Current trends in international journalism were central to the International Reporting Conference held at Macleay College this week.
For a second year, Macleay hosted the conference and webinar at its Sydney campus. Media professionals and academics were among the keynote speakers who addressed issues such as reporting war and conflict, relations between China and Australia, journalism in Africa and the standard of modern international media coverage.
The conference featured a live Twitter feed for students and guests to comment and post questions to the panel. The Melbourne campus also took part in the conference with panels contributing to the commentary via video link.
Keynote speakers included Jamie Zimmermann, Louisa Lim, Randall Smith and Claire Harvey. Notable panellists were TV journalist Hugh Riminton, academic Ian Lang, ABC senior producer Edmund Roy, veteran TV news director Chris Willis and foreign correspondent extraordinaire and multiple Walkley award winner Monica Attard.
— Louisa Lim (@limlouisa) March 23, 2016
Stephen Davis, head of journalism at Macleay College, highlighted the importance of hosting the conference, suggesting stories now cross borders more than ever before. Mr Davis flipped the common phrase “all news is local” on its head, saying “Now it’s international”.
In an increasingly connected world, he said, it was important for Australia to think and act internationally:
“Every journalism student who wants a successful career has to think of every story they ever do as an international story, not a local story.”
Jamie Zimmermann, Australian Special Forces veteran and author of The Promise, spoke about journalism in conflict zones. He had some core advice for young journalists chasing big stories: Keep yourself safe.
“Your strongest skill as journalists is your research capability – transfer that knowledge into understanding the dangerous environment you’re working in.”
Journalists should adopt a “top-down” risk management protocol, he said, focusing on protection from the broadest perspective all the way down to individual safety.
Security, he said, starts with understanding “the topographical environment, terrain analysis, travel time, climate, weather patterns, medical facilities, local law and security”.
“Do research on understanding enemy combat tactics, how convoys work… becoming a hostage, survival techniques and dealing with fatigue.”
Louisa Lim, a highly experienced China watcher and author of the People’s Republic of Amnesia spoke about the harsh realities of reporting in China. Describing journalism as a “grey area”, Lim said reporting in China was like “ juggling balls in the dark”.
Reporters based in China need to learn skills such as cyber security and how to use burner phones because most devices are likely to be tracked, she said.
“When you’re practising in China as a foreign journalist, you do have to use a lot of elements almost like spy craft, in order to get around these problems.”
Even so, the environment was fraught with danger and there could be serious consequences for foreign journalists who ventured into China and for their sources:
“They have been beaten up and threatened, had their visas denied… even held at gunpoint.”
Professor Randall Smith of Missouri University spoke about press coverage of Africa from a Western perspective. He argued that episodic reporting of conflict and disease from the continent over the past 30 years had perpetuated a distorted reality.
“What I saw reported in the press often times is a place of tragedy, a place where people get killed, where horrific disease takes place.”
But, he said, there were many good things that could be reported… journalists should therefore counter one-sided reporting by focusing on providing context when covering Africa.
“Mix in other things that are happening on the continent… there are a lot of really great things and a lot of good people at work on amazing projects that could eventually touch our [American] shores and touch your shores.”
A panel of media professionals including Harvey, Riminton, Attard and Willis addressed the problems of providing better coverage of world events for media audiences.
The panelists agreed that international reporting remained an important element of any functioning democracy despite constantly coming under challenge.
Current international coverage was described as “patchy” but panelists provided students with a range of advice on handling the demands of reporting on a global scale.
Claire Harvey: “I would say go and find original, entertaining, fun stories… find the human stories of ordinary life.”
Hugh Riminton: “If you’re gutsy enough, smart enough, you’ll find your way in that world and have a pretty interesting life.”
Monica Attard: “Work your up through an organisation where your enthusiasm will show your editors why you need to cover a war.”
Chris Willis: “Become multiskilled so you become a valuable employee … go somewhere safe to start with … and never give up.”
Photo by James Mott. From left: Claire Harvey, deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph; Hugh Riminton, Channel Ten; Monica Attard, veteran broadcaster now teaching at Macleay College; Chris Willis, former news director for Channel Seven; and Macleay student Victoria Cotman.