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Nov 9, 2011

The quality journalism project: researching Bill Birnbauer

Investigative journalist Bill Birnbauer's CV is an intimidating one. The journo with over 30 years experience at The Age and The Sunday Age is the latest expert in Crikey's quality journalism project.

Investigative journalist Bill Birnbauer’s CV is an intimidating one. Several government and regulator inquiries have been brought about by his reporting — including investigations into the shredding of documents by British American Tobacco and Clayton Utz and examinations of regulations and infection rates in Victorian hospitals.

Birnbauer spent more than three decades at The Age and The Sunday Age, where he served in nearly every role imaginable — including chief-of-staff, news editor, night editor, national affairs correspondent and Insight investigative reporter, to name a few.

He’s also a member of the invitation-only International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — a project of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity, and has been involved in several of its major journalistic investigations. Birnbauer now works as a senior lecturer in journalism at Monash University, where his research focuses on models of not-for-profit investigative journalism.

So which fellow journalists does Birnbauer view as quality?

Birnbauer is the latest expert in Crikey‘s quality journalism project, where we quiz the best in the biz on how they define good journalism and where they go to get it in Oz. So far we’ve heard from Laura Tingle, Leigh Sales, Chris Mitchell, Alan Kohler, Wendy Bacon, Mark Colvin, George Negus, George Megalogenis, Marni Cordell, Tom Switzer, Ashleigh Gillon, Ita Buttrose, Michael Gawenda, Fran Kelly and Tim Burrowes. We’re still taking nominations for people you’d like to hear from, so please let us know (and yes we’re listening to your nominations, Mike Carlton and Monica Attard are both on board as future quality journalism respondents).

Now it’s over to journalist and academic Bill Birnbauer …

What is your definition of quality journalism?

Quality journalism occurs when stories in any medium 1) reveal new or unknown information or insights 2) using reporting methods that are honest and transparent 3) while quoting credible sources 4) to produce verified information in the public interest.

Bill Birnbauer’s top 10 quality journalism sources in Australia

  1. Laurie Oakes (Nine Network): breaks the big ones (Birnbauer profiled Oakes for the Melbourne Press Club a few years ago).
  2. David Marr (Sydney Morning Herald): elegant word samurai.
  3. Belinda Hawkins (ABC’s Australian Story): does the tough, heartbreaking ones.
  4. Pamela Williams (Australian Financial Review): forensic, forensic, forensic.
  5. Laura Tingle (AFR): independent, sharp.
  6. Neil Mitchell (3AW): breaks news, picks the public mood, interviews doggedly.
  7. Robert Manne (The Monthly): thought provoking, insightful research.
  8. Paul Barry (The Power Index): whimsical smile fools no one.
  9. Tim Colebatch (The Age): told us for years what those figures really mean.
  10. Sarah Ferguson (ABC’s Four Corners): bloody good reporter.

What media do you consume on a daily basis? 

On the way to a morning dip, I listen to a mix of Radio National News, AM and Fran Kelly. On the way back home, Fran is still there or ABC 774 if I missed some of AM. Morning radio then ping pongs between Neil Mitchell (3AW) and Jon Faine (774 ABC), depending on the issues and interviews.

I hit the iPad with my cleansing bran and seed breakfast and read The Age, The Australian, Herald Sun, iWatch News, ProPublica, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, The New York Times. I check Twitter.

During the day it’s Crikey and not much else, though I might check The Age website from time to time. I scan email alerts from Mumbrella and New Matilda.

I tune in to ABC Radio’s PM and later flick through hard copies of The Age, The Australian and the Herald Sun. I watch the 7pm ABC News followed by 7.30 and often SBS World News, Lateline and The Drum before calling it quits. On specific days Four Corners, Media Watch, Q&A and the Chaser lads’ Hamster Wheel.

What particular stories — either Australian or international — do you think are classic examples of quality journalism? 

Because of my interest, mostly investigative stories and projects or feature reads come to mind:

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