Kylie Northover, arts features writer at The Age

"I don’t think you can ever stop honing your craft. That sounds so wanky, but it’s true." Age arts journalist Kylie Northover talks to Holley Gawne in a new series of Q&A interviews in which Swinburne students explore the challenges of journalism.


 How did you get started?

I don’t know if my name was out there for a long time. I actually started when I was in high school, when I wrote for a publication called Beat magazine. But once I entered the actual workforce, I did all the classics: the shitty local newspaper, writing about real estate, reporting on local council, the works. It was so boring that I used to go to the toilet just to get a break from it. But, having said that, when you look back you do realise all the things you learnt from that experience, what you took from it to help further your career, and how it helped you get where you want to be.

I don’t know if I did get my name out there though… Is it out there?

What traits does a journalist, in particular an arts reporter need?

Well, you’ve got to enjoy having a lot of finger food, because you’ll be attending plenty of events. I’m not interested in all the arts. Some times I have to fake it, like I’m a bit, ‘oh my god’, when it comes to anything related to dance. So it’s important to know how to do your research. But, as well as that, you should never be afraid to ask the person you’re interviewing for clarification if you don’t quite understand what they’re talking about. I’ve made the mistake of acting like I had a clue, and then misrepresented what they were trying to say. Having the willingness to learn as you write is very important. Another challenge, particular in feature writing, is learning to write interestingly about some not-so-interesting topics.  Often, you’ll be sent a press release, and you’re one of 20 journos who have been sent it, so you have to rely on your writing to stand out.  But I’m still learning about different ways of story-telling and writing with colour. I don’t think you can ever stop honing your craft. That sounds so wanky, but it’s true.

What’s your favourite story you’ve written?

I did a story where I interviewed Banksy, supposedly. Although it was only via email (he/she/it can’t be identified), it made the front page of The Age. It always is rewarding when the arts crosses over into the mainstream and is considered a headline, because it is usually marginalised and saved until the back of the paper. I have also been a part of a series where you eat lunch with your interview subject, and those stories are always very interesting: you get the chance to spend a good couple of hours with the interviewee and to build a rapport with them. Often the best stories are the ones you might not expect. Usually when you interview someone who is mainstream famous you only get twenty minutes, plus a publicist breathing down your neck dictating what you can and cannot ask. To be honest, I have interviewed a lot of rockstars who were either totally vacuous or assholes.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I like that it’s always different and varied. I have my routine in the office, but you never know what’s going to land on your desk until you’re there. I’m not even sure what might come up next tomorrow, and I like that. I think there’s a chance I could go stir-crazy otherwise.

How do you deal with the stress and pressure of working as a reporter?

I wait until the last minute [to write] and then I complain about it. If it was a career, I’d be CEO of the procrastination empire. I admit though, I get the luxury of not having to go through the daily panic and stress of writing news reports- where you’re like ‘oh, shit, I can’t procrastinate this’. I’m glad I have a lot more freedom as a features writer. I think having that space makes me a better writer, not to mention a more pleasant person to be around.

What advice would you give to a journalism student in the changing landscape of journalism?

Nowadays, it’s better to have a broad range of skills. You can’t just rely on being a good writer. You need to be able to use technology to publish and produce your stories. At The Age specifically, we all do more: we take photos if we have to, and we’re aware of the fact that week-day print for The Age, and most traditional newspapers might not be around for much longer. Even the concept of an office is a bit outdated now. I don’t really feel like I can be giving advice when I’m anxious for my own future, but that would be my main tip.

Having said that, you guys [millennials] are intrinsically good with technology, so I think that will definitely help you with getting jobs. Yes, the journalism climate is changing, but I think there’s more varied opportunities to get your name out there now than there was when I started.