It can be tricky trying to break news and hold politicians to account through robust interviews, Sky News’ David Speers told a panel at the New News conference on Saturday.

He’s both Sky News’ political editor and the host of PM Agenda, where he frequently interviews politicians. “A lot of my sources are people are I interview,” he said. “So you don’t want to burn them, but you also can’t treat them with kid gloves.”

Questioned by former ABC journalist Ramona Koval on whether this was appropriate, he said it was inevitable — it was “where the media’s gone”.

“I’m in the same situation,” piped in fellow panelist Emma Alberici, from Lateline. “Well maybe you shouldn’t be,” Koval retorted.

But there’s no way around it, Alberici explained, saying that the information some sources gave her helped her to interview others more effectively. Questioned by Koval about why Speers and Alberici didn’t share their sources with others in the nwesroom, freeing them up to focus on either breaking stories using confidential sources or conducting forensic, open interviews, Speers said it was an “interesting point, but that’s not how it works”. “Journalists don’t share,” Alberici said. “Because of individual pride. We guard our own contacts.”

Both political journalists nominated the intense time pressure they are under when preparing for interviews as one of their biggest challenges. Politicians are usually only locked in a few hours ahead of time. Speers’ Walkley-winning George Brandis “what is metadata” interview was locked in only 30 minutes in advance, he said. Being able to do live interviews with relatively little notice comes down to “day-to-day consumption” of news across a wide range of policy areas. “With live interviews, you’re so exposed to not knowing everything about a story,” Alberici said. — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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