Should well-known
journalists have their telephone numbers and addresses listed publicly
in the phone book so that people can give them tips and news?

Canberra’s
biggest story-breaker Laurie Oakes is a strong believer in the
practice. Arguably the gallery’s most influential journalist, Oakes
says that some of his best scoops have come after tip-offs from sources
seeing his name and address in the phone book. So Crikey asked some of
Australia’s leading journalists.

1) Do you have your number publicly listed?

2) If your answer is no are you able to tell us a little bit about why you’ve kept your number private?

3)
If your number is publicly listed do you ever get work related calls at
home? Have you ever got a yarn out of someone plucking your name from
the phone book?

4) Without revealing any sources – or methods
that you wouldn’t want rivals to copy – what’s the strangest way you’ve
ever come across a yarn?

Chris Masters, ABC investigative journalist: I
don’t publish my home phone number. I am not that hard to find at the
ABC. Over the years there have been threats to myself and family so I
try my best to keep my home life quarantined. I do however get a lot of
work-related calls at home and even people turning up unannounced. I
can’t think of any occasions when these approaches have delivered an
important story. Every time I do a story I come across more stories. I
think an important path to stories and information is less a large
contact book and more an open mind. The notion that great stories are
at the end of a ringing phone promotes the sophistry that good
journalism is about good luck. I am sure a more productive use of
telephone time is to make calls rather than receive them.

Mungo MacCallum, political journalist and raconteur: Yes,
I’ve always had a listed number and address – people sometimes leave
interesting documents in the letterbox. When I was in the gallery I got
lots of work related calls – most of them were mad. Now I’m up the
coast I still get a few and nearly all are mad. I can’t think of any
particularly strange ways I got stories – most scoops are through
calculated leaks, and the writer seldom has to do much work with them.
I suppose the time in 1971 (I think – it might have been ’72) that some
enterprising students turned up on my doorstep at midnight with three
suitcases full of documents they’d stolen from the Rhodesian
Information Service – documents that proved the Rhodesians, in cahoots
with the South Africans, were running a clandestine and illegal
propaganda network in Australia – was as memorable as any.

Paul Kelly, The Australian’s editor at large: My
number has always been publicly listed – because Canberra is a small
town (unlike Sydney) there was the prospect of people contacting you –
but that’s all I want to say.

Malcolm Farr, Daily Telegraph political correspondent: 1)
Yes. 2) It’s not just my number, it belongs to the rest of my family,
too. 3) Yes. No. 4) Can’t remember, possibly because a lot of them
involved standing around bars.

Mark Riley, Channel Seven political reporter: I
don’t have my home number listed, nor do I believe it’s necessary for
journalists to do so in the era of the mobile phone. Members of the
public can contact me through the office at all hours and, if I’m not
in the office, are freely given my mobile number to get me on that. I
would make this point, though – I think having an easily available
email address is much more important these days than a listed phone
number. I reckon the ratio of email correspondence I get from the
public compared to telephone calls would be at least 10:1. The
strangest way I’ve come across a yarn? When I was covering state
politics for the SMH in the early 90s, a source with a
well-developed sense of cloak-and-dagger drama (I still don’t know who)
left a typed message on my desk in the press gallery at NSW Parliament
telling they’d left a pile of NSW Police Board documents in a shoe box
under my car in the underground car park. They were there – and I got a
series of red hot yarns from them.

Laurie Oakes, Channel Nine and The Bulletin:1)
Yes. 3) Yes, I do get work calls at home. And I have got stories as a
result of my phone book listing. When Andrew Wilkie decided to quit ONA
because of his views on the Iraq War he was able to leave his card in
my letter box with a note asking me to contact him.That was an
important story. Another example: Some years ago a disillusioned
Foreign Affairs Department Officer pedalled his bike to my home and
the homes of two other Canberra journos listed in the phone book and
stuffed each of our letter boxes with classified cables. 4) I was
sitting in the old Sydney Daily Mirror office in the NSW
Parliament when a former minister came in and started talking in great
detail about major political events in which he’d been involved. I
couldn’t work out why he was doing it but I made notes. A few weeks
later he died. He’d been leaking me his obituary.

Stephen Mayne, Crikey founder and ABC business commentator: I’ve
had the same mobile number for 11 years and enough people have it, but
the email has been my prime communication tool with Crikey because it
is incredibly efficient and provides a permanent record of
correspondence. However, ever since taking on Jeff Kennett in 1999 and
developing arguably the most impressive enemy list in Australian
journalism, I’ve worked hard to avoid getting a brick through the
window after stories like this Kooka Bros piece and don’t want to make life any easier for process servers with
defamation writs.

Even the electoral roll records have been deliberately left a little
tardy, which is a good decision when you consider the tactics employed
by someone like Andrew Landeryou who intimidates journalists by looking
up their home address on the electoral roll and then claiming he’s
received complaints from neighbours.

When we briefly separated the Crikey home and office in South Melbourne
in 2002, we tried publishing the land line in the office, but too many
nutters called and we spent too much time taking down credit card
details for subscriptions over the phone. Given that we moved house 5
times in 30 months, it hasn’t been hard to keep the home address and
number out of public view and with three young children we won’t be
changing that approach any time soon. If you need to reach me,
[email protected] is the way to go.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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