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
- Laurie Oakes (Nine Network): breaks the big ones (Birnbauer profiled Oakes for the Melbourne Press Club a few years ago).
- David Marr (Sydney Morning Herald): elegant word samurai.
- Belinda Hawkins (ABC’s Australian Story): does the tough, heartbreaking ones.
- Pamela Williams (Australian Financial Review): forensic, forensic, forensic.
- Laura Tingle (AFR): independent, sharp.
- Neil Mitchell (3AW): breaks news, picks the public mood, interviews doggedly.
- Robert Manne (The Monthly): thought provoking, insightful research.
- Paul Barry (The Power Index): whimsical smile fools no one.
- Tim Colebatch (The Age): told us for years what those figures really mean.
- 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 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:
- ProPublica’s AC Thompson’s series called Law and Disorder
- Another one from ProPublica — this won a Pulitzer: Deadly Choices at Memorial
- Two features by The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten: Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime? and The Peekaboo Paradox
- In Esquire magazine, Tom Junod’s The Falling Man
- Two features by Tom Hallman in The Oregonian: Fighting for Life on Level 3 and The Boy Behind the Mask
- The New York Times’s Walt Bogdanich for his series: Death on the Tracks
- Locally, Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker’s series on Securency in The Age; David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s book Dark Victory, Paul Toohey’s The Killer Within; Jill Baker’s The Big C and me and, of course, Laurie Oakes for too many to mention but the federal budget leak, Vince Gair’s appointment to Ireland, and travel rorts but the list goes on.