Telum Talks To... Ross Greenwood, Business Editor, Sky News Australia

Telum Talks To... Ross Greenwood, Business Editor, Sky News Australia

You recently joined Sky News Australia as Business Editor, and are now presenting Business Weekend. What are you hoping to achieve or cover in this role?
The brilliance that I'm seeing at Sky is not only is it a dedicated news channel, but there's clearly a commitment to put more resource into newsgathering. That's what I find really exciting. Some of the big one-hour documentaries that Sky has been doing have been highly successful, as well as the day-to-day coverage. They’re both genuinely exciting to me. The truth is, I think Sky has a commitment to cover news in a way that probably no other news organisation has right now. I also think they are committed from a budgetary point of view to try and achieve that, which is so important. Information is absolutely vital right now, and I think this 24-hour news resource is really important for Australians. It's important for the media industry to have that outlet as well.

You were previously at Nine News, where you were in a similar role. How do the audiences differ between the two channels?
Sky News is right throughout our parliament house, so from that point of view, I think it's got enormous reach and power through having politicians speaking to each other. But I'm also highly conscious that Sky has an informed and affluent audience. In many ways, in my head at least, I equate that audience to my radio audience at Nine Radio, because that was a very similar audience.

The important thing is to be able to tell your stories and explain things in ways in which the ordinary person can understand it, but also so that if a chief executive or a politician is listening to it, that they can gain something from it as well. I think that's the skill of storytelling that any journalist would aspire to. It doesn't matter how technical the information is, you should be able to make that manageable and accessible to a range of different people in our community.

Being a Business Editor means you're often looking at data-heavy information. How do you make that digestible for your viewers?
The important thing, and it doesn't matter if you're doing medical, sport, or business stories, is that you've got to understand the information yourself. If you don't understand it, if you're grasping to understand it, then you actually shouldn't be reporting on the story. You should only report on the story once you've really genuinely gained understanding and insight into that subject. Once you've got that insight, you can use the data to help explain it. In many cases, it's really trying to get down to, “What does this actually mean? Why is this important to a business person? Why is this important to an individual that they understand a concept?”

For example, think about some things the Reserve Bank is doing at the moment - buying back bonds, what they call quantitative easing. To just try and explain that simply, they're trying to put more money into the banking system so that the banks can lend more easily without having credit squeezes. That’s a pretty simple way of explaining something that is relatively complex. And yet by explaining that way, a person says, "Oh, yes, I understand that. I understand what that means and why that's important." That's the key. You try and distill it down to its essence so that you can then explain it to people. Once you've explained it, you can then dig into the nuance and technicality of these measures.

What makes good talent for you and your audience, and who do you want to chat to in the community?
I guess what you're looking for in those programmes is business leaders. But they've also got to be business leaders that have got a story to tell to the broader audience as well. That takes you to some of the more prominent companies and some of the more prominent business leaders. Over the past week, we've done Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, who's the Chief Executive of Optus, Matt Comyn, the boss of the Commonwealth Bank, and Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer. These people clearly have impacts on a significant number of people's lives.

That's my thing. You've got to talk to people that really are affecting people's lives, but also affecting businesses' lives as well. I guess they're the types of people that we would aspire to be like. But, by the same token, you've also got to do stories that give insight and are entertaining because, at the end of the day, we're telling stories. If those stories are dull or not palatable to people, then they're not going to watch, which is what you what them to do. You want them to be interested and you want them to be excited by the type of stuff you're delivering.
                                           
Business coverage over the past year has been predominantly angled towards the pandemic. Are there any other issues in the industry that you think may have been overlooked?
I think the whole issue of COVID goes into the whole issue of the economic levers in Australia. By that, I'm thinking about interest rates for currency, about our rising currency, and about our relationship with China. The Australia-China relationship is absolutely vital to us long-term, and it has to have its boundaries. But the trade between our countries that has been stopped as a result of the deterioration of that relationship, and that's also really important. But I can see new trade relationships that could be developing with places like India, the UK, and Europe. Those are important to try and replace some of the trade that we have lost with China.

All of these issues fit into the narrative of where industries might be struggling, notwithstanding COVID. Of course, you've still got many people who are going to be hurting in the tourism industry, particularly in Queensland, but in other parts of the country as well, as well as retail. It’s an issue, and we know there are people who are going to struggle this year. I ask, what is the government's response? What is the industry's response? And how do we stop as many companies, as we possibly can, from going down?

How do you like to be pitched by PRs? Do you prefer receiving multimedia press releases, or would you like them to go through a producer?
To be honest, it often depends on whether you know the PR personally or not. The fact of the matter is that a lot comes through email, so you're constantly seeing and distilling it. But the PR has got to understand your audience as well as you understand it and has to understand whether that story fits into your format. There’s a wastefulness of resource when PRs pitch things that are never going to work, things that go straight to deleted, because of the volume of stuff that comes through.

Sky does have enormous options in terms of stories, and we're very fortunate in that. The better the PR can understand the audience of whichever show or segment that they’re pitching, the more likely that there will be a more positive response. It's also about building trust and relationships. If you've got a PR who continues to flog the wrong stories, it's unlikely that they will really get any traction. But the truth is that there are some PRs who are more strategic and will only hit you up when they think there is a genuinely good story. To be honest, you do take notice of those PRs and you sit there and say, "Yes, we'll take that."

Secondly, the PR has got to understand that they're not doing promotion. In some way, I know they are and I recognise that, but when it comes to dealing with the media, they have to understand that the media will dictate the terms of the story and the coverage. From that point of view, you have to understand that once you've actually pushed that boat out, in terms of giving us a release and giving us information, that we will pick the story up and take it to where we think it needs to go. I think these are some of the tricks, or the keys, with dealing with PRs.

If you could have a long, boozy lunch with any CEO or business leader, past or present, who would it be, and why?
I have a few of them. This is the criteria for the long, boozy lunch. A lot of chief executives, who are controlled by lawyers and by PRs, aren't very entertaining people. They're controlled and, in many ways, they're frightened of what they'll say and frightened of what they won't say. The best people are often those who are self-made.

So, you have to think about the people who are going to be highly entertaining. I think of people like Gerry Harvey, John Singleton, Harry Triguboff and John Symond. These are self-made people who are not frightened. They're not frightened to laugh, not frightened to tell a story, and not frightened to show their flaws. They're the best people. They're the most entertaining.

These kinds of people are often the best interviews to do as well. That's the type of person you would really like to be having lunch with, as opposed to somebody who would be too frightened to go to lunch, because they'd be more fearful of what they might say or what they might not say. I think they're the ones who too often are controlled by lawyers and by spin doctors.

When you're not dissecting the Dow Jones, or in the office working on any of your various projects, what do you like to get up to?
I've just had 12 months off, so I've been up to all sorts of things. One thing that I have done over the past 12 months, and I've been doing this for a long time, is I will take myself somewhere into the bush, somewhere pretty isolated, and go out for really long bushwalks by myself. If people are around, if my wife is around, then she'll come with me as well. That's because we have always walked a lot. I've done it even the last couple of days, and some pretty intense bushwalking. It's not only a good way to clear your head, but it's a good way to just throw off the normal things. You've got to survive, cope and be careful out there. I think that's just a lovely way to spend as a pastime.

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