ABC Central West NSW reporter Donal Sheil

Donal will finish his contract in Orange, NSW in February 2020. Photo supplied.
SHARE:
“Perfection with content is an illusion and it’s only by going through that creative process from start to finish over and over that the repetition starts to coalesce.” Donal Sheil talks to James Noonan about what it takes to build a career in journalism.

How did you end up in your current position?

Well the short story is that I did a bunch of contracts and ended up here, but before this I’d done backfill contracts as a reporter in Geraldton and Tamworth. I know the only reason I got a foot in the door with the ABC was my video editing skills, which proves the importance of versatility in your skillset; there’s an expectation that you can do everything. I’ve interned with ABC 7:30, magazines like Imprint and The Swinburne Standard, and an indie music label. Throughout my course I ran a YouTube channel, Game Brain, where I interview game developers, which was another thing that put me over other applicants. By the time I’d finished university I just had a really diverse portfolio.

How do you stay organised?

I always have a diary on me, always making notes. I keep detailed contacts entries and a diary for the day, and I’m really big on lists. I’d say try to keep records and value any contact, basically try to future-proof any labour in the future that could take you back a peg. I think communication plays a big part too; talking to your colleagues and making sure everyone’s on the same page is vital in a big organisation like the ABC because there are so many moving parts, and the best way to stay organised is thinking about who needs to know what information, and protecting yourself from communication breakdowns.

Have plans ever fallen apart and if so, how did you deal with it?

I did a trip at the end of last year that involved travelling out to a lesser serviced part of our broadcast area, and I did a story on an old newspaper. When I returned to the bureau to turn it over, I discovered that the neighbouring bureau in Wagga Wagga had done the same story a few days later, meaning we doubled up, which is a huge waste of everybody’s time. That was miscommunication between our managers, but it was easily avoidable. I salvaged it by communicating with the other journalist that had done the story and managed to diplomatically get the best parts of both reports into the same story, line by line. It’s not preferable but at the end of the day it’s about keeping a cool head and not letting your ego get in the way. You put the story at the centre of importance and go out from there.

Do you have a favourite moment so far as a content creator?

I’d say just in terms of scale it was hearing Leigh Sales say my name when I had my first and only 7:30 story aired about a month ago. I got a lucky opportunity to produce a simple colour story for 7:30 and went out and did the shooting script, liaised with the producers, went out and shot the thing myself, sent them an editing script, got some really positive feedback from the producers and saw the story come together. At the end Leigh Sales said: “that report was by Donal Sheil,” and that was a big moment. That show gets over 1.5 million viewers a night I think, so that was really cool.

How did you build your YouTube channel?

The channel has been going for four years now, and it took me a while to realise I wanted to focus on games journalism. Realising what niche I could fill and what content could be unique to me kept me interested, but there’s the unfortunate truth that there are some topics and techniques that will get you more eyeballs, which isn’t something content creators want to think about.

Finishing videos is also really important, not treating a video like Citizen Kane. You’re not going to learn from making content if you make one video every six months; perfection with content is an illusion and it’s only by going through that creative process from start to finish over and over that the repetition starts to coalesce into tangible development.

How do you get in contact with game developers?

The best way to start is looking at a credit sequence, which will tell you somebody’s name and what they did. I search their name and see if they’re on LinkedIn, which hopefully tells me who their employer is today, then I try to contact that employer, but it can get much more complicated quite quickly, at which point one can employ some slightly more sophisticated methods that can give you email addresses. Once you can contact them the goal becomes convincing them to speak to you. It’s better now I have a few subscribers, but it was very hard early on to convince people to talk to me.