Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker’s stories aren’t always s-xy, nor are they always followed up with zeal by their competitors. But when it comes to exposing wrongdoing and making the powerful squirm, this prolific pair makes many seasoned investigative reporters seem like part-timers.
On their own they’re great journos; together they’re a news-breaking juggernaut.
The duo’s reporting on s-x abuse in the Victorian Catholic church — based on confidential police reports showing at least 40 former victims have committed suicide — forced Premier Ted Baillieu to launch a parliamentary inquiry in April. Earlier this month they revealed Damien Oliver had allegedly bet $10,000 on a rival horse, a scoop that led to the champion jockey being dumped from the Cox plate.
Then, of course, there’s their rolling investigation into bribery allegations at Reserve Bank of Australia-owned note printing companies — a series that’s sparked police probes across the globe and the first Australian prosecutions under foreign bribery laws.
The two work closely together — emailing draft stories back and forth while on holidays overseas, cross-examining each other on issues of accuracy and style — but they don’t always agree.
“We have some pretty testy, fiery arguments but that makes the stories better,” says McKenzie. “A lot of journalists work as lone wolves, but often I don’t think that’s the best way to do it.”
The Geelong-born Baker, who began his career as a 21-year-old Age cadet, is the old-school newspaperman and forensic digger. McKenzie started out at the ABC, where he broke major police corruption stories as a cadet, and is the more extroverted and telegenic. He’s assiduously used his Aunty connections to get more exposure for their stories, filing regularly for Four Corners and, more recently, 7.30.
“Nick McKenzie is arguably the single most influential journalist in Australia,” says 7.30 executive producer Sally Neighbour, who worked closely with him last year on a series on s-x trafficking. “Nick is a superstar. I can’t think of any other print journalist in the country who could ring up and say ‘I’ve got a story for you’ and the next week it will be the top story on 7.30.”
The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell tells The Power Index he’d hire them in an instant if he had a chance.
If they feel puffed up with influence, however, they aren’t admitting it. “Journalists who think they’re powerful tend to be dickheads,” McKenzie says. “It’s the story that makes the journalist, not the other way around.”
Both admit to frustration that their time-intensive investigations often get drowned out in the news cycle — and that appearing on page one of The Age no longer carries the clout it used to.
“In the 1980s, newspapers would dominate the day and lead the news that night,” McKenzie says. “Now a front page can be old news by the middle of the morning. It’s much harder to make a noise now.” Baker concurs: “On our website it can be bloody hard to find a story four hours after it’s published.”
The Securency story has been a particularly hard sell. Both major parties have avoided the issue as much as possible; other media outlets, including The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, have given it scant coverage until recently. It’s a complex, hard-to-digest story involving shady financial transactions in foreign lands. Even The Sydney Morning Herald relegated to page two their August revelation that at least one senior RBA official knew of the alleged bribery.