Anyone can start a podcast, but can print journos excel in the medium?
The most-nominated body of journalism at last night’s Walkley award nomination ceremonies came from The Australian’s Dan Box and Eric George, whose Bowraville coverage is nominated in four different categories, including best coverage of indigenous affairs (with Stephen Fitzpatrick) and best investigation. But the other two categories are not ones you’d expect to see The Australian compete in. The five-part Bowraville podcast was also nominated for best radio news and current affairs journalism, and best radio documentary. The other finalists in both these categories are from the ABC — and that’s the way it’s been for years, given commercial radio rarely puts much investment into journalism and few others in Australia do regular audio journalism.
The Bowraville podcast series, which was amplified through news articles in the pages of The Australian, investigated the unsolved murders or disappearance of three Aboriginal children in a small town in northern New South Wales in 1990-91. All three children lived on the same street, but their cases were previously thought unrelated — an assumption the podcast challenged. The families of the three children have campaigned for justice for more than two decades. The podcast interviewed those involved, including, in the very final episode, the man who had been tried and acquitted of two of the murders, Jay Hart. Shortly after the podcast series finished, NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton sent the case back to the Appeals Court, which will make a decision on whether there is enough evidence for a retrial. It is expected the cases will be considered together for the first time.
This morning, Box described the swag of nominations as “a bit overwhelming, to be honest”.
“Right from the start, the reaction to the podcast was far greater than what we expected,” he told Crikey. “It felt like we were riding a wave at times, and that was a wonderful thing to be part of.
“I think the thing that made the difference with the podcast itself was that you can hear the voices of the people involved, they describe what happened in their words and with their emotions, and that’s something that doesn’t always come across in print. There’s definitely a lesson in that for us newspaper reporters — new technology gives us different way to tell our stories and we were really fortunate to be given the opportunity to try this by The Aus.”
The tie-up of print and audio helped boost the story as well, he reckons. “The other lesson we learned was just how powerful it was having the podcast and the daily newspaper reporting going at the same time. Each seemed to emphasise the other, and I don’t think it would have had the effect it did if we had relied on either on their own.”
Other newspapers, including The Age and The Daily Telegraph, have also produced podcasts in the past year. The divisions between media types are blurring — maybe the ABC can’t be as assured of wins in the audio categories as it was in the past.
The other expected shoe-in for at least one win (with noms in print news report, social equity journalism and business journalism) is The Age’s Ben Schneiders, Royce Millar and Nick Toscano, for their story on a series of wage scandals in SDA-negotiated agreements.
Four Corners’ Caro Meldrum-Hanna also picked up four nominations, for three different pieces of journalism. “Australia’s Shame”, the Four Corners episode about the Don Dale detention facility that sparked a royal commission by morning, is nominated in the TV weekly current affairs and investigative journalism categories, while her Four Corners episode with Kathy Jackson and Michael Lawler is nominated for best interview. “Callous Disregard”, about the “unpunished” murder of a young Aboriginal woman, is nominated in the best coverage of indigenous affairs category.