Telum Talks To: Ben McKay, New Zealand Correspondent at AAP
What does a day in the role as New Zealand Correspondent of AAP look like?
What makes this such a killer job is that it's such varied work; very few days are the same. In the last month, I've been in the Wellington Press Gallery taking in the madness of the final weeks of a parliamentary term, in Auckland covering the campaign launches of both the National and Labour parties on the road to the 14th October election, down in Dunedin for (another lost) Bledisloe Cup Test, and around the grounds for the FIFA Women's World Cup.
How did you get your start in journalism?
I did a media degree but got sidetracked working in politics and football for a few years before realising journalism was my path. I did unpaid journo work and badgered everyone I knew for job openings and, when one came up, I squeezed my way in with some help. I took a 40k per year pay cut to start in the Hobart office of the Launceston Examiner - a great Tassie paper - and wouldn't change a thing.
Who makes up the team you work alongside at AAP?
Just me in New Zealand, but I work with a great team of editors, producers, and a gun picture team back in Australia. Everyone really cares and it's a hugely can-do environment.
Are there particular topics or events you've been most proud of covering this year?
So much - the New Zealand beat throws up such diverse topics. I was in the room for Jacinda Ardern's resignation in January, and it was like accelerating to 130kmph in a heartbeat as everyone quickly realised we were covering one of the biggest stories in the world at that moment. The Loafer's Lodge hostel fire in May will stick with me for the sheer devastation of people who already struggled so much in their lives.
The highlight has to be the FIFA Women's World Cup. I'd covered the Matildas for a decade and followed them for AAP at the last World Cup in France. Watching their ride in Australia while covering the tournament in New Zealand was unbelievable; those women deserve all the love that Australia showered on them.
Do you often collaborate with New Zealand media outlets?
Not so much in terms of output, but there's strong camaraderie in the Press Gallery; journalists are so kind in helping explain niche Kiwi subjects or cultural references to this Australian. There's competition to be sure, but everyone is proud of the good work our colleagues do.
Will you be the primary person covering the election this year for AAP? If so, what will your coverage entail?
Absolutely. A lot of AAP's work in New Zealand is covering politics, and the next month will be no different. Our feature previews are out the door and we're into day-by-day coverage of the campaign trail. We'll have interviews with party leaders, cover debates, and do issue-based reporting as the policy differences become clearer. Until 14th October, there will be a hefty file for subscribers!
What advice would you give to PRs hoping to get noticed?
At AAP, we're most interested in cold hard news rather than softer or feature-length pieces. Personalise the pitch or call and talk it through. Emails get overlooked. I appreciate journos can be time-pressed, stressed out, and not fun to cold-call, but if there's a news value we can pick it up and will be grateful for your effort.