I haven’t had a lecturer that made me sit up straight in a long time. Most of the time I go into class and my mind is somewhere else – as I do more and get concerned about more things I find myself becoming dangerously absentminded, especially with personal stuff. Moving house and unpacking has been terrible – a compartment of my luggage is still locked because I’ve forgotten where the keys are. :S

Anyway, so this lecturer, Anthony Collins, he’s doing radio with us. An experienced journo, he gave me an Al-Jazeera contact last year and had the highest recommendations for them for their direction of ethical reporting. I can tell he is something who really believes in ethical journalism, and he is someone who entered journalism to bring positive change.

Tony has this to say about the field: in the deepest darkest gutters of the Murdoch presses you will still find journalists that want to change the world. Aww! So cheesy eh, but when your actions reflect your proclaimed beliefs it’s very inspiring and powerful.

I had my laptop at that time and this is what Tony said during our 2-hour news writing training this afternoon (I hope Tony doesn’t mind, it’s good stuff anyway. Remarks are mine.):

We need to be impartial in our reporting but it doesn’t mean we can’t advocate. In community radio it’s kind of our job to promote social activism, to be sceptical about people who are denying climate change, to attack people who are stirring up racial hatred, but we still need to sound impartial. That’s our job. You’ve gotta be clever. You attack them while sounding impartial.

You’re in a position of power because you can influence the way people think. So when you write something – for radio, print, whatever, do you wanna write something that leads someone to make opposite conclusions from what you believe? What do you want to achieve?

I want to influence the national debate. I’ve spent my whole life doing that….in my documentaries etc, tyring to push in a certain direction depending on who I’ working for at that time.

Working for Radio National, it is a small audience but a powerful audience. You’ve got the upper echelons of society tuning in. Whereas at Triple J, you’ve got a huge audience but they’re all under 25. Radio National rates below 2%, Triple J above 10%. (Remark: the point is you must know the potential of reaching out to each audience and know what you want to achieve with your specific audience.)

When we produce breakfast news, we’ve gotta bring across our collective ideology. It’s a group effort, up to everybody to contribute. We’ve gotta write what we think…we’re the sum of all of our parts. We need to work together as a team, have a group agreement about where we’re going. What’s acceptable, what’s not…how our stories sound…picking on each others’ work when it’s not what we think it should be. That’s how it’s gotta be for every story that comes out.

Every story you write, you can easily fall into the trap of getting it wrong. You just need to NOT be on the ball, thinking about the pub for a moment…you take a press release and start writing…and all of a sudden you write a story that turns out to be an ad for Suzuki (remark: which is not really what breakfast news is about)…it happens! You’ve gotta make sure you’re not discriminating against any sector of the community.

Go into each story with a fine tooth. The worst thing your news story can be is WRONG. The number can be wrong. The name can be wrong. Or the state.

We’re not all geniuses or completely consumed by political knowledge and knowing everything, we’ve gotta help each other out and learn along the way.

This is the science of communicating ideas clearly.

There’s gonna be jobs in radio ABC for years to come, safer than print and television (remark: because of the onslaught of new media).

Journalists of the future are content providers. You need to have the ability to communicate ideas clearly and concisely…whether its written, audio, photography, whatever. We’ve also got to strive to bring some personality and flavour into our reporting while being staid and impartial. We want to make our program entertaining and engaging for our audience.

Focus on words. The meaning of this word and that word. Is it the right ending, the right tense. Always ask if there’s a better word.

Ask what is the actual story in this story?

Boil it down. Don’t say Friday the 25th. People will be thinking…when is the 25th? Say this Friday. (Remark: for radio. In radio you’re just relying on empty air, unlike print.)

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Tony’s funny, too. We were going through this pet insurance press release and laughing about how that could be news…

“I love dog stories! I’ve got 2 dogs, Kelly and Bear who’s just like a grizzly. You know what, I don’t mind those dog stories coming in on breakfast news. We can have those little stories at the end of the bulletin.”

Sorry I absolutely have no time to rewrite this into something better. I’ve decided that this is a piece I can afford to deliver just with the bare facts. I’ll be sending this out to all my journo friends in Malaysia, esp. those interested in radio.