For many years, investigative journalism has played a vital role in initiating the battle for justice for victims of some of the state’s worst crimes.
Names like Newcastle Herald reporter Joanne McCarthy, who through her efforts in investigative journalism and strong campaigning saw the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse established.
Kate McClymont who last week released her book He Who Must Be Obeid, spent years exposing the corrupt dealings of Eddie Obeid through her consistent investigative journalism which helped establish a series of ICAC inquiry’s into the matter.
And Colleen Ryan who last year released her book Fairfax: the Rise & Fall and who through her reporting has also played a prominent role in events such as the Alan Bond WA Inc. and Offset Alpine scandals.
Speaking to a packed tent at the 2014 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, the Gold Walkley award winning trio shared their experiences of dealing with major stories as they came to hand.
As the audience got comfortable in their seats, McCarthy spoke about how she believes there is no real technique for finding the major stories, it often happens naturally or you just fall into it.
“In 2006, I got a phone call from a guy who admitted to me that he had been abused by a Catholic priest and wanted to know why there had been no major coverage on the issue,” explained McCarthy. “The topic simply wasn’t on my radar, however after talking to my editor I took the phone call further.”
Although what resulted initially was only a few lines at the end of a much longer article, McCarthy believed it was her responsibility as a journalist to fulfill the role of the media by placing the truth on record.
Working as a reporter and columnist for the Newcastle Herald at the time, McCarthy says her weekend column in which she would often talk about her boys or dogs was what drew people to trust her.
“To those who read my column, they saw me as a person first which meant they trusted me enough to share for example the experiences they had with the Catholic Church,” McCarthy explained.
Stopping for a brief round of applause, session chair Christopher Warren moved the conversation to McClymont.
McClymont said it was only once you had started that you fully grasped the extent of your story. She aroused great laughter from the audience when she recalled being sent a message on the back of several TAB slips that asked if she could be at certain shopping centre, at a certain time to meet a source. She also explained how tips could be given to her down at the local park.
“I remember one day taking my dogs for a walk in the local park, when someone leant over and asked if I was Kate McClymont, to which I replied yes, they then said their home had been firebombed and they believed it was by Michael McGurk,” she explained.
Colleen Ryan offered a different perspective, saying that sometimes it’s quite obvious what you have straight away.
“I remember a case where we received a phone call from some Israeli journalist saying they had documents saying Rene Rivkin was set to give sworn testimony,” explained Ryan. “These documents also linked Graham Richardson.”
Ryan explains it that she knew straight away the Offset Alpine story, as it is now known, was going to be big.
As the session concluded, McClymont stressed the importance of looking at the motives of sources.
“You have to be able to tell whether they are simply trying to get back at someone or are they genuinely seeing wrong,” explained McClymont.
The three women left the audience thoroughly immersed in the world of investigative journalism, having shared just a fraction of the memories behind some of the most well-known stories put together through courage and persistence.
Brendan Pearce is a Media and Politics student at Southern Cross University.