TWO former Wits journalism students were winners in the 2009 Webber Wentzel Legal Journalism awards, writes Katharine Child for

Franny Rabkin of Business Day was named Legal Journalist of the year in the print category and Kim Hawkey of Sunday Times was one of the runners up. Both completed their one year Honours in Journalism at Wits in 2006 .

The legal journalism awards look for, “excellence in both analysis pieces on important legal developments, as well as news stories, such as court reports, that deal with legal issues,” according to Dr Dario Milo, a partner at Webber Wentzel.

The winner in the broadcast category of the award was Hazel Friedman of the SABC’s investigative journalism programme, Special Assignment. Runners up in that category were Steven Grootes and Mandy Wiener of Radio 702. Prakash Naidoo of the Financial Mail was also named as a runner up in the print category.

Hawkey and Rabkin are both trained lawyers and were awarded scholarships for lawyers wanting to become journalists by the Wits journalism programme.The scholarships, named after democratic South Africa’s first  Chief Justice, Ismail Mohamed, were put in place, “to encourage better legal and court reporting” according to Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits.

Rabkin and Hawkey “are evidence of the success of that initiative”, he said. “I hope that we can undertake an initiative like this every few years to bring students with legal training into journalism. Both journalism and law benefit from it,” added Harber.

Hawkey says she is asked on a daily basis why she chose to be a journalist instead of practise law. “It made sense to me as the two professions are very similar in many ways”. She added that her legal background gave her a good advantage. “Sometimes things happen really fast in court, and having a legal background helps one understand and put together the story later”, according to Hawkey.

Becoming a journalist was “the best decision I ever made,” according to Rabkin. “Thank God for the legal journalism awards. I am so grateful for the R50 000 because my salary was cut by two thirds when I became a journalist. These awards make a difference,” said Rabkin. She said she was touched “by the nice things the judges said about my articles”.

The judges citation said of Rabkin: “Her work deals with some of the major legal controversies we have seen over the past year or so, but goes beyond the immediately obvious, and unpacks some of the legal controversies behind stories in the news.”

Both students enjoyed their year at Wits. Rabkin called it “fantastic”and Hawkey said she appreciated the “practical nature of the course and the on-the- job training”.