Debra Jopson

Debra Jopson

Debra Jopson is the 2014 Walkley Freelance Journalist of the Year. Since leaving The Sydney Morning Herald two years ago, she has focussed on contributing to quality outlets which pay properly. These include ABC-TV’s 4 Corners, The Saturday Paper, The Global Mail (now defunct) and The Observer in London. As media outlets close, shrink or grow mean, she welcomes any new well-resourced start-up. Independent journalism is about leaping from lily pad to lily pad, she says.


Hi, what’s your name?

Debra Jopson

Where do you hail from?


Who do you work for?

Independent journalist. In the past two years I have contributed to The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The Observer (London), The Saturday Paper, The Global Mail and ABC-TV’s 4 Corners program.

Tell us a bit about you – how did you get to where you are today?

I’ve been a journalist for 40 years. After a News Ltd cadetship, I travelled through my 20s, freelancing in Hong Kong and London before settling back in Sydney. I specialised in news and feature writing and have had three full-time incarnations at Fairfax. In the most recent 18-year stint at The Sydney Morning Herald, I was Aboriginal Affairs writer, health reporter and then did four years as on the investigations team. I rounded off with a couple of years as the regional affairs reporter and left to freelance and write fiction in 2012.

What are your career highlights?
  • 2004 Won a Walkley Award for coverage of indigenous affairs with Gerard Ryle for “Black Land, White Shoes” investigation – also highly commended in Human Rights print media award.
    2006 Won the print media award Human Rights Commission for the story “Australia’s War Crimes Fiasco”.
    2007 Won the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) media peace award for best print feature (with Joel Gibson).
    2010 Won the UNAA media peace award as part of a Sydney Morning Herald team for promotion of Aboriginal reconciliation.
  • 2013 Won the Human Right Commission’s print and online media award, as well as a Kennedy award, for ‘Rock Art at Risk’.
  • 2014 Named Walkley Freelance Journalist of the Year and finished writing my first novel.
Who or what inspires you to get out of bed in the morning?

Gathering and telling stories, big and small, delights me. Bringing untold stories to light excites me. At The Global Mail, the “publish” key was called the “Change the World” button. It would be wonderful if any story I was involved in could do that.

Which other storytellers do you admire?

Journalists: Dexter Filkins, of The New Yorker, for his courage and incisiveness in reporting on the Middle East. David Marr, independent journalist for his analytical skills, his deftness with words and his whacko laugh. Sally Sara, of ABC-TV, for her persistence and humanity.

Fiction writers: Every quality fiction writer who has ever lived, for the dedication.

What do you plan to share at Storyology?

The hidden pain and power of life as a freelance. A short guide to working as an investigative journalist. Maybe some ideas about what factual writers can learn from fictional writing techniques, such as sustaining narrative thread.

Where can we find you?

Twitter: @DebraJopson

LinkedIn: Debra Jopson