Telum Talks To...Josh Bartlett, Sports Journalist at Illawarra Mercury
Could you tell us a bit about your history in journalism and sports reporting?
I started 15 years ago as a work experience journalist at my local paper, the Bega District News (BDN). I was concurrently studying a journalism degree at the University of Wollongong's Bega campus but dropped out after one semester when the BDN offered me a three-year cadetship and a full-time job. My time at the BDN was the perfect opening for a budding journalist, as I was able to combine invaluable in-newsroom experience, learning the craft of both news and sports journalism, while also studying by correspondence.
I spent six years at the BDN before moving to Bowral to take on a fresh challenge at the Southern Highland News. This two-and-a-half year stint proved pivotal in my career, particularly in regards to becoming more familiar with social media, before transferring to the company's Narellan office to become a Group Digital Journalist for the Sydney region.
I was in this role for two years before the position was made redundant, and I moved back into a traditional newsroom role covering both news and sport for the Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser, Camden-Narellan Advertiser and Wollondilly Advertiser. That one-year stint was the stepping stone to providing me with my dream role in late 2019, which was becoming a full-time Sport Journalist for a daily newspaper, the Illawarra Mercury.
What's involved in your current role at the Illawarra Mercury?
My role has been to specialise in football reporting, and I've enjoyed the opportunity to cover the sport from grassroots level all the way to the Matildas and Socceroos. Between these commitments, I have regularly contributed other sport copy, including covering the St George Illawarra Dragons and Illawarra Hawks.
As part of my position, I am also the Mercury's breaking sport reporter, which requires being quick on your feet and regularly monitoring social media for a potential story. I enjoy the thrill that comes with getting an accurate story up as swiftly as possible. Away from work, I've also chipped in as a volunteer co-host for the South Coast Footballholic Podcast and commentated W-League on the side for Fox Sports.
What do you enjoy most about your current position?
I enjoy the freedom granted by my sports editor to come up with my own story ideas, and then pursue them. My role as a football reporter has included the chance to formulate a weekly column called Shootout, where I discuss the big issues in football, whether it be at a local, national or international level. Being a writer also provides plenty of chances to be creative, which is something that I enjoy.
How often do you find yourself collaborating with other members of your team? Do you collaborate with journalists across different regions?
As part of the Mercury sport team, I am in constant contact with my fellow sport journalists and sports editor, as well as the wider editorial team, to work out who should pursue which story. We also work together on joint stories, such as our weekly Debate column, where we discuss a hot topic in sport, like State of Origin team selections. We also plan for where stories are placed in the newspaper and on our website, while also working together to formulate a smooth, regular schedule on social media.
We also collaborate with journalists from within our company, Australian Community Media, in other regions on a regular basis. We in particular work closely to share relevant stories or facilitate media opportunities with the fellow national sports teams at Canberra Times and Newcastle Herald, while also working with journalists at some of the smaller sites such as the South Coast Register and Southern Highland News, because we share the same borders for our regions.
How do PR professionals interact with you in your role?
The majority of my interaction with PR professionals comes via emails or phone calls. However, I also meet some professionals while out and about, at media events, which provides an opportunity to share our contacts.
What would be the best thing a PR can do when looking to work with you?
It may seem obvious but it's important to be polite while also being quite direct in your approach. Get to the point of why you think this story needs to be shared - bonus points if you can be a little creative in how you grab my attention. For example, a hook for the story that's a little out of the box.
As far as sport in Illawarra and other regional markets goes, how do you feel it's changed and grown in your time?
The landscape has changed a lot since I joined the Mercury in late 2019, which occurred only months before the COVID-19 pandemic began. This completely changed the way we work as a team, even now, which has led to a mix of office and work-from-home time. In terms of the regional market, I believe it's placed extra emphasis on the role that sport plays in the community, particularly when the pandemic shut down all community sport. We were able to provide a positive outlet for our readers with profile pieces on local and national athletes.
In the past few years, we've also seen a significant expansion in women's sport, particularly football. There has also been an increase in young girls and women joining the sport ahead of this year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia.
What do you want to see change or develop in the journalism industry?
I believe journalism is going through a huge shift at the moment. We've seen the increased emphasis placed on video content and podcasts, as well as the rise of social media platforms such as TikTok for news teams to share their stories. I think there is always going to be a place for journalism, however, how it looks will change dramatically going into the future as the rise of digital content continues to flourish. But the written word will always have its place.