Telum Talks To: Adam McIlrick, Managing Editor at SBS World News

Telum Talks To: Adam McIlrick, Managing Editor at SBS World News

By Kristy Nguyen

Describe a day in the role of Managing Editor of SBS World News.
The day almost always starts the night before to see what stories are making news in Europe and the US as it wakes up. Since SBS World News is Australia’s only global-facing daily TV news offering, our focus on the international agenda is a key point of difference - an agenda that never sleeps.

We’re a relatively small operation, so almost all of us have very hands-on roles, which I love. I chair the morning and afternoon editorial meetings, which bring the best SBS content together, from our international newsgathering to our digital output, along with our late news team and SBS News in Arabic and Mandarin. There are also significant contributions from our partners at NITV and SBS Audio. There is a lot of collaboration across the organisation.

My role is responsible for both our newsgathering operations along with the production of the flagship bulletin, SBS World News. It’s a team spanning many cities and countries, so, much of my day is spent "checking in" with colleagues. In the afternoons, I spend most of my time focusing on the 6.30pm programme, liaising with our chief producers who curate the show from start to finish.

Among the best part of my day is being able to get in and do some script writing when time allows, especially teasers and promos - matching words with the pictures. All of us have a part to play.

How did you get your start in journalism?
In my final year of uni (The University of Newcastle), I did some voluntary work experience at Prime Television in Tamworth, Northwest NSW. Regional newsrooms are a great place to start as they often have relatively smaller teams with the same news time and space to "fill". 

At the time of my work experience stint, the Prime newsroom was hit with sickness, so I got the call-up and filed a story broadcast across the northern inland of NSW. And the next day, I was asked to file again. And again the day after. All of it was unpaid, but it did pay off.

After two weeks there, I ended up with a show reel (yes, it was VHS), which I sent to every newsroom along the eastern seaboard, including NBN Television. It had a vacancy for a Junior Sport Reporter in its NSW Central Coast bureau and so, that’s where I got my first full-time gig in my final year of uni.

From there, I went to the headquarters in Newcastle, where I moved into general news reporting and presenting across markets in northern NSW and on the Gold Coast. There’s nothing quite like regional experience when it comes to news - you’re very much thrown into it and you get a go at everything. I still call on lessons learnt during my time at Prime and NBN and I loved how closely we worked with rural communities.
What stories have you been most proud of to see covered by SBS?
This is difficult as there is a lot to be proud of! But if I have to choose…I have mentioned this example before, but it pretty much sums up the "SBS essence". When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Moments I still savour and always will. On many occasions, I'd sit with my Lebanese nanna in the evenings in her western Sydney home, and we'd sit and watch SBS News. It was / is a staple for many families and in my grandmother's case, it really helped with her English. I recall her actually mouthing and repeating some of the words former anchor Indira Naidoo had just said. 

Decades later, when my grandfather was in the peaceful final days of his life, he'd listen to SBS Arabic as he drifted off to sleep, comforted by the sounds of home, in his proudly-adopted home. Whatever the language, SBS helped my grandparents, and millions of others, belong.

It’s those stories of "community" that I really love to see covered. For example, the feature about one of the largest Chinese libraries in the Southern Hemisphere in Ballarat. Or like when, recently, during the Morocco earthquake, speaking to the diaspora as they mobilised here to make a difference there. These stories, coupled with our extensive international coverage, are what excite me the most.

How have you seen the media landscape change over the past decade and what do you hope to see improve?
For much of the past decade, before starting at SBS in 2021, I spent most of my time in London, Washington and Singapore, working for the BBC. From an editorial perspective, the single biggest change through the 2010s was the push to not just "tell" the news but to "explain" it. The BBC developed all sorts of programmes and units designed to provide sorely-needed context, especially around events leading up to, and most definitely after, the 2016 US Election.

Technology has also changed significantly. Newsgathering cameras are smaller, mobile technology to broadcast live through apps and units, like TVU and LiveU, make filing from the field much faster and smoother (and cheaper), and smart TVs make our On Demand products much more accessible.

Another big change is the growing number of people watching the news on their personal devices - comparatively smaller screens - requiring us to think more about how "visual" our bulletins are and how easy they are to watch on, for example, a mobile phone. The challenge going forward is to make the product genuinely versatile - for both On-Demand watchers and appointment-viewing audiences, for those watching on big screens, and those watching on personal devices.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working in your current role?
SBS has an excellent cadetship program where journalists in their formative years get the opportunity to work across all News and Current Affairs teams at both SBS and NITV. I’ve been on the interview panel for the cadets for the last two years and the candidates are so impressive - so switched on and confident, and many of them, already working in the media.

We all get a kick out of landing an exclusive, or being the first news team on location or breaking news, but watching the cadets learn their craft is by far the most rewarding part of my job. Just this week, one cadet was beaming with pride in delivering a hard-to-get guest for our current affairs programme, Insight. Just listening to her recount the toil and determination that went into that guest bid, followed by the immense satisfaction in delivering what the most experienced producers can struggle with, assures me that the next generation of journalists and ready and waiting to take over - if they haven’t already.

What are three things you would recommend to PRs when sending a pitch?
1. Know who you are pitching to. For example, if you’re pitching to SBS, look at our Charter and glean from that our purpose, or at least watch our news, check out our news app, or listen to our podcasts. Get to know the product and the people. I once had an email from a well-known PR agency that started with “Dear [insert first name here]”.

2. You’ll find many journalists are time-poor and might often be filing for other platforms as part of their newsgathering day. Consider helping to connect "case studies" with the story you’re trying to pitch ahead of time. How does the story relate to the audience at large? You don’t have to do the journalism for the reporter, but suggestions always help.

3. Be aware of deadlines. If you’re asked a question and you don’t know, the best thing to do would be to own it. Tell the journalist you don’t know, you’ll find out and ask what their deadline is. And definitely communicate if you’re going to get the info requested by the deadline or not. The best experiences I’ve had with PR firms and advisors are with the most transparent ones.

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