As allegations of sexual misconduct continue to dominate headlines, one Australian journalist is most closely associated with the unstoppable deluge.

You may know that Tracey Spicer has endured death threats after becoming a constant public face for the investigation, but Spicer has also personally and single handedly combed through each query from alleged victims. They now number over 1000 and range from bullying to harassment and abuse.

These are very personal — at times, horrific — stories, and I take privacy extremely seriously. It’s extremely laborious, but it’s the only way,” Spicer told Crikey.

“This is a long-term, robust investigation, and we take confidentiality and privacy extremely seriously. Soon, we will expand this to other industries and workplaces. This is just the beginning.”

So how does the initial process work?

Spicer is not just a journalist. Since she put out a broad ranging call on social media at the end of 2017 encouraging people to tell her their stories, she has received “countless” enquiries via email, social media and through contacts.

Given that volume, Spicer has devised a system that encompasses support and legal recourse as well as the desire to gather news.

“The first thing I do with each person is to offer to connect them with counselling, legal advice, or union support. Then, we talk about whether they want to lay charges. It’s extremely confronting for women to walk into a police station and talk about such issues. I explain to them that they can ask for a female detective, if this makes it less harrowing,” she said.

Spicer then builds up a rapport with the person and as they become more comfortable they are able to share more about the alleged incidents. 

“Finally, I ask them whether they’d like to speak on background, off the record, on the record, or on camera about their experiences. If they agree to this, I do a long pre-interview, including names, dates and locations. Once four or more women have come forward about the one person, that information’s shared between Kate McClymont (Sydney Morning Herald) and Lorna Knowles, Jo Puccini, Alison Branley (ABC) and the rest of the team, to dig deeper. We then do a back-and-forth for many weeks as we each uncover new leads. Meanwhile, I continue this process with the dozens of other messages that come in each day.”

How are stories chosen and investigated for publication?

On the issue of priority, Spicer said that it goes to stories in which the alleged offender is still in the workplace, potentially posing a risk.

Walkely-winner Kate McClymont, speaking to Crikey, said the process is like any other detailed investigation she would work on.

“It’s cross checking time to establish corroborative evidence, speaking to other peoples, its really exactly the same that you would do in any other investigation,” she said.

Spicer said there are now nearly 100 people on the alleged suspect list and she expects more than a dozen big names in the industry to be outed as the investigation rolls on.

Why is Spicer working with Fairfax and the ABC?

While Spicer considers herself to be working in the capacity of a freelance journalist, as well as spearheading the investigation. Crikey corresponded with her at a Fairfax Media email address.

“I know that the ABC and Fairfax have the biggest, most experienced investigative teams in the country. Early in the piece, Lorna — from the ABC’s investigative unit — approached me about sharing some stories. I then approached Fairfax, for which I do freelance work, to enter into its first ever Sydney-based co-production with the ABC. I also asked for support from their legal teams, and received an assurance that their own employees would not be exempt from this investigation. There will be no fear or favour. And they have been absolutely brilliant,” she said.

McClymont, said the process so far had been “truly collaborative” and a great example of combining resources between a freelancer and two large organisations. 

However Spicer said the issue was now getting too big for even the ABC and Fairfax teams.

However, I won’t rule out doing work with other media organisations in the near future as this investigation continues to grow. It’s really getting too big to handle just by ourselves.”

To what extent are the reports dealing with police?

While individuals may be referred to the cops, no police information has filtered back through to the reporters, McClymont said.

“It’s more that we’ve been pointing people in the right direction where the people have asked for help or where the material seems relevant, we’ve suggested who to contact.”

To what extent has Spicer been involved in the major stories to date?

The first Don Burke whistleblower contacted Spicer through Facebook messaging. Spicer then called her, and she connected Spicer with another woman — Louise Langdon, in the US — who mentioned another name, and so on.

“I reckon I spoke to around 45 women and men about Don Burke,” she estimates.

In the case of Craig McLachlan, 7.30 contacted Whelan Browne, who was reluctant to come forward.

“In a way, this investigation was less time-consuming because Christie Whelan Browne and ErikaHeynatz, in particular, knew they wanted to go to the union, lawyers, police and the production company, before telling their stories in the media. Then, when they decided to go on the record, they did this together. As I was on annual leave for two weeks over Christmas, I did much less as the ‘pointy end’ of this investigation, but I’ve been flat out with follow-ups this week, as more women and men come forward. I’ve been spending a lot of time meeting groups of young female actors who are ready to go to the police about several other alleged offenders. They’ve created tremendous support networks — very powerful.”

Peter Fray

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