Sharing, sensitivity and courage: Walkleys at the Sydney Writers Festival

The Walkley Foundation presented three, free panels at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. Walkley Foundation intern, Carmen Juarez, has all the details.

The Rally Cry: Stories that Inspire Change saw Patrick Abboud, reporter for The Feed on SBS2 and finalist in the 2013 Walkley Multimedia Storytelling category, Hal Crawford, editor-in-chief at ninemsn and Madhvi Pankhania, 2013 Walkley Award winner and producer for Guardian Australia speak to Christopher Warren, CEO of the Walkley Foundation, about how social media and multimedia storytelling are changing the way journalists work.

The panellists discussed the impact of social media on the early stages of story creation, including, as Crawford explained, the fact that expected social media response to a story will shape the way it is crafted. Abboud added that a major part of writing now involves asking oneself “how shareable is this story?”

Readers’ news consumption was another key issue. Pankhania and Crawford said article webpages are now more important than a website’s homepage as a result of readers bypassing homepages to reach articles via links from elsewhere on the web.

On the issue of “click bait” – stories published to generate more site traffic – Crawford said not every story is “expected to change the world” and that “stories are an important part of entertaining the audience”. Pankhania said creating eye-catching, shareable headlines was more important than ever.

Beyond the Block saw Wesley Enoch, Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company, Malarndirri McCarthy, Senior Journalist/Presenter for NITV News and Kathy Marks, 2013 Walkley Award winner and Asia-Pacific correspondent for The Independent discuss moving beyond stereotypes saturating coverage of Indigenous affairs with Fiona Harari, journalist, television producer and 2013 Freelance Journalist of the Year.

The panellists discussed issues of cultural sensitivity, including the need for cross-cultural training. Marks said she covers Indigenous affairs as she would any other story – doing thorough background research, listening and respecting people and the story. Malarndirri called upon journalists to “just think, think before you go in”, saying that showing just one part of a story “can be devastating to communities”.

The panellists agreed that the media needed to “dig deeper” on Indigenous issues by exploring what the underlying problems were. Enoch said “journalists need to show the complexity of the issues, not the simplicity.” The panellists also called for stories addressing fundamental questions such as the constitutional issues surrounding land ownership.

Courage, Persistence and Investigative Journalism saw Walkley Award winners Joanne McCarthy, Sarah Ferguson and Trevor Borman discuss the stories they have broken and the events that unfolded with Christopher Warren.

McCarthy discussed her work on child sexual abuse with institutions including the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army, including the difficulty of reporting objectively after essentially becoming an advocate for the victims whose stories she helped to expose.

Both McCarthy and Ferguson discussed the problems of working with police at both State and Federal levels. Ferguson shared her experience of uncovering people smugglers operating from within Australia for the ABC’s Four Corners program. She told of the pressures of working to deadline when a story could take unexpected turns and of relationships with sources that can make or break a story.

Borman told the capacity audience about his 2013 investigation into the death of Ben Zygier – otherwise known as “Prisoner X” – which won him and fellow team member Vivien Altman the Walkley Awards for Best Investigative Journalism and best TV/AV Weekly Current Affairs. Borman revealed the difficulties of reporting on issues which could be seen as compromising national security, and of working on a story which potentially exposed him to threats on his life and the lives of those closest to him.

– Carmen Juarez is currently interning at the Walkley Foundation, after completing her Journalism (Honours) thesis at QUT. Twitter: @CarmenJuarez