The fundamental skills of journalism, regardless of the medium, are knowing what a good story is, knowing what people want to read and knowing who your audience is, says veteran journalist James Wigney.
Wigney has more than 25 years of experience as a journalist, is the entertainment editor of the SMARTdaily section at the Herald Sun and other major state mastheads.
How did you get your beginning in Journalism?
I did a Bachelor of Arts and Communications but unfortunately, I graduated in the middle of the recession, so journalism jobs were pretty few and far between. I ended up fluking a job at a small privately owned magazine company, first as a typesetter and then in graphic design. Then I started writing, and I was with them for about two years.
How did you come to specialize in entertainment?
It was something I always had an interest in. I grew up just consuming movies and music and TV like you would not believe. It just so happened that when I was working on the news desk, the Herald Sun said “We’re starting a Sunday entertainment section”, and I just put my hand up and said “I reckon I can do that.”
What do you find are the best parts about your job and why?
I probably like the variety of it most, being able to have a career out of something that I enjoy doing anyway, is not something that many people get to do. For the most part, to be able to see films, and have the opportunity to meet, interview and spend time with some of the people that I grew up idolising, is something that not a lot of people get to do and I don’t take that for granted.
What are the more challenging aspects of your job?
We are now in the business where we used to sell newspapers, now we sell subscriptions. I think one of the challenges with that has been getting people to pay for something that they’re used to getting for free. Whether that’s putting our content behind a paywall [or otherwise], we want to make our journalism worth paying for, and put a premium on that.
Do you have a favourite story or interview?
There’s been a lot, [especially] where I have interviewed people I really admire. Some of those ones were really extraordinary experiences like for example, Sting from The Police. I find him a really fascinating guy and very, very giving.
It was also very rewarding from someone who grew up as a Beatles fan, to be able to talk with Ringo Starr. Roger Waters from Pink Floyd too. I had an hour with him and he’s a tough customer, but a thoughtful guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Also, other people sharing their stories with you. For example, I recently spoke to Natalie Bassingthwaighte for her show [about mental health] that she did for the ABC. For her to be able to talk about things that for a long time weren’t talked about, that can be quite gratifying.
Just knowing there is a forum, whereby people might take some comfort reading something like that and knowing that they’re not alone.
What current trends do you think are affecting the industry at the moment?
The most earth-shattering event for journalism and the media industry was the rise of online media and social media, because so many people now consume their news in ways that we didn’t even know existed 15- 20 years ago.
You now have a proliferation of online outlets, digital stations, streaming services, and radio as well. Now, we have been encouraged to put audio and video into our stories and we have to get new skills to be able to do that. You really do have to be a bit more of a multiskilled type these days.
It’s a much broader job than it ever has been, but it keeps it challenging and it keeps it exciting as well.
To an extent, you have to go and find your readers rather than them coming to you, as they may have once done, you know, 15 years ago, when print circulation was at its highest.
What skills do you personally think are most important to somebody in journalism / media?
What I would say, No.1, no matter what medium you’re working in, is knowing what a good story is, knowing what people are going to want to read, and knowing who your audience is. Whether you’re telling that story by writing, by video, or by audio, or whatever, I think the fundamentals of actually finding the story and executing the story remain the same.
Writing clearly, concisely, and evocatively are skills that also don’t change. You want to be able to trust the source that is your main news source, whatever that happens to be.
Do you have any advice for emerging journalists?
They say it’s the first draft of history and I suspect moving forward, there will be an even greater demand for reliable, credible journalism.
I think don’t be discouraged by what you might think the state of the industry is right now. The demand for good journalism will never go away and you’re doing a public service as much as anything else. Just be as versatile as you can, be as curious as you can and get out there.