Walkley Young Journalist of the Year television category winner Jake Sturmer -who also won the Overall Young Journalist of the Year Award - and finalists Jeanette Francis and Renae Henry share their thoughts and opinions on TV journalism.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A GREAT TV JOURNALIST?
First and foremost, the ability to find a good story. Without a good story to tell, you’re hindered from the beginning. A mentor once said it’s about making the important, interesting – not making the interesting seem important. From there it’s about having an understanding of the elements that make a good story and using them in a way that works to convey the mood and feel of the tale you’re trying to tell. I think great television is about telling a story that unfolds before you, and engages people in a lasting way. I can still remember the great stories from people like Chris Masters, Paul Barry or Matthew Carney because they don’t just inform and provide an understanding, they leave an almost indelible impression.
Jake Sturmer, ABC 7.30 Report
I think you need a number of traits, some natural, others learnt. An eye for the visual and the ability to be succinct are key to writing a TV story. As a TV journalist you share the responsibility of telling a story with pictures and sound so it’s important to be able to summarize information and keep words to a minimum, which can be challenging when you’re faced with dense information. I feel you have to be particularly sensitive when you’re a television journalist because you’re effectively sticking a camera in people’s faces and expecting them (in some cases) to pour their heart out to you, which can be very daunting for them. It’s harder to get a story when there’s a camera because interviewees tend to feel more intimidated when their every move is recorded (some tend to freeze up once you turn the camera on), so there’s added pressure to assure those who feature in the story that you’re going to make a good job of it. You also need to be fairly quick on your feet and attentive because it’s easy to miss the best shots.
Jeannette Francis, SBS World News
I’d like to think I’m growing as a TV journalist every day but so far I find it helps to have a bit of 'bulldog' in you, to not be afraid to ask certain questions, or pursue certain shots. But there's being sensitive as well. That too gets results. A great TV journalist has a constant curiosity and the ability to step outside a story and understand why people would be interested in it. You have to be flexible and be able to change tack as new information presents itself. Being comfortable in a live situation is also important because it’s a visual medium.
Renae Henry, Ten News
WHAT DRAWS YOU TO TELEVISION JOURNALISM OVER OTHER MEDIA FORMATS?
At the ABC I have the opportunity to work across most platforms – radio, online and TV. I find television journalism – particularly television current affairs – allows you to create an engaging narrative that makes for compelling viewing. If it’s done well, television journalism can draw people in and truly capture their imagination. Being able to see facial expressions and reactions adds another level to the story. The combination of pictures, music, natural sound and visual treatments can work to make good journalism into great stories. While other broadcast media such as radio and TV news inevitably contain some of those elements that make good television, longer form current affairs combines it all in a slick package.
I feel there is more creativity and a greater impact on the audience with television journalism, particularly with long-form stories and documentaries. I’m a visual person and I respond more to a great TV documentary than a well-written article or radio piece. I appreciate the way words and images work together to tell a story and I also appreciate a well shot piece with a minimal script that leaves the viewer really thinking about the subject. That’s a very difficult thing to do. Over the years television news has provided some of the most iconic images of our time, and while the medium is subject to change, the interplay between words and images to tell a story does not. Also, I promised my grandmother I would be on TV.
For me it's the complete package, and the complete challenge. You can't do a story from a desk. You're on the road, constantly thinking about what pictures you need to accompany your words, and how to voice them to set the tone. Then there's helping people feel comfortable to tell their story on camera, and framing questions in such a way that makes them easy to answer.
WHAT CAN YOUNG JOURNALISTS OFFER TV NEWSROOMS?
A fresh and wide-eyed approach. Young journalists generally aren’t as set in their ways and are able to approach situations with unique perspectives. Their opinions may not always be appropriate, but creativity and a willingness to try something are two skills that are invaluable. Another thing young journalists (generally) understand is technology, which is a great enabler in news environments. Young journalists are keen to embrace new technologies and understand how they can be used to improve news output/quality.
Energy. That’s not to say that older journalists lack energy, but there’s a certain eagerness that comes with being a young journalist, borne out of a need to prove yourself. Younger journalists tend to have a can-do attitude that if nurtured, can really encourage a young person to produce quality work. Young journalists (in my experience), are often willing to learn and this makes them flexible in their approach to their work and their colleagues. I find many are afraid of making mistakes but tend to learn from errors fairly quickly, which are good traits to have in a newsroom.
What we lack in experience we make up for with energy and enthusiasm. I'm often told I'm persistent. I hope that doesn't fade. I learn from my senior colleagues every day. I only hope I inspire them a little.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A JOURNALIST?
There was no one point where I decided that journalism was for me. I think it came down to the fact that I’m a naturally curious person with a short attention span. When one of my lecturers told me that journalism was knowing a little about a lot of things, that was the point I decided that I’d made the right choice.
I knew from a young age when I would watch reporters on TV and think I can do that, but it wasn’t until I near-failed (and subsequently dropped out of) my first year of an arts degree that I really pursued it. I knew then there were only two disciplines I wanted to study: drama or journalism. They might seem like two polar choices, but inherent to both is a desire to tell stories, and that was ultimately what I wanted to do. I chose journalism because it was the one profession I had the most respect and the most loathing for, and the influence it yielded appealed to me, as did the idea of travelling and covering something different each day.
I've never been afraid to ask too many questions and always enjoyed public speaking and writing. The more I learned about the role of a journalist, the more I loved the idea of unearthing stories and bringing them to the public’s attention. There is nothing quite like the thrill of the chase, following a story as it develops, right through to the end. More than anything else, I respect that I'm responsible for keeping people informed.