Accidental journalist’s advice: find something to love in every story

Freelancer Jamie Seidel
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Describing a room landed Jamie Seidel his first job in journalism. He talks to Thomas Bravender-Coyle about the importance of being fascinated by a topic.
Freelancer Jamie Seidel

How did you get into Journalism?

Completely by accident. By Year 12, I hadn’t done the required work experience, and they said: “Why don’t you just apply for The Adelaide Advertiser? It’s the hardest one out there, and it ticks all the boxes.”

It was 1987 and they had between 600 and 800 applicants for The Advertiser’s cadetships each year.

The process was designed to assess how people operated under pressure.

It was me, the editor, chief of staff and the counsellor. I was immensely nervous, so I thought “okay Jamie, calm down”. I looked at everything in the waiting room to distract myself. The first question they asked when I stepped into the interview was: “Describe the room you’ve just been in in the best detail that you can.”

Six weeks after graduating I stepped into my journalism cadetship.

What areas do you cover?

International affairs, history, defence, science, space.

I’ve interviewed Australia’s top defence officials on cybersecurity, written for Australian Space Outlook. I’ve done specialist content about how Australian commodities like gold and silver are used for nanotechnology. I’m able to write in a way that’s interesting and engaging to people who aren’t geologists.

My goal with any story I’m writing is that if I can get myself fascinated in the story, then it’s not hard to get a reader fascinated.

Do you like what you do?

I’ve always loved it. Even when I didn’t, there were things I did love. When I covered real estate, I enjoyed the architecture side and took it as an opportunity to learn statistics from the state’s valuer.

What’s most challenging?

The speed when you’re working in the digital arena is incredible. I spent a lot of effort speeding up my ability to respond. You have to produce a credible story in four hours.

Any highlights?

I worked with Dr Alan Duffy at Swinburne on a story about why the Death Star would have an exhaust port. We had fun but also got the science out there. I did another story where I had defence analysts from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute discuss the viability of Star Wars walkers.

Could you share some tips?

Psychology helps as you’re dealing with people’s motivations, behaviour, and logic. Knowing statistics helps ground the reality of information. Thirdly, it’s not just writing, it’s about the whole multimedia production.

Do you have any advice for an aspiring journalist?

Watch what’s going on around you. Know what technology is out there and where that technology is headed. Understand in-depth analytics. It’s not just the story you’re doing now, it’s a subject and you have to follow its development. Adapt. Read Poynter, Nieman Lab and First Draft.