The 2020 Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism saw eight outstanding young journalists recognised in the Young Journalist of the Year Awards, from Visual Storytelling to Public Service Journalism, Student Journalist of the Year and overall Young Journalist of the Year.
The Walkleys spoke with all the winners after this year’s virtual ceremony, covering everything from the intricacies of their winning stories to the state of journalism in 2020.
Read on below to meet the next generation of great Australian journalists (these interviews have been edited for length and clarity).
2020 Young Australian Journalist of the Year
Supported by Jibb Foundation
Annabel Hennessy, The West Australian, “Kill or Be Killed?: The First Chapter: The incarceration of Jody Gore”
All media: Public service journalism
Supported by News Corp Australia
Annabel Hennessy, The West Australian, “Kill or Be Killed?: The incarceration of Jody Gore”
“Annabel Hennessy’s work deserves this honour because it demonstrated true excellence at every turn. She discovered the thread of a story, teased it out, chased it relentlessly, and brought it to public attention. Her story telling was factual and compassionate, moving deftly between the human, legal, and political elements of this story. And the impact of her journalism has been immense — a woman freed from prison, and laws re-written.” — The Walkley Judges
How does it feel to have this particular piece of work, The Incarceration of Jody Gore, recognised for these two awards?
It feels amazing. When Jody’s case first happened, her trial in 2015 didn’t really get any news coverage at the time. So to have the investigation recognised is important, [it shows] the significance of doing stories around domestic violence. Also, this was a case involving a First Nations woman, so it shows that these stories are incredibly important to cover.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you first came across the story and how it developed?
I first came across this story via Hannah McGlade, a human rights lawyer. She’s a Noongar woman and researcher here in WA, she’s amazing. We’d been having a discussion about another story I’d been working on, talking about the criminalisation of victims of domestic violence, and she mentioned to me that there was this woman who was in jail who’d been subject to horrific violence and had killed her ex-partner. As soon as she started telling me about it, I wanted to find out why this woman was in jail.
Tell us a bit about the process of how it went from that first initial idea through to the final series of stories?
I really wanted to interview Jody. I felt to get her side of the story would confirm some of what I’d been told, but the WA Department of Justice repeatedly declined our request to interview her or visit her. We did a four-part series for the story and for the final part of it we managed to obtain a letter from Jody and finally got to hear from her voice.
Her family and other people who were involved in the case all lived in Kununurra, which is in the East Kimberley. Initially when I was investigating the story, I was doing it all via phone and it was just so much harder to track people down that way. There was the question, do I make a trip to Kununurra? Am I going to be able to find these people if I go there? But once I got to Kununurra, that was when I made much bigger progress in terms of meeting people face to face and hearing from them first-hand.
They wanted to get the story out there because they believed she had been wrongfully incarcerated, but for them it’s a hard thing to talk about. We’re talking about intimate details of the domestic violence she’d suffered, and it’s something she had never spoken about, before the court case, so I’d like to thank her and her family.
The reporting has had some massive impacts, including Jody Gore’s release from prison and possible reviews of the legislation.
It was quite exceptional that the WA government used mercy laws to release her from prison. Our Attorney General John Quigley has a long standing in First Nations issues and domestic violence, so I think it was a very brave act from him that was quite extraordinary. Following the story, I had a load of women who have been survivors of domestic violence reach out and say how it touched them. So that in itself was very special.
“We’re just so lucky that we do have news organisations to provide accurate information and counter that [pandemic] misinformation”
Do you have a message to the Australian public about why it’s important that we support quality journalism in particular at this time?
It’s hugely important. We’re still in a pandemic and I can’t think of a time when journalism has been more important. Especially in terms of social media, we’re seeing the rise of fake news and misinformation and some of what we’ve seen on social media has literally been putting people’s lives in danger.
We’re just so lucky that we do have news organisations to provide accurate information and counter that misinformation. We need to be hyper-aware that if we don’t support quality journalism, then people aren’t going to be able to get the crucial information they need during things like a pandemic. I can’t think of a more important time to get accurate news.
Would you encourage other young journalists to submit their work for next year’s Young Journalist of the Year Awards?
I definitely would. There’s been a couple of years where I’d wondered, “Oh, should I submit it? Should I not?” It can be a bit of a self-conscious or nerve-wracking thing to do. But I think you just should, even if you’re not sure whether the piece is up to it. We’re often our own harshest critics… I have a lot of colleagues who’ll be really harsh on themselves, but then when you look back, they’ve done some amazing work over the year.
And also, looking back at your work, you can think about how you want to improve or what other stories or ideas you want to pursue. It can be a process of personal reflection and improvement as well as the opportunity for recognition.
Annabel Hennessy is a federal political reporter from The West Australian newspaper and is based at the paper’s Canberra bureau in parliament house. She started her career at Perth’s Sunday Times in 2014 as a real estate reporter before moving to Sydney to work for The Daily Telegraph in 2016. In 2018 she spent three months working in the UK for News Corp as a foreign correspondent.
Thanks to the support of the Jibb Foundation, Hennessy will fly to the USA for a two-week trip to meet with BuzzFeed, The New York Times, Columbia Journalism Review and Quartz.
All media: Shortform journalism
Supported by ABC
Luke Henriques-Gomes, Guardian Australia, “Robodebt leaks expose botched scheme’s failure”
“With deft analysis, gripping reporting and a determination to work his contacts to obtain leaked ministerial and cabinet documents, Henriques-Gomes demonstrated the sophistication of a much more seasoned journalism veteran. His explosive reporting, exposing the controversial Robodebt program, shone a light on the devastating impact it had on thousands of Australia’s most vulnerable. Henriques-Gomes’ tenacity in the face of bureaucratic stonewalling spearheaded public awareness of this scheme, which has since been found to be unlawful.” — The Walkley Judges
Congratulations on winning the Shortform award for your work on Robodebt. What does it mean to you to have your work recognised in this way?
It’s always nice to be recognised for work — it suggests that the work had an impact and that’s a great thing. It’s a bit of a cliché but I don’t think journalists do the work that we do to get awards — it’s more about hopefully making a difference. But I am honoured to have received the award.
How did you get started with pursuing the Robodebt story and what were some of the challenges that you came across on the way?
I became Guardian Australia’s welfare and inequality reporter in 2018 — before that Christopher Knaus had been in that role, doing a lot of work on the Robodebt issue all the way back to 2016. It’s an issue that had bubbled up and then gone away a bit and then bubbled up again. I made a decision to try and follow it as closely as possible and cover it from every angle that we could.
The stories that I entered into the Walkleys relate to documents that I obtained last year and then earlier this year — cabinet level documents to do with the program about a potential plan the government had to expand Robodebt and the more recent one showing that the government had admitted they were going to refund the money.
The obstacles were that the whole program was shrouded in secrecy, particularly once the legal challenges began, so it was very easy for the government to avoid answering questions about the program. That sort of thing happens all the time, which was why it was good to have documents to back up the story, so we were confident with what we were publishing.
Have you become aware of any of the outcomes that your work has had on people who were impacted by Robodebt?
The government’s decision to refund the money and the court deciding that it was unlawful involved the work of a lot of people outside journalism. There have been two court actions and a lot of community campaigners arguing that Robodebt was problematic for three or four years. I hope that those people feel like they can share in this acknowledgement as well. It’s a recognition of their work, that this was a problem and I just happened to be one of the reporters writing about it.
I have written stories individually where people have had their debts changed as a result of stories. I’d like to think that hopefully by writing about it so often we did manage to build the public’s awareness of the problem, which meant the government had to answer questions about it much more often. It was under pressure to explain the problem.
“Writing stories about policies, there’s always somebody at the end of the story that is impacted by the policies… You always feel like your stories are meaningful because you can connect whatever you’re writing to people”
How did you get started in the field of reporting on welfare and inequality?
I used to be a political reporter at The New Daily and had started to write a few stories about the Newstart issue, so I had an idea that it would be an interesting beat to pursue. It’s a great specialisation because it involves people. The stories are always about people. Writing stories about policies, there’s always somebody at the end of the story that is impacted by the policies and it’s really easy to make the link. You always feel like your stories are meaningful because you can connect whatever you’re writing to people, and often they’re quoted in the story as well.
“We should have faith in our journalists to expose wrongdoing where it exists… people should feel comfortable to reach out to journalists and have trust that we in the media can shine a light on those things and make a difference”
On the topic of keeping the powerful accountable, what would you like the Australian public to know about why quality journalism is an essential force for our democracy?
We saw that this week with the stories that 60 Minutes and The Age reported to do with branch stacking allegations in the Labor party in Victoria. That story really showed the power of good journalism, when you can put compelling facts in front of the public and have an impact. Huge questions of the way our democracy is organised — the way our society is run and who’s running it, really.
It shows that we should have faith in our journalists to expose wrongdoing where it exists, and where people do see something happening that they think is not right, they should feel comfortable to reach out to journalists and have trust that we in the media can shine a light on those things and make a difference.
Luke Henriques-Gomes started his journalism career in 2014 covering local councils in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Since 2018, he has been the welfare and inequality reporter at Guardian Australia. Luke’s work at the Guardian has focused on Australia’s social security and disability policies — and how they impact the people they are supposed to serve. This has included a particular focus on the rate of Australia’s jobseeker payment and what has become known as Centrelink’s Robodebt scandal. Before coming to the Guardian, Luke covered federal parliament as a political reporter at The New Daily.
All media: Longform feature or special
Supported by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
Ella Archibald-Binge, The Feed, SBS Viceland, “Australia’s stolen wages shame”
“The story shone a light on a chapter of the nation’s history which many Australians may not know much about, revealing the scale of unpaid wages to Indigenous workers and the impact on successive generations. Archibald-Binge’s established relationships with class action claimants and lawyers gave her access to the remote Aboriginal community of Hope Vale, resulting in powerful and moving interviews with young people and Elders. Great characters and storytelling, beautiful pictures and slick production.” — The Walkley Judges
Going back to the early stages of your career, what was it that drew you to journalism in the first place?
From when I was old enough to really understand what had happened to my grandfather and my family history, what it meant to be Aboriginal, I’d always wanted to work in that space and try to make a positive impact. I always loved writing, I always loved telling stories, that was what I was best at. I thought that was the way I could be most useful, I suppose. And I love it, so that always helps.
How did you come to this story in the first place and how did it develop?
I’d been working as NITV’s Queensland correspondent for a couple of years, so I’d been covering this story [“Stolen wages and generations of disadvantage: Is this Australia’s version of slave labour?”] pretty closely through the various stages of the class action. I was keen to look at it from a new angle for The Feed, from the perspective of young people, and we were just lucky to find a couple of super intelligent young people [who] had a really great way to express it. To see them and to see the relationship they had with their grandparents and how it had shaped them was really powerful.
Did you feel a close, personal connection to this story, and did that affect the way that you went about pursuing it and putting it together?
For a lot of Aboriginal journalists, most stories have that element to it. It’s not an abstract idea. This is something that’s real to us and has impacted our families as well, so I think you’re always very aware of that going into it. You come into any story really wanting to do it justice, and provide an accurate representation of the stories of the people that you’re speaking to.
And have you seen, or heard of, any real-world impacts from the airing of this story?
In this case, the big outcome that they were pushing for had already happened with the settlement to the class action lawsuit. But what we were trying to do is fill a gap in education and understanding around what that decision meant. Was it enough? Was that justice and what are the ongoing impacts of those policies on young people today; the intergenerational impacts of that?
What does it mean to you, personally, to be recognised with the Young Journalist Award for the longform category?
I was absolutely thrilled. I was stoked, particularly because the last couple of weeks have been particularly tough for Aboriginal journalists across the country. Sometimes it can feel like you’re just slogging away without a lot to show for it, so winning [shows] that your work has really cut through and the message is being heard. It’s given me a bit of hope and new energy to keep going.
What is your personal message to the Australian public about why they should care about and invest in public-service journalism and regional journalism?
In regional newspapers, that’s where I started my career. I know that they’re much more than a training ground for young journos, but it also gave me great insight into the value of your local paper. When I go home [now], I can’t browse through The Border Post and see what’s been happening around town. It was just such a key part of my childhood, so it’s hard to imagine another generation coming up not even knowing that. I know that the move to digital has been a struggle, especially since it’s an older population.
It’s important to shine a light on issues and expose wrongdoing, and something that I’m really passionate about is promoting education and understanding. Another role of media is to keep [online] debates well-informed and make sure they’re based on reliable facts.
“It’s a nice thing to know that you’ll have that [Young Journo Award] no matter what, that now you’ve got something to show for the long hours and the hard slog”
What’s the best part for you of having this trophy and being able to say you have a Young Journalist of the Year award?
It’s just a nice thing to know that you’ll have that no matter what, that now you’ve got something to show for the long hours and the hard slog. It’s something to look at when you’re having a tough day. You don’t do it for the awards, as everyone always says, but it’s just a nice form of recognition.
Ella Archibald-Binge is a proud descendant of the Kamilaroi people from north-western NSW. She began her journalism career in regional newspapers in her home town of Stanthorpe in south-east Queensland, before spending almost six years reporting for NITV and SBS. Now covering Indigenous Affairs for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Ella is spearheading The Dalarinji Project, documenting the lives of First Nations people through a series of news, features and multimedia, with the support of the Judith Nielsen Institute.
All media: Coverage of community and regional affairs
Supported by Google News Initiative
Sherryn Groch, The Canberra Times, “Culture of fear’: Canberra private school engulfed by bullying allegations”
“This meticulous investigation demonstrated determined reporting and courageous storytelling. Groch has built significant trust with a wide range of sources, allowing her to shine a light on a toxic culture that was hurting a school community. These pieces were extensively researched and highly engaging. It’s a fine example of journalism holding the powerful to account, on behalf of those who’ve suffered in silence.” — The Walkley Judges
Congratulations on winning the Young Journalist award for community and regional reporting. How does it feel to have this recognition?
It feels really good, and I know it feels really good for people in the school community that I worked with. They’ve been telling me they’re quite stoked to see the story in the spotlight because for so long, the issues at this school have been under cover of darkness and in silence… This wouldn’t have happened unless I managed to get people in that community to trust me. I was really lucky that a lot of really brave people put their trust in me. I had ex-principals, ex-staff and current teachers break their silence on the front page of our newspaper.
The allegations were [that] there had been decades of bullying that had been covered up and millions of dollars in workers’ compensation payouts…I had to be so sure in what we were reporting — it wasn’t enough for someone to make a claim with their name to it, I wanted the document behind it to prove it so that they wouldn’t be sued. I needed the documents, I needed the paper trail because with a bullying story like this… I had to be really stringent in the way I went about fact checking. That was the level we took with it, because we knew there was a lot at stake for these people personally and we knew people might be targeted.
How did you come across the story in the first place and how did it develop?
Even before I arrived in Canberra, there had been rumours swirling about this particular private school for a long time. It was a well-known school, it got millions of dollars in government funding and it was expanding. But there was always this idea that something was going on. Principals were leaving, the school would famously ask parents to vote no against same sex marriage, and there was a bit of concern that books such as Dracula were being banned — even the school production of The Little Mermaid was sunk. But to actually weed out the truth from all the rumour, it was like Chinese whispers.
There was a lot of people with different ideas about what was going on and I really needed to drill down to just the facts. I wanted to be fair because I was conscious that I was talking about a school where there were great teachers and great students — but it was the teachers who were coming to me. It was a former board member who was so appalled at what was happening, he’d had to resign. It was dozens and dozens of people, and it just all started to pile up.
They described it as a dam bursting and on the front page of The Canberra Times you had ex-principals, ex-staff, teachers, parents and students, all raising their voices together to say, “Look, we love this school, but something’s really wrong here. We need help.”
Real credit to my news director Meredith Clisby, she gave me the freedom to go and chase this and speak to a million people for coffees and take my time with it, because it was not something I could rush. There was a history of lawsuits and really ugly stuff behind all of this, so I had to be careful and I wanted to be really fair. Clearly there was a problem and some of the people I spoke to were really broken by it.
“This is what happens when you give a journalist with a tip the freedom and the time to really get to the bottom of something — I could actually do that old shoe-leather journalism. It took a lot to get people to trust me with this story”
These were people that really loved this school and felt personally intimidated, they were afraid for their safety, not just their jobs. It was an intense story…and in the end it was nice to see that even the people on the other side, that weren’t happy I was doing the story, they at least told me I was fair. That meant a lot to me because I really didn’t want to demonise anyone.
What have been some of the impacts that you’ve seen after the publication of the story on both a personal and institutional level?
Straightaway, WorkSafe swooped in and have since slapped six notices on the school because they found it wasn’t complying with workplace safety laws. The Australian Human Rights Commission is doing some work, there’s things before tribunals and even the court now. Unfortunately there was a very upsetting impact in that a family that spoke out, their two children were expelled from the school, so that’s launched a whole other human rights and children’s rights inquiry. I guess the nicest thing has been the people that have said, “Look, thank you. Finally, we’re being heard on this. We’ve all been so afraid.”
This is what happens when you give a journalist with a tip the freedom and the time to really get to the bottom of something and to talk to lots of people — I could actually do that old shoe-leather journalism. It took a lot to get people to trust me with this story.
“It’s more than just writing up the news. It’s digging into things, it’s finding out and learning from experts and having that privileged position where I’m standing in for the reader and for my community. It’s the best job in the world”
What attracted you to journalism as a career in the first place?
I love talking to people. I love writing, so it seems a no-brainer, but I think it was only when I actually gave it a go and went to RMIT and did that amazing Graduate Diploma program that I realised it’s more than just writing up the news. It’s digging into things, it’s finding out and learning from experts and having that privileged position where I’m standing in for the reader and for my community and saying, “Look, I need to know what’s going on here.” It’s the best job in the world.
It’s so difficult and I know at the moment there’s a lot of doom and gloom, but the Walkleys were so lovely even though it was virtual and we were all celebrating in our lounge rooms. In the middle of this pandemic, hunkered down in our little apartment bureaus around the country, not being connected in a newsroom the way we normally are — that was just a really nice thing to come together and celebrate.
What’s your message to the Australian public about why we need to be supporting high quality journalism for a functioning society?
It’s so important to a functioning democracy. We’re seeing now that media was not in a great shape before the pandemic, and now we’re seeing communities lose their local paper, which they’ve sometimes had for over 100 years.
That’s a devastating thing for a community. That means, who’s keeping watch? There are local council budgets not being reported on, local government decision-making not being questioned, not being scrutinised. It’s more than just holding them to account and keeping them honest. It’s also about giving people a voice.
That’s why this story meant a lot to me, because it’s about people who have been silent. They can’t always be their own advocate, and the media can fill that role. I mean, we’re not advocating for anything — we’re not campaigning — but we can be that place where people can be heard [and] what they have to say, we need to hear it. With more papers folding, we’re just going to hear less. There’s going to be a lot more decisions happening in silence. And when things happen in the dark and we don’t know what’s going on, suddenly we can see big problems down the line.
Sherryn Groch is a journalist at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald — currently hunkered down in Melbourne covering the coronavirus pandemic in depth as National Explainer Reporter. Previously, she reported on education, social affairs and crime for The Canberra Times, where she also worked as a digital producer. Her investigations into homelessness, school violence and the NDIS have sparked government inquiries and won awards (and her investigations into feral peacocks and dogs with diplomatic immunity have helped solve local mysteries).
All media: Visual storytelling
Supported by Sky News
Marty Smiley, Jack Tulleners and Pat Forrest, SBS TV On Demand and Online, “Christian Democratic Party”
“This entry was an immediate standout for the judges. Original, creative and compelling. The storytelling choices — including interesting interview locations, plotting the story alongside chess moves, and getting one of the talent to provide the soundtrack — all added to a theatrical and engaging documentary-style piece. The entry made politics interesting and accessible to a younger audience.” — The Walkley Judges
For you, Marty, and the team Patrick and Jack, how do you guys feel about having won the Visual Storytelling category in the Young Journalist of the Year Awards this year?
It’s awesome. We’re all very proud of the story that we submitted about the Christian Democratic Party and this coup d’etat in state politics in New South Wales. And we all had so much fun working on it together.
Pat did an amazing job on the graphics. I’m not a state political reporter, I’ve never worked in Canberra, so for us it was really exciting to get to go into New South Wales parliament. We wanted to have the graphics sit within that space, and he did a great job of doing that.
And then Jack Tulleners, this was his first edit of a feature. I sat with him through that process and I had a very clear vision about how it would look, from the music to the references, like House of Cards and quite Shakespearian, dramatic stuff.
Picking up an award from the Walkleys for your first edit, that’s a pretty big honour!
Yeah. It’s a big office joke, because we’re notorious, we have a funny relationship — when he started at The Feed I always told him I’m his mentor, and I’m going to take him to the big heights of wherever. We gave him the nickname, JT, and we just love working together. I’m sure he probably wouldn’t say the same, but we’ve loved working together. This is just really great that for his first edit he’s won a Walkley. It’s pretty astounding, and he’s pretty happy about it.
JT is so young and he’s got a Walkley. He’s set from here. I don’t think he ever expected that. That’s going to change things for him. I’m sure he’s going to increase his rate as an editor, which is not good for me. But to be honest, it’s nice to have recognition. We were very proud of that story, and lots of people had great things to say. It wasn’t a viral hit, but I really think we did a good job of turning something that could have been a boring state political story into something that will engage someone who maybe isn’t interested in politics and engage people in the process of democracy.
Tell us a little bit of the story behind this particular yarn. How did you come across it? How did it develop?
This is a classic example of something that happens in the industry a lot — you see an article that exists already. It was being reported on, that there had been this attempted coup of the Christian Democratic Party, and it was by this 18-year-old. The leader of the Christian Democratic Party is infamously Fred Nile and he’s 84. Just that, on paper, is already an exciting story of young ambition in a party that’s very conservative.
I was reading it and thought ‘this is going to get buried as a state political story, and no one’s ever going to see who the characters are’. And that’s what you look for when you’re making documentaries or features, working in video production — who are your characters? Who are the people that are going to carry the story? For this story, all the characters were there, I just needed to bring them to life and, hopefully, get them all to agree to talk to me on camera.
That was an obstacle. Fred did not want to speak to us. He’s an old man. He probably won’t respond to an email or a phone call — he’ll probably respond to being met in person, so I thought, why don’t we just go to state parliament and try and meet him? It’s public, what he has on in parliament, so I knew that he was going to be there on that day.
We just waited in the foyer, and then when he went from place to place, I just asked him again and again. At one point in the conversation I said, “You’ve never seemed scared of an interview, Fred, over the course of your career in politics.” And he said, “You’re right. I’ve never been scared of an interview, Martin.”
I said, “Well, just sit down with us, we’ll have a chat.” On the second or third time, he said, “All right, why don’t you come to this event I have on?” It was like a conservative meeting, a talk on political correctness and why it’s gone wrong, and Fred was there as a dignitary. During the filming of that, Fred fell asleep. He invited us to a press conference that he napped at.
Then later when I asked him in the chambers, when he finally agreed to do an interview, he said, “I never nap. I don’t nap in parliament. I’ve never done it.” And we just knew that we had this footage of him dozing off several times. I mean, I would too if I was his age and still in parliament.
So we had everyone on interview. We interviewed all the characters and people involved. And Fred was the last person, the last piece of the puzzle.
What are the best things for you about working at a show like The Feed?
The work that The Feed does, it opens up a window into other people’s experiences and we tend to tell quite heartfelt, authentic stories. That’s our style, it’s different to the way the 7:30 Report or Four Corners may approach things, they have quite a traditional approach. We’re a young team, everyone’s under 30, pretty much, and the way that we’ve seen the world, growing up, has been different.
I think we reflect that in the way we approach stories. I certainly think about that when I’m making things. There are so many overlaps of people’s experiences, so you’ve got to be creative in the way that you think about approaching them.
I had a submission for “Wage Theft” that I was nominated for last year. I did a lot of reporting around how wage theft and wage exploitation discriminates against the migrant community, who were too scared to speak out because they fear being sent back to their home country. I was quite proud of that reporting, and I do think it has led to social change. Not my story, necessarily, but just all the reporting that was done last year on wage theft has led to real change, giving a platform to employees that have been ripped off up to millions and millions of dollars. We’re now seeing that it’s become a crime in Victoria.
What was it that first drew you into the idea of a career in journalism?
I started working in entertainment and I found it a little bit vacuous and non-fulfilling, to be honest. I was working in music journalism and entertainment, and I loved that because I was 21 and I got to go to festivals and shows all the time. I had a great lifestyle. It was very fun.
But eventually I did feel like I wanted to do a bit more, get my teeth stuck into a bit more. I studied an arts degree at university, but it sparked my interest in lots of different topics, including politics. I studied refugee policy and migration, and I became fascinated by some of those things. I was also exploring my own cultural heritage. My mom migrated to Australia in 1975, from Lebanon. I found it fascinating going back into that history, and it made me want to try to tell other migrant stories while I was finding out about my own and my mother’s.
“There’s a lot of mistrust towards certain media outlets, this all-encompassing idea that anything you read anywhere will be untrue, and that’s a really scary world to live in”
What is your personal message to Australians about the importance of journalism and public interest journalism to the strong functioning of society?
Now more than ever we need good journalism — strong, thorough journalism. Unfortunately we’re seeing a lot of institutions eroded, people’s jobs being lost. And that’s sad to see. I’m grateful every day that I have a job and SBS has been amazing through the pandemic in offering flexibility to their staff. I had to lock in with my parents and I was able to continue working.
That led to me doing better stories, anyway — that flexibility allowed me to continue to work, but in a way that suited the way things were going. It’s unfortunate, but online there’s a lot of polarisation and division about news sources and what you can trust and what you can’t.
I’m hearing it from my extended family, from my friends — there’s a lot of mistrust towards certain media outlets. It’s this all-encompassing idea that anything you read anywhere will be untrue, and that’s a really scary world to live in.
Marty Smiley is a reporter and producer at The Feed, a half hour show that airs nationally on SBS at 10pm on Tuesdays. Since 2018, Marty’s been making short and long form stories for the program, most notably producing two half hour documentaries: “#YesAllMen” about toxic masculinity and “End Of Britain?” about Brexit’s impact on young people. In the last year Marty has focused on migrant stories. He conducted an investigation into how wage theft disproportionately affects migrants. “Shadow Workers” proved to be a shocking snapshot of the life of international students and asylum seekers trying to make a living in Australia.
Jack Tulleners is a Brisbane-born shooter/editor. He interned at The Feed during film school and was hired as a production coordinator and then promoted to a shooter/editor. Jack is comfortable shooting and editing anything from celebrity interviews to documentaries and even sketch comedy. He has recently gone freelance as a producer/shooter.
Pat Forrest is a designer, animator and writer. He has been working as a broadcast designer for The Feed since 2017, and has produced graphics for everything from factual documentaries to celebrity interviews to comedy. He has also worked across other SBS programs such as World News and Dateline.
All media: Student journalist of the year
Supported by Macleay College
Andre Nassiri, University of New South Wales and newsworthy.org.au, “The dark side of Africa’s ‘poster child’” and “Who wins when Rwanda plays the ‘genocide guilt card’”
“Nassiri’s submission deals with complex issues — including decades of politics, personalities and power — in a way which makes them accessible. The articles use personal experiences well and weave them in with geopolitical observations, interviews, quotes, statistics and facts — not easy to do. An excellent and fascinating read.” — The Walkley Judges
Congratulations on winning the Student Journalist of the Year prize. What does it mean to have this recognition for your stories on Rwanda?
It came as a big surprise because I began researching these articles in 2018. I was in Rwanda in September 2018, and I wrote the articles in 2019 and now, in 2020, I’ve got a lot of awards and praise for these articles. So it’s been quite the journey.
“Instead of doing my final year at university, I went to travel through Africa instead, because I wanted to get a better understanding of the region”
Can you tell us a little bit about the birth of these stories and why you decided to write about these topics, how you researched them and what obstacles you came across along the way?
As part of my undergraduate degree at USNW, I was doing international politics, and the region which most interested me was Central Africa, Central and Northern Africa, and by extension, I started researching Rwanda.
When most people think about Rwanda, they think about the genocide, that’s just the first thing that typically pops in people’s minds. And the second thing is that some people would mention the economic success story of Rwanda. I knew about how Rwanda had been rebuilding itself ever since the genocide and what a success story it was. But I also knew about a lot of human rights violations, and what price the economic success comes at.
That’s the bulk of knowledge I had when I went to Rwanda, which was part of a nine-month trip — instead of doing my final year at university, I went to travel through Africa instead, because I wanted to get a better understanding of the region before I graduated, so I’d have a better understanding of what I wanted to do next.
Point being, when I was in Rwanda, the reality and what I’d heard was not in alignment whatsoever. My understanding of the Rwandan political realm — the social political realm — only got fleshed out and became more complex once I was in Rwanda itself. Everyone would tell me how great Rwanda is at the moment, and it was just so bizarre hearing it: “25 years ago, my brother was killed by my neighbour. But now, my neighbour and I are friends.” And everyone would say this.
At some point, you’re just like, “Do you really believe this?” And I was just, like, “No, this cannot be true.” And when I went to Congo afterwards, it became definitely not true. When I spoke to people in Rwanda and outside Rwanda who were not Rwandan, then I heard the true story.
I thought there was more to the story, and I wanted to dig in deeper. When I came back from my trip, I got the chance to interview academics and read up more on Rwanda. And my initial observations were backed up by academics who were in Rwanda. As part of my research I met up with two academics, who have since been banned from ever re-entering Rwanda because they had dared to criticise the Rwandan government. And that [supported the] impressions I had developed in Rwanda about the difficulty of speaking out against the government and government reprisals, particularly if you’re a local, because you have nowhere to run to afterwards.
“One of the greater values of journalism is that it translates complicated information in a way that’s digestible”
In your bio on the Newsworthy stories, it says that your aspiration is to never leave university. Does that still hold or is journalism looking like a potential viable career path now?
I’ve always wanted to mingle the both, actually. A lot of the problems with academic research and academic papers is that they’re inaccessible to the public, which is one of the greater values of journalism, that it translates complicated information in a way that’s digestible for the common person.
“I’m glad that stories about a place that isn’t typically on the Australian radar got attention. That’s very important because the world is very big and there’s a lot of things happening…but all of these things are interconnected”
With your winning stories about Rwanda, are you aware of any impacts that those stories have had?
At a smaller level, I got a lot of feedback. I found that a lot of people are interested in Rwanda, and my stories had actually given them a new perspective. And that was the point, so I’m really glad that’s been the case. Rwanda’s situation was special, and I think it deserved more awareness from a public standpoint.
I’m glad that stories about a place that isn’t typically on the Australian radar got attention. That’s very important because the world is very big and there’s a lot of things happening, which we don’t even consider a lot of the time. We hear about an issue from far away and we think it won’t affect us.
But all of these things are interconnected. Something that happens in Africa, for example, does affect the rest of the world. You can see that in a more tangible correlation between Africa and Europe and migrants, for example, and that affects the rest of the world too. I think that just a better understanding of the world, broadly, helps you understand more even on a local level. And I’m really glad that the Walkleys gave this idea some justification, some validation.
Do you feel that Rwanda in particular, and Africa as a whole, is underserved by Western media organisations, in terms of coverage?
To make a broad generalisation, yes. And that’s not just a journalism thing — that’s in general. People underestimate Africa and they don’t give it attention. It’s a common practice today to think that Africa is a country, firstly, and then that it’s filled with war and corruption. But it’s more than that. There are very few countries in Africa that are at war.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about Africa, and it would be great if more stories of the real Africa were to be shared. Not from me, necessarily, but ideally from an African perspective. That would be the best-case scenario.
Do you have a message for the Australian public about the importance of high-quality, impactful public interest journalism?
I think it’s increasingly important that Australia’s media landscape remains diverse, and that people get information from more than just one source, and that they are open to other ideas, rather than a single outlet with a single viewpoint. I think that’s very important for a healthy democracy. Ideally, I think that it’d be best if we had more independent outlets and different media corporations, in general.
What’s been the best thing about winning this award?
It’s been good just for my ego and my pride, but I think most of all, it has been really nice for my family. I think they’re much happier about this than I am, actually. And that’s good. I think that’s a really nice thing that I can share my success with them.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for instance, anyone you’d like to give a shout-out to for their assistance with the work, or any mentors or anyone that you’d like to thank?
There are two people, particularly, besides my mom and my aunt. Big thumbs-up to them. But Connie Levett, the editor of Newsworthy, she helped me a lot, and Peter White as well, a media professor at UNSW and journalist. They helped me with the structure of these stories, because I had a lot of ideas…there’s so much information. And it was very difficult for me to order my ideas and to make them accessible to a reader that knows nothing about Rwanda or might not be interested in Rwanda. They really helped me to order my ideas in a way that’s interesting, and I’m really glad for their help.
Andre Nassiri is currently completing an honours degree in International Relations at the University of New South Wales. From June 2018, he spent nine months travelling, working and volunteering through eastern and southern Africa.
Watch highlight interviews with the winners of the 2020 Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism
Read all the winners of the Mid-Year Celebration of Journalism Awards here.