Telum Talks To... John Rolfe, Senior Reporter at The Daily Telegraph
You've held several roles at News Corp during your career, covering business, finance, and politics. Tell us about your area of scope at The Daily Telegraph.
If it doesn't involve tries or drive-bys then it's fair game. I try to tell people things they don't already know about topics that matter to them - news you can use.
How do you make these stories digestible for readers?
One way is to put real people at the centre - it makes it more relatable. Another is to reveal the identity of the person behind what is going on. I try to focus on things that have a direct impact on our readers or the people they know so they want to find out more. Much of what goes on around us is very interesting when you unpack it and explain the inner workings.
In addition to your reporting role, you are also the Editor of The Sydney Power 100, which is published today. What's involved in pulling this together?
It has taken 25 specialist reporters to bring our list to life. That was after scouting widely for potential debutants and having lengthy discussions about who should make way, move up or move down. The rankings and profiles were still changing in the hours before we sent the magazine to the printers and finalised the digital interactive, as we tried to factor in late developments affecting key names. Not everyone in the media will agree with our list, which is fine. Our rankings attempt to capture a sense of who and what is important to The Daily Telegraph's readers.
Pet PR peeve?
My current pet PR peeve is saying "no comment" on the record then providing 500 words of "background" meant to undermine what someone else in the story is saying. If your client really believes it and can substantiate it, why not say it on the record or put them on the phone? It will be much more persuasive.
What does a day in the life of John Rolfe look like?
As often as possible, I start by darkening the door of a dodgy-doer - someone who has ripped off our readers. Generally, I start by scanning the digital editions of four papers (The Daily Telegraph, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review) to get a sense of what's happening.
Ahead of our morning news conference (10am sharp), I will speak to our Chief of Staff or Editor to pitch a story or update them on what I am working on. It may be that they want me to look into something else. I don't really do news of the day. If I am filing, I'll speak to the newsdesk regularly and refine the pitch for them to take into our afternoon news conference at 2pm.
I try to get my yarns to our lawyers before 4pm. Usually, they will be aware of what I'm doing because I consult them early in the news-gathering process so my stories don't suffer at the end.
I'll start building the article for web publication while the legal eagles are casting an eye over it. If I think there's an opportunity to promote my story in other media, such as TV or radio, I will reach out to the most relevant outlet. If there are ways to use social media, I take those too. I find Facebook much more effective than Twitter.
What is the most memorable story you have covered so far?
Two stand out. A little boy was left with lifelong brain and body damage after a car accident caused by another vehicle. The driver of that other vehicle had suffered a heart attack at the wheel and was legally dead when his van slammed into the car in which the boy was travelling. At the time, compulsory third-party insurance did not cover such a scenario. Over a series of stories, I convinced the insurer to provide well over AU$1million of compensation.
The other story revealed how cold-calling investment property spruikers were fleecing ordinary Australians out of their life savings by signing them up for houses that were never finished. In some cases, the clients were tricked into authorising progress payments after receiving photos said to show construction work, only for it to emerge that the pictures were not of their house. Plus paperwork was fabricated. The investors often had little idea there was a problem because the property selected for them was typically thousands of kilometres away so they couldn't eyeball it. I proved to a major bank that it had accepted forged paperwork which forced it to buy out or refund investors. The directors were later criminally charged and are awaiting trial.