Milsom, with the help of Sister Di Santleben of refugee support service Penola House, got in touch with Jerome, a Congolese refugee who had not seen his family for eight years due to political unrest.
When Jerome’s family arrived in Newcastle Milsom and De Peak spent the next 80 hours with the family documenting their first days in a new country.
‘‘I knew it was an important story and something that had to be told,’’ she said.
‘‘It was good to be able to write a positive story about Newcastle and show the welcoming side to the city.’’
Milsom also praised her husband Ben Drzyzga, a fellow journalist with the Herald, whom she described as ‘‘amazingly supportive’’.
Milsom, who started with the Herald as a cadet in 1995, dominated the Northern NSW Awards, known as the Prodis. Herald editor Chad Watson said Milsom was a devoted journalist who thoroughly deserved the accolades.
‘‘Rosemarie is passionate about the people and issues she writes about,’’ he said.
‘‘Her ability to present the human side of complex stories really resonates with the Hunter community.’’
De Peak won best feature photography for her work with Milsom.
For all the results from the 45th Northern NSW Journalism Awards, click here.
Herald civic reporter Ben Smee won the best print/online news gong for his run of exclusives about the removal of the Laman Street figs. He was also finalist in the print feature writing category.
‘‘Smee’s entry demonstrated a talented journalist using a good variety of skills to present the story in all of its many angles,’’ the judges said.
Herald reporter and columnist Robert Dillon, who is in London covering the Olympic Games, was commended in the sports journalism category. He was also a finalist in the commentary/opinion section.
Commendations were awarded to James Gardiner (best print news report) and the team of Ben Smee, Amy Spear, Eve Nesmith, Dean Osland and Simone De Peak (best use of the medium).
Other Herald finalists were Max Mason-Hubers (news photography, sports photography, feature photography, young journalist of the year), Helen Gregory (best use of the medium), Matthew Kelly, Ian Kirkwood and Michelle Harris (a joint effort in print news).
‘‘Having so many of our journalists recognised confirms the Herald’s place as the premier source of news, opinion, sport and entertainment in this great region,’’ Mr Watson said.