Chris Woods, freelance journalist at Crikey

Chris Woods. Photo James Arbuthnott.
Chris Woods is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist who writes about science, politics and social affairs. His work has appeared in Scum Magazine, Crikey, Junkee and The Saturday Paper. He speaks to James Arbuthnott.

You have the Crikey Worm which comes out every morning and you also have investigative work and features. How do you manage your time while covering so much content and so many beats?

I kind of think that I don’t do as good a job of that as I’d like. But when I look back and see that I am working almost 24/7… it’s finding when and where it’s possible to do your own stuff. When it’s a job it’s so much easier to be like, ‘these are the hours I need to be working’. That’s what’s so good about The Worm, even though the hours aren’t great because it’s coming out every morning. I actually work very late nights instead of early mornings for that. But that one’s good because I know every night those are the hours, and the rest is trying to find as much time as possible in the day on top of life stuff to try and do the more investigative stuff or feature stuff.

How does freelancing compare to full-time journalism?

It’s a double-edged sword in a way because you get a lot of freedom, you get to focus on the stuff that you’re interested in, you often get to take as much time as you want on a story, so it’s a privilege in a lot of ways. But then you also don’t get the same support and pressure than you do if you’re employed or working from an office. So you need a lot of self-motivation, and that’s something that I’m still working on.

What’s the Crikey newsroom like? What’s the atmosphere?

A bunch of nerds [laughs]. No, they’re the loveliest, smartest people… they are all incredibly sharp, lovely and kind people… I know some of the people there and they really care about journalists and about politics and just some of their minds, they have three associate editors and they’re all amazing at what each of them does.

The voice of the whole company is kind of ballsy. Especially Helen Razer, she’ll call someone a fu**wit and back it up. She’s not scared of anyone else.

Totally. She’s incredible. And you see that on a lot of their other stuff as well… all the journalists there have been around for so long that they know what they’re talking about. And I like that they can be quite cheeky. It can be a really fun and important company.

What have been some challenges and highlights in your career so far?

Finding stuff that isn’t already out there and being done better than what I can do… A lot of it for me is just out finding, how can I top that, or how can I contribute in a way that they haven’t already? And a lot of it is just doing the work and being like, ‘OK, what is this debate missing?’

When I was with Junkee last year, going to California for a week… A lot of this new-wave energy stuff is using giant batteries around LA to absorb power during the day and release it in the afternoon… Getting to speak to an Apple VP was amazing, she was really interesting, that was a really fun week.

There was one article that was something that I honestly believed in, and it was the fact that Australia has weaponized suicide in its campaign of deterrence against people seeking asylum. (The government) has gotten to a point- and it’s been obvious for years- but they said they were willing for people to kill themselves, multiple people to kill themselves, if it means you don’t want to ask for our help any more.

If you research something and feel a lot about the topic, how do you bring readers along with you?

 Basic journalism is acknowledging every side’s position whether you like it or not… but then that’s the power of journalism: you can say, ‘here are two things, they’re not necessarily equally valid or they’re not what they might appear to be’. But you can’t just vent to your reader, you can’t just scream at them. You need to break it up with quotes and information and, if you are writing about someone you find detestable, let their words and actions speak for themselves.

You cover politics, media and technology. Do you think they ever coincide and it becomes one big, grand narrative? And how do you split them up?

The best example of that is the National Energy Guarantee. It’s focused on technology, it’s focused on politics, but it’s also focused on global warming. And that’s something that’s interesting because it has a human element, it has the investment part… there’s the political end where you know there are people like Abbott and Joyce where it’s purely ideological. A lot of this stuff does have multiple interesting elements to it and that’s what I like doing as a journalist.