We are in good hands if the latest generation of journalists is a guide
I had been a fledgling reporter at the Kalgoorlie Miner for little more than a month when, in October 1994, a local man hitchhiked to Perth, stormed into police HQ in East Perth and held a senior police officer hostage for seven hours. The man, who was armed with two guns, was later shot dead by police after refusing to drop his weapons.
It was a shocking, front-page story.
It was also my first big story and I still remember the buzz of seeing my reports – focused on insights gleaned from the man’s friends and neighbours in Kalgoorlie-Boulder to complement reporting of the siege by The West Australian’s police reporters – on the front page of the Miner and page four of The West.
For me, those stories served as a reminder why I had studied journalism in the first place before enjoying six months of paid work experience at the News Chronicle (a Community Newspapers title) and then heading to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where a six-week fill-in job turned into three years as a cadet and then graded reporter covering crime and courts, transport, business, local government and sport.
Working on a daily newspaper in regional Western Australia was brilliant and provided great exposure to the basics of the craft – constantly asking “where”, “what”, “who”, “how”, “when” and, arguably most importantly, “why”.
This was in the days before the internet – one of the great technical advances at the Miner was that faxes could be screened on the office PC rather than needing to be printed off. Don’t ask what a fax was – it complemented the Coyote “computers” on which we had to type our stories.
As I learnt the ropes of proper journalism, and aided by some great mentors, the “why” always stuck with me.
Just a year later, I was at the centre of another sad story following the discovery of a newborn baby who had been suffocated to death in a toilet block in Kambalda, 50km south of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Again, the “why” became the focus of my series of stories, which resulted in me receiving the Eaves-Prior-Day Prize for best cadet at the 1995 WA Media Awards.
Sadly, it took until last year for the latest generation of journalists to be able to report on what really happened in that Kambalda toilet block 25 years earlier.
I was never a world-beating journalist with ambitions to bring down presidents and prime ministers. In my dreams, perhaps, but in reality I just remained curious and always tried to be true to the journalist’s purpose.
As the famous Lord Northcliffe, owner of London newspapers Daily Mail and Daily Mirror a century ago, once said, “news is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.”
Of course, today’s news cycle is very different to the one I worked in while at the Miner all those years ago.
And the pandemic has added another layer of difference, on two fronts.
Firstly, it has driven insatiable public thirst for information about COVID-19, prompting those live, ratings-winning performances of Premiers and health officials at daily stand-ups. It’s informative, important but also controlled.
Pleasingly, while the nation has been glued to COVID updates and daily news agendas remain dominated by the latest on the pandemic, journalists have continued to ask “why” about matters unrelated to the virus that would have been completely overshadowed if not ignored but for some dogged reporting.
Think unacceptable behaviour in Canberra, unacceptable behaviour on mine sites, unacceptable behaviour in boardrooms, unacceptable behaviour towards Indigenous Australians and unacceptable behaviour by governments with industries they are supposed to regulate.
These are all stories – many of them rightfully and widely lauded – that have made headlines since the start of the pandemic.
These stories have changed the public discourse, forced real action and – hopefully – will change our society for the better.
These stories also serve as a reminder of the powerful good a journalist can achieve by asking “why”.
It is something the latest generation of up-and-coming journalists – no longer burdened by Coyote machines and one shared office mobile but exposed to a world of social media madness – seems to understand only too well.
At Cannings Purple, we greatly value the role the media plays in a healthy and vibrant society.
It is why we are again delighted to be supporting the Eaves-Prior-Day Prize for the best new journalist or cadet at the 2021 WA Media Awards.
Peter Klinger, Cannings Purple’s Director of Investor Relations, spent more than 20 years in daily journalism, working for the Kalgoorlie Miner, The West Australian, Australian Financial Review and The Times (London). Peter is one of many former journalists who work at Cannings Purple.