Telum Talks To: Claire Harvey from The Australian
Interview

Telum Talks To: Claire Harvey from The Australian

By Rhys Evans

We're about breaking stories, deeply analysing issues and reporting fairly on all sides of debates, no matter how difficult or confronting they may be.

In celebration of The Australian's 60-year anniversary, Telum Media spoke with Editorial Director, Claire Harvey, about her career and the paper's legacy.

Tell us what inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?
I grew up in Canberra, in a house full of newspapers, with both the radio and TV news on, morning and night. Media looked like an industry full of people - including the several generations of journalists in my own family, who had the immense privilege of not just reading or listening to the most interesting things going on in the world, but checking them out first hand. I couldn't wait to join in, and got my first "job" (working for free) as a copygirl at the age of 17. 

What stands out to you as one of the most memorable or impactful stories you've covered at The Australian?
Back in 2003, I spent a couple of months living on the world's most remote inhabited island, Pitcairn Island, in the Pacific Ocean, where half the island's male population had been charged with serious child sex offending. The Pitcairners are descendants of the Bounty mutineers, and ever since Fletcher Christian led them to the island in the 18th century, they've lived a remote, often violent, and deeply fascinating life. The majority of the men were convicted of abusing children as young as two on the island, and they were sentenced to jail. I was there as a Reporter for The Australian, also filing for the New York Times, The Times of London, and Sky News.

I lived in a little house with four other journalists, with no running water and intermittent electricity, filing our stories by satellite phone. It was a true adventure, and it set me on a lifetime's interest in the stories of family violence, sexual offending, and what can happen to vulnerable children when societies don't look after them properly. 

The Australian is celebrating 60 years. What has contributed to its remarkable longevity and success?
Journalism. That's the one-word mission statement of everyone I work with. We're about breaking stories, deeply analysing issues, and reporting fairly on all sides of debates, no matter how difficult or confronting they may be. 

How has The Australian adapted to maintain relevance and engagement with its audience?
One of my jobs at The Australian is hosting our daily podcast, The Front, which is a 12-minute exploration into one story every day, from politics to courts to culture. We have a loyal and growing audience who are mostly new to The Australian, and we tell our stories in The Front in an engaging, amusing, intelligent way without asking them to click on anything or download anything to find out the full story. The Front is free; it's one of the very few ways audiences can sample our journalism. 

The Australian was the first masthead in this country to introduce a hard paywall in 2011, a big decision that went against the trend. That was an acknowledgement of the vast expense required to do real journalism. Without sustainable revenue, we couldn't employ the best journalists in the country. And you quickly realise, once you start asking readers to get out a credit card, that they will pay for quality news: deeply researched investigative pieces, the sharpest breaking news, and the best analysis. That's helped us steer away from the lee shore of clickbait that has lured in some other news outlets - audiences simply won't pay for it. 

The advent of rich data about our stories has also made us better. It can be pretty confronting to read the digital statistics on stories that haven't done well. But that's about serving our audience. If they don't click on something, we either know we've failed to promote and headline it properly, or we've got the tone wrong, or it's not rich enough in the kinds of digital assets (like quality video) that audiences now expect, or it's on the wrong platform (maybe it should have been a video or a podcast, for example) or it's just not a very good story. That cold reality is good for us, and good for journalism. 

We've also embraced new ways of storytelling really aggressively, like in podcasts. We have a heritage now of powerful stories told in audio, for a podcast audience who might never have heard of The Australian, like The Teacher's Pet and Shadow of Doubt - and we honour that audience's desire to hear our journalism in the format they choose, at the time they want it. 

All our stories are now told for all platforms - we want them to be stunningly powerful in print, as well as engaging and rich in our digital products. Our off-platform presence is increasingly important as we negotiate our relationships with distributors like tech and social platforms - and the onus is on us to reach new audiences while remaining true to our values and serving our existing, loyal, highly engaged subscribers and clients. 

Looking ahead, how does The Australian plan to navigate future opportunities and challenges to ensure its continued success and influence?
One of our guiding principles is to always look to the future; in our journalism and the responsibility we have as custodians of this masthead. Video and audio will form a big part of our future, and we have lots of big plans for new ways to reach our audiences. But the most important thing and the reason why we have to keep the business side of things healthy - is always journalism. It's our passion, our vocation, and our joy. 

What is your best advice for PRs when sending a story lead or a pitch?
Don't send a story lead or a pitch. Instead, develop relationships with individual journalists in your client's area of work (tech, health, or whatever it is) and respect their time by working collaboratively with them on exclusive stories, access to genuine experts, and great human stories. Unsolicited pitches or mass-email press releases are likely to get you blocked. On the other hand, I love hearing from PR or corporate relations people who have genuine insight and scoops to discuss.

Similarly, we journos all love the professionals who respond with respect when we ring them about a tough story or their company is going through a hard time. I would suggest picking four or five journalists relevant to you and taking them out for a coffee, and asking how you can become a valuable source of information.

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