Sam McBride

As the Northern Ireland Editor of the Belfast, I was last year privileged to join a newspaper which is hiring more journalists, investing more money in journalism, and giving its journalists the time to produce detailed public interest reportage and analysis.

I have attempted to hold to account the powerful, regardless of party or position. That is profoundly important in NI because the devolved government has operated without any official opposition to question ministers – and not infrequently without even a government, leaving civil servants in unscrutinised control. Several political leaders have refused to be interviewed by me, some ministers have refused to answer my questions, and one party will not even send me its press releases. However, suppressing or softening truth in order to please the powerful is pointless; it would be dishonest to maintain access to power at the cost of not being able to tell the readers who ultimately employ us what their rulers really do. My editor has given me freedom to pursue complex stories which are in the public interest with the challenge to make the public interested in them. Central to this has been my Saturday column – a two-page column which ranges across politics, the environment, Brexit, energy, and tragedy ( It involves enormous work – and my editor supports me by prioritising the time for this work because it has driven more web subscriptions than any other part of our website. I have sought to provide analysis and fact-driven comment based on evidence, rather than simply my personal opinion. The readership and subscription numbers (in the last year, 165 of the 248 subscriptions from my articles come from the column) prove that readers will pay for comment which is not just stridently telling them what they want to hear, but informing them of the world around them and prompting them to think about a topic in a fresh way. That has involved holding politicians and public figures to account (facing down legal threats to do so), standing up for democratic principles and arguing against the corrosive but widespread notion that politicians are all the same – all up to no good and so politics is a waste of time. I have also taken on a dangerous conspiracy theorist, who threatened to sue me personally after I challenged him on the death of a DUP councillor from covid, setting out in my column who he is, what he did, and demonstrating to readers why they need to be sceptical about medical claims on social media. The response to this article was overwhelming – both in being the most widely read article I’ve written in the last year, but also in attracting the worst abuse of my career ( I have sought to hold power to account, explain the complex world we inhabit to our readers, and promote open discourse about Northern Ireland's future. Although imperfect, it is work which makes me proud to be a journalist and to work for a newspaper where real journalism is encouraged.