The pros and cons of reporting on the road.

Across America with John Shovelan

Late last week while listening to the ABC, Crikey paused to ask, “What
is ABC reporter John Shovelan doing riding a bike across America?”

Do we really need to know about the wrong turn he took in Oklahoma, or that it was raining so hard he couldn’t take a picture?

Crikey regularly tunes into the ABC’s World Today for the latest in new and
current affairs, but lately we have been a bit perplexed by the
updates coming from Shovelan.

While his familiar voice paints a vivid picture of life on the bike,
it’s hard not to wonder what the point of the exercise is. After all,
if we wanted to know more about travelling in the US we could simply
pick up a Bill Bryson book.

When listeners tune into a news and current affairs show that is what
they expect. They want reporters who are across America, not “riding”
across America.

The ever-interactive ABC also has a dedicated website for Shovelan – Across America – although it doesn’t seem to mention just how much taxpayer money is being put towards the exercise.

But as the website says, if you have any questions for John along the way, you can email them to [email protected]

Crikey in defence of John Shovelan

Following last week’s questions, Crikey has discovered that Shovelan is
cycling trip across America on his holidays and contributing to radio
and the Across America website on an entirely voluntary basis.

Crikey would never want to discourage innovative and entertaining
journalism of the sort Shovelan is producing and admits that it is a
generous and passionate journalist who commits to filing regular
stories for their employer while on holiday.

Indeed Shovelan’s riding reports, bring to mind the late British expat
Alistair Cooke, who entertained generations of listeners with his
weekly
insights into the United States in his Letter From America for the BBC
world service. Cooke acquired more fodder from his regular trips
around the country, than by simply sitting in an office.

But Shovelan and Cooke aren’t the only ones to have delved into this
genre. As one ABC heavyweight observed, for around three decades,
Correspondent’s Report has been using similar ‘soft’ stories as
part of its mix. While on television, Foreign Correspondent runs
a regular segment called Postcards, which provides a similar look at
foreign locations.

While the Bill Bryson’s of this world provide fascinating reading on
the intricacies and eccentricities of places like the United States, it
is also refreshing and important to hear such stories told from an
Australian perspective by experienced journalists such as Shovelan.

And the benefit it twofold. Not only does Shovelan have the
opportunity to become a better foreign correspondent through his
experience, his Australian audience also benefits from having an
Australian voice commenting on the dominating and insidious mass that
is the United States.

Peter Fray

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