This paper reports on the first national study of the annual Walkley Awards for excellence in Australian journalism, the premier media prizes in this country. The research is designed to investigate the meaning of quality journalism at a time of flux in the news industry, as newspapers move online and become multi-platform rather than single-medium news providers. Academic critique of journalism habitually dwells on malpractice and poor performance; this paper proposes instead to critically examine exemplary forms of successful journalistic practice, asking what they might tell us about quality journalism. Notable characteristics of the top prize, the Gold Walkley, awarded in the period between 1988 and 2008, are highlighted in the analysis. These are interpreted in relation to the research literature on prize-winning journalism. Quality journalism emerges as a complex practice that resists quantification and 'monetisation'. The paper argues that, nonetheless, excellence in journalism, properly conceived, requires attention to - and engagement with - the public's ideas about journalism.