One of the regular highlights of my year is attending the Andrew Olle Media Lecture. Andrew was an Australian journalist who embodied so many of the great principles of journalism who died suddenly from a brain cancer, aged 47. Ever since, there’s been a black tie event and fundraiser for brain cancer research.
Though it wasn’t in the “main speech”, I was referenced in one of the speeches at last night’s event. “It was you, I was talking about”, Marty McCarthy told me later in the night. Marty, along with Bridget Brennan were the Andrew Olle Media Scholars for 2015-2016, and I had a role in selecting them. The scholarship goes to promising young journalists, allowing them to pursue and fast-track career goals.
Last night, Marty made reference to the selection process, and how someone on the panel had asked him about how he would try to convince a city-centric news editor of the value of a story about an issue from regional Australia. Though I don’t recall the specific words I used, Marty told me they have played on his mind for the last twelve months. It was something along the lines of “People in the city don’t care about the country unless the story is about floods, bush-fires, or something pretty quirky. How are you going to convince your editor this is a good story if that’s what they believe their audience thinks”?, I asked.
I was being provocative, sure, but also realistic. I’ve met many people working in the media, who’ve never been west of Parramatta. There’s a higher barrier in the media, generally, for stories from regional areas. It has to be a great story, not just a good story, from my experience. As a boy who has spent most of his life in country areas, this makes me sad in many ways, but has also set me a challenge throughout my career in radio journalism.
I remember years ago doing an interview with Joe Schipp, the member for Wagga Wagga, and, at the time, NSW Housing Minister. I was the Morning Presenter for ABC Radio in Wagga at the time, and Joe was fairly frank in his assessment of NSW politics. The interview resulted in a front page newspaper story locally, in the Sydney Morning Herald, in a classic headline, “Shut Up Joe” and contributed towards the sacking of Mr Schipp. “Why did you send that through to Sydney?”, Joe asked me later, “That was meant for local consumption only”. He had never given me any caveats on being granted the interview, and I explained that it was my responsibility working for a national broadcaster to send the interview through to Sydney, and it was in the interests of the public for the rest of the country to know. A great story is a great story, and there should never be a geographic reason, or even a perceived geographic reason why the world shouldn’t know, and yet, it remains an issue for much of the mainstream media in Australia.
It was so great last night to see Marty and Bridget speak. Bridget is a young Indigenous woman from Victoria, who is now working on Four Corners. She made an amazing radio documentary a few months ago about how the number of young Indigenous kids being taken away from their parents is actually higher now than at the time of the “Stolen Generations”. As I work closeby, we often see each other in the lift. They were both so confident in their speeches last night, compared to a year ago. And while coverage of the Andrew Olle Media Lecture often focuses on the main speaker (Waleed Aly was terrific by the way), I usually think it’s the scholars who are the most interesting part of the night. They’re the ones who are going to “live” the traditions of great journalism into the future.