How did you get started in journalism?
I answered an ad in the local paper. This was Standard Newspapers in Cheltenham, a long time ago. I answered the ad for a cadet journalist and went for an interview. Looking back I knew nothing, I probably didn’t answer any of the questions correctly. Somehow I got the job and I was a cadet journalist for three years. We used to do a lot more in those days, in the sense it was on the typewriter. We used to type our own stories and arrange photographs with a photographer and go out on assignment. We even had company cars in those days. My first paper was what is now the Bayside Leader. That was the area where I lived so I was sort of working in my own backyard. We’d go to council meetings, go to sporting events, sub-edit our own stories. Which is bizarre now, to sub-edit your own story! We’d work on the phones, on typewriters and obviously there was no internet, no emails, nothing online, it was a totally different world in that sense. But the basics are still there, we still write about people, what they do, in much the same way we always have.
What was your round in journalism and how did you get into that?
I was editor of real estate and commercial at Fairfax for 10 years. So, my focus was on real estate write ups and business write ups. I would write about businesses, helping them get their messages and stories into the papers, which would attract them to buy advertising from Fairfax. Other than that, I’ve just been a general reporter for a long time while working for local papers. The daily papers have certain rounds, but we do pretty much everything.
What interests you most about the job?
I’m a people person, I like talking to people. And I’ve always been keen on telling a story and being the first to tell the story. Even when I was a kid, I used to love knowing things and talking about them. So I was pretty much a natural fit in some ways, I just enjoyed doing all the things a journalist does from a very young age. I didn’t need to change anything to fit into the role.
What are some of challenges you’ve faced during your career?
If you work for a media company, you have to promote that company through your writing. Same goes if you work for local government in the media department. For example, we liaise with Mornington Peninsula Shire media team all the time and they have to push the line of that shire or city, always in a good light. But as reporters, we’re not looking for the good stories, we don’t care if it’s good or bad. We probably prefer if it to be bad though. Many places you work at have specific ways of reporting. Newspapers also have their slant, and reporters have to obey the wishes of the editors in that situation. Some of the bigger newspapers are more conservative, others more left. They don’t tend to be balanced. They think they’re being balanced, but they’re always pushing a company line.
What are some of the ways you go about finding a story?
You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, listen to the news. I listen to the news from 6am. Anything to do with Mornington Peninsula, it’s on my radar straight away. Keep a good contact book, get to know people in all different areas; if you hear something they might be able to put you on to the right person who can talk about it. The council is also a good source for us, as well as the police. We get to know the police and local councillors quite well. People in the Rotary Club or involved with charities, sporting clubs or social clubs are great sources too. Every paper we do, we’ve got contacts that can give a little more background information, help us find what it’s all about. And you cultivate those people over the years, so the first they think about when they hear something is “oh I’ll give Steve a ring at the news”. So that helps you do your job better. It’s important to keep those people on side.
How important is local and community news?
We believe that people should know and want to know what’s going on in their local areas and we aim to make it as interesting and readable as possible so they want to know more. For instance the Mornington Peninsula is a wonderful news area because it has everything. It’s got environment, planning, crime, unemployment, lots of sporting clubs and social groups. People like reading about their area, especially down here. And these papers are still doing well because the people like having a newspaper in their hand. Whereas in the city areas, they read the news online or watch the TV broadcast, here they’re still very paper orientated. So that’s keeping us in our jobs. Although we are online now as well of course!