Thinking about entering our Young Journo awards, which are now open for 2017? Amy McNeilage, the 2015 Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year, shares her advice. Amy’s trip was supported by prize partners at Twitter, CNN, Cathay Pacific and Huffington Post, with overall partnership by News Corp Australia on the Award category.
Walkleys: How did it feel to be named Young Journalist of the Year?
Amy: Being named the Young Journalist of the Year was a great honour and hugely gratifying. There is always a part of you that worries your story isn’t as big as you think it is and won’t make the impact you hope it will. Lisa Visentin and I were really proud of the work we did on the MyMaster investigation and it was heartening to be recognised for it by our more experienced peers.
What were you most excited about for the trip?
New York City is in many ways the centre of global media, so it was an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the industry leaders. I was excited to visit the CNN newsroom to get a peek into how one of the world’s biggest, most influential media companies operates. At Fairfax, I of course already work in a major newsroom, but the sheer magnitude of a place like CNN is a whole other beast.
I was also curious to learn more about the strategy at Huffington Post. Given it already has such a strong presence in the online opinion sphere, I was interested to see where they are investing and how they plan to grow and maintain their influence.
Was there anything that surprised you that you learned visiting the US newsrooms?
There is an energy to New York that is infectious. Everyone I met was ambitious, hard-working, fast-talking and effortlessly impressive. This was heightened given I was there during the lead-up to the presidential election, which is an all-consuming marathon that sees journalists working around the clock for months on end.
It didn’t surprise me, but it was was especially interesting to see how much companies like Huffington Post invest into researching and understanding how their audiences engage with content online. They really understand their audiences and they are taking a very sophisticated approach to social media, both to engage their readers in new and interesting ways and as a means of reaching new audiences.
They have huge teams of people solely devoted to experimenting with, and developing strategy for, distributing their content on social media. Rather than simply reacting to reader trends they are working to anticipate and manipulate them. They are also using a wide range of platforms in addition to Facebook and Instagram, such as Periscope, which is great for covering breaking news stories.
How has that experience helped you, or changed how you will approach your work/career?
Newsrooms in the US are at the forefront of innovation in terms of digital journalism, and seeing the sophisticated way in which they are using technology to tell and share stories gives me great hope for the future of online media.
CNN, for example, is increasingly using drones to capture and broadcast images from places that were previously difficult or too dangerous to enter, while the Huffington Post is devoting a lot of resources to creating interesting video content, focusing on snappy news grabs, as well as long-form features, virtual reality content and live-broadcast interviews via their HuffPost Live streaming network.
I’m looking forward to taking some of what I learnt and sharing it with my colleagues to continue enhancing the way we tell stories and share them with our audience.
What does a win like this mean for you as a young journalist?
The Walkley brand is extremely recognisable. I was surprised that a number of the editors I met in the US had heard of the awards. It is a cliche, but winning a Walkley really does open doors. The most valuable part of winning an award like the Young Walkley is that it gives you an opportunity, something to leverage that will get people’s attention. Busy editors will meet with you, and newsrooms like CNN will agree to host you.
What advice would you give other young journalists considering entering the awards?
My advice to other young journalists who are considering entering the awards would be not to worry about whether or not your work is good enough. Let the judges decide that. Journalists tend to be very self-critical, and I think the Walkleys can often seem unattainable, something for ‘better’ journalists. It’s important to keep in mind that most of those other journalists are probably having the same doubts.
McNeilage soaking up the atmosphere at a New York Knicks Basketball game. Courtesy of Amy McNeilage
The exchange experience for our Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year would not be possible without support from Twitter, Huffington Post, CNN and Cathay Pacific, the Jibb Foundation and our other Young Journalist of the Year Award partners: