Note to subscribers to The Age - first published in that newspaper on September 30, 2021
Non-Indigenous audiences, journalists, editors, and academics occasionally ask me about the differences in writing for Blak media and writing for mainstream media. I’ve written for the Koori Mail, was the daily editor for IndigenousX, and have a few years’ experience at the free-to-air channel National Indigenous Television (NITV) too. Before working at NITV, I was a columnist writing largely about Indigenous-related topics for The Guardian, and I’ve also freelanced for a range of non-Indigenous publications, so I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about.
In terms of Blak media, a lot depends on the outlet. At NITV, the objective was to cover as many news and current affairs events that affected Aboriginal people as we could. This often meant providing what was essentially an Indigenous newswire service, with an emphasis on “hard news” reporting with tight turnarounds, written with Indigenous audiences and our allies primarily in mind.
My role with IndigenousX, a rotating Twitter account that has become an independent Blak media outlet, often involved working closely with contributors, with the emphasis on amplifying their voices and experiences. Koori Mail was unique in that it was almost a hybrid of the other two, with the foremost priority being serving our ‘grass-roots’ communities. What each of these roles shared was an approach that celebrated, empowered and recognised the agency of Aboriginal peoples.
My intention is to bring elements of that journalistic practice to the stories I write for The Age. Sometimes this will involve educating my new editors about perspectives and concepts that they are not familiar with – an experience I touched on in my recent article ‘Blak, Black, Blackfulla: Language is important, but it can also be tricky’. Incidentally, the feedback I’ve received for that article from all parts of the country has been remarkable and it’s encouraging to know there is such enthusiasm among The Age’s audience for such content.
My exclusive with AFL champion Eddie Betts in the wake of the Taylor Walker racism scandal, which saw the Adelaide Crows player suspended for six matches after comments he made to North Adelaide’s Robbie Young at a state league match, neatly demonstrates the importance of bringing Blak journalistic practices into a newsroom.
Betts knew that I worked with different principles to other journalists. Many senior non-Indigenous journalists around the country desperately chased after Betts for that interview, but it was this Blackfulla who wrote the exclusive. Betts was aware of my previous journalism and understood that I would work with him to convey what he felt was most important about the Walker incident, both the on-field remark and over the following days, the wider public response to it. Betts knew I wouldn’t necessarily rush to the most sensational elements of his response. He appreciated that my approach would be slower, more considered, and more considerate.
Often when I go into regional and remote communities I hear accounts of how visiting journalists or media organisations have left them feeling exploited. Considerations of kinship and agency sets Blak journalistic practice apart from the usual non-Indigenous approach to the discipline. This compact also establishes a greater trust, which is – notoriously, in the public’s view – a measure that journalists and the media regularly fail to live up to.
My role as The Age’s Indigenous affairs journalist is a broad one and to be honest, I still have some carry-over from my past roles in terms of how I approach each working day. It’s been a challenging first few weeks. Initially, with the NITV hat still on, I was looking to report an Aboriginal affairs story each day in the ‘hard news’ newswire style. Over the first month, I realised there was more of an opportunity at The Age to ‘step inside’ stories with greater scope to explore background and add nuance.
One project on the cards over the next 12 months that will require elements of ‘hard’ reportage will be covering the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. The commission will be the first of its kind in Australia and will look at hearing past and ongoing injustices experienced by Aboriginal peoples within the state. The Age will join the Yoo-rrook Commission when it eventually goes on the road after having its start date repeatedly delayed by COVID-19 lockdowns. I look forward to reporting on the commission hearings as well as doing some ‘deep-dive’ journalism on Truth-Telling and Agreement-Making in Victoria.
Next month The Age will launch its Truth-Telling project, which has involved working alongside others in the newsroom including journalist Tony Wright and photographer Justin McManus to hear stories of Aboriginal Victorians and what this commission means to them.
Other stories and types of journalism I’m interested in writing and telling include features on Aboriginal artists and musicians; some sport yarns; explainers on subjects such as the concept of ‘Country’; any sort of Travel and Lifestyle journalism that is possible; and of course, political analysis of the policies affecting Aboriginal people most. I like a bright, mixed palette.
I’m also very conscious of the legacy and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media. An upcoming article I’ve written for The Age’s Truth-Telling project shares some of that history, highlighting the critical publications throughout the eras and the important figures that continue to influence and inform Blak media and Blak journalism today. There’s the great John Newfong, of course, who now has many industry awards named in his honour. But there’s also many lesser known figures on whose shoulders I stand. The opportunity to contribute to that legacy is what brought me to The Age.