Patrick Wood, digital journalist at ABC News Breakfast

Patrick Wood, Digital Journalist at the ABC News Breakfast. Photo by Danny McSweeney.
“I’ve found I’m now more interested in the human stories ... about people and their struggles, or learning something inspiring that someone has done, something that makes you look at the world a little differently." Danny McSweeney talks to digital journalist Patrick Wood, from ABC News Breakfast.

How did you get into Journalism?

After I did a three year Journalism course at Monash University I pretty much applied for any job I could find. I ended up doing a lot of freelance work for anyone that would let me do stuff for them until eventually I landed my first job as a sub-editor at the Daily Advertiser. That meant I still wasn’t writing the stories, I was just working on the headlines and editing other people’s articles. So, one day I pitched to the editor that I’d work on a weekly Column for free on my own time, and of course no newspaper is going to knock that back. After doing that I proved to the editor I could write and I started reporting on the Federal budget.

Why did you want to get into Journalism?

It’s more fun than sub-editing, it’s so much more fun. I just got tired of working on other people’s work and I sort of wanted to write my own stories. And for me I absolutely love doing the interviews. More than writing, more than subediting, I just love doing interviews. I particularly love the difficult ones with people like politicians or people who have interesting but hard stories to share. That’s what sort of drove me to do reporting.

How do you make sure you get a good interview?

The first thing to do is have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the interview. If you go in with a scattergun approach it’ll come across as very unfocussed and like you don’t know what you’re doing. You also need to do as much research on the subject or person you’re interviewing as possible. That way you don’t accidentally ask any obvious, or stupid questions that’ll make them think that you don’t respect them or their time. It’s also important to mirror but not mimic someone’s behaviour during in an interview. If they’re quiet and withdrawn you don’t want to come on all strong, but if their animated and really loud, you don’t want to be softly spoke. You want to match people’s moods.

What’s it like being a digital journalist?

There’s a lot of time management involved. You’re always balancing a lot of roles. One day you’ll be working on an article, another day you’ll be taking photos or working on a video. All of which require different amounts of time and skillsets depending on what you want to do. With digital journalism, more than television or newspapers there’s so many ways to tell a story. Some stories might work better as a video instead of an article. For example, I did an article on a guy who holds the world record for solving a Rubix cube in 5 seconds. Now just hearing that you want to see him actually do it, but if I just told you that by writing it down in an article it wouldn’t have the same effect, so we also included a video of him doing it within the article.

What was the hardest article for you to write?

Back when I was working in print paper we used to have a police scanner in the newsroom. And one day we’d heard that a boy had gone missing by the local river while swimming with a bunch of other kids. I went down and arrived just as the police were, none of the other emergency services had gotten there yet. Then over the course of an hour I just watched how the panic started rising. The family were an emotional wreck, just crying and screaming. It’s not something that’s happened after the fact, you’re standing there watching that in real time. You could see the hope drain from them and their panic turn into despair. And you have to report on that.

 How have you changed as a journalist?

I think I’m better now at finding an angle for a certain article. When you’re doing a long interview it can be hard to zero in on what’s important and what the reader wants to know. I also think when I first started out reporting I went into every story as a potential scoop or expose. But not every story is like that, and working like that can really hurt your reputation and make it difficult to get contacts later on. I also used to look for the hard-hitting political stories a lot more, but eventually I just got a bit tired of it and became less and less interested in the constant punching on in political stories. I’ve found I’m now more interested in the human stories. News about people and their struggles, or learning something inspiring that someone has done, something that makes you look at the world a little differently.

 When did you know when print media was in trouble?

When all of my friends started getting redundancies. We suspected it wasn’t going to last forever, but when you start seeing your friends getting made redundant because those positions are no longer required, you realise things are changing. I really feel like I got the last gasp of the newspaper industry.

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

The whole industry has changed. Editors aren’t just looking for journalists anymore. They want people that can write, edit, and take photographs. You’ve got to be sort of Rambo journalists. You’ve got to be a lot more adaptable now than you were 30 years ago. And If you’re at university, apply for a lot of internships.